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Presidents, Congress, and the Use of Force

  • William G. Howell (a1) and Jon C. Pevehouse (a2)


Scholars have long debated the relative influence of domestic and international factors on the presidential use of force. On one matter, however, consensus reigns: the U.S. Congress is presumed irrelevant. This presumption, we demonstrate, does not hold up to empirical scrutiny. Using a variety of measures and models, we show a clear connection between the partisan composition of Congress and the quarterly frequency of major uses of force between 1945 and 2000; we do not find any congressional influence, however, on minor uses of force. We recommend that the quantitative use-of-force literature in international relations begin to take seriously theories of domestic political institutions, partisanship, and interbranch relations that have been developed within American politics.We thank the Center for American Political Studies, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation for financial support; and Doug Kriner, Matthew Scherbarth, and Kevin Warnke for research assistance. David Canon, Matt Dickinson, Ben Fordham, David Lewis, and Alastair Smith provided helpful feedback. We also benefited from seminars at the University of Iowa, Princeton University, Harvard University, Ohio State University, and Emory University. Two anonymous reviewers provided excellent feedback. Standard disclaimers apply.



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