Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Why Congress’ Role Differed in Two Pivotal International Agreements of 2015
Press Release

RELEASE: Why Congress’ Role Differed in Two Pivotal International Agreements of 2015

Washington, D.C. — Last year, the United States was party to two of the most consequential international agreements in years. Over the summer, the United States—as part of the P5+1 countries—successfully negotiated a major nuclear agreement with Iran that will close that country’s pathway toward a nuclear weapon for at least 15 years and provide an unprecedented level of international monitoring for another decade beyond. And late last year, a historic global agreement to limit carbon pollution and improve resilience to the effects of climate change was adopted by 195 countries.

Both agreements are major milestones in efforts to provide global security, but the role of Congress in each agreement was markedly different. The Center for American Progress released an issue brief today looking at the ways in which the structures of these agreements and their relationship to existing U.S. law meant that they were disanalogous with respect to triggers of congressional intervention.

“In the case of the Iran agreement, U.S. obligations centrally concern a congressionally imposed regime of economic sanctions aimed at constraining Iran’s nuclear capacity,” said Gwynne Taraska, CAP Associate Director of Energy Policy and co-author of the paper. “This provided political grounds for early congressional involvement even before the agreement was signed, as seen in the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which gave Congress a formal period in which to evaluate the agreement. By contrast, U.S. obligations under the Paris agreement do not have existing statutes as their subject matter and do not have any effect on U.S. laws or the way they function.”

Another point of contrast with the Iran agreement is the existence of an umbrella treaty: the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, which received bipartisan support from the Senate in 1992 during the George H.W. Bush administration. Given the Senate’s consent to the UNFCCC and the consistency of the Paris agreement with U.S. laws and their application, formal congressional intervention or consent would have been unnecessary and uncharacteristic given U.S. practice.

Click here to read the paper.

For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, contact Tom Caiazza at [email protected] or 202.481.7141.