Date of Completion


Embargo Period



International Relations, American Politics, Arms Control, Nuclear Weapons, U.S. Congress, Presidency

Major Advisor

Jennifer Sterling-Folker, Ph.D.

Associate Advisor

Jeffrey Ladewig, Ph.D.

Associate Advisor

Stephen Dyson, Ph.D.

Field of Study

Political science


Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Procuring Swords for Plowshares: Congressional Use of Strategic Weapons Acquisition to Influence U.S. Arms Control Negotiations

The US-Soviet strategic arms talks that ushered in the Cold War endgame in the 1980s and 1990s witnessed an extraordinary intervention by the Congress in the Executive’s traditional policy making areas at a time of evolving inter-branch institutional relationships and domestic perceptions of the global distribution of power. A central puzzle focuses on whether Congress used its constitutional spending and military oversight powers over acquisition of weapons simultaneously subject to bilateral negotiations to exert policy influence in diplomatic negotiations. The study asks: Why, how, and under what conditions did Congress, through the acquisition of strategic weapons, actively influence strategic arms control negotiations, American foreign policy and grand strategy during the Cold War?

Five strategic weapons acquisition cases subject to bilateral arms talks from 1973-1993 are examined. The study employs an inductive case study approach to posit a causal role of Congress in foreign policy outcomes. Two theoretical perspectives are employed: Neoclassical Realist IR theory, in which Congress serves as key unit-level intervening variables to help explain foreign policy behavior, and New Institutionalism’s American Political Development, which posits that the Congress can influence national policy outcomes by forcing the Executive to accept its policy preferences by means of innovative legislative procedure. The study employs a structured, focused comparison that includes within-case process tracing and across-case content analysis, archival research of congressional and presidential administration data and subject interviews with key congressional and security policy elites.

The study develops detailed hypotheses and a theory of congressional causality in foreign policy, positing that legislative intervening variables can: 1) exert a heavy influence on U.S. negotiation policy and grand strategy by innovative weapons acquisition means; 2) force the President to accept alternative versions of material requirements for strategic stability and deterrence; and 3) under alternating ideational conditions of a ‘peace psychology’ and pursuit of strategic parity, affect the creation and maintenance of arms control regimes relevant to the international distribution of power.