TRIALS BY FIRE - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

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TRIALS BY FIRE - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

The Balance of Powersin National SecurityOver 220 years ago, James Madison wisely cautioned against the aggregationof power in one branch of government, noting, “The accumulation of all power,legislative, executive, and judiciary in the same hands...may justly be pronouncedthe very definition of tyranny.” 49 However, in questions of war andpeace, of security and liberty, the potential for error is higher than usual—andin the effort to prevent the next terrorist strike, some have argued that theWhite House must have the prerogative to pursue a counterterrorism agendawithout infringement by Congress or the Courts. 50While this theoretical framework runs counter to the American system ofchecks and balances in government, it won a number of supporters in theyears following 9/11. And, despite the election of a new Presidential administrationwith different philosophical underpinnings, the notion of a supremeexecutive in national security affairs still has its adherents today.In order to protect the nation and its citizens from the tyranny that Madisondiscussed in 1788—while simultaneously defending the nation and its interestsfrom terrorism—it is integral to understand how the branches of the US governmentinteract, admittedly uneasily and inefficiently, in the national securityrealm. As Madison noted, “ambition must be made to counteract ambition,”and nowhere is this more true than in the murky world of counterterrorism.The President’s PowerAs mentioned earlier in this book, the Constitution and applicable statutesconfer upon the executive branch the most amount of national security powerBelfer Center for Science and International Affairs | Harvard Kennedy School31

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