In an increasingly interdependent world, facing increasingly complex problems , it is essential for a nation with the economic, military, and political power of the United States to be able to speak with one, clear voice, and be able to act clearly and promptly in defense of our national interests, and, when it speaks, others should know that its policies will be carried out.
However, under our system of divided powers that is not possible. There is no way in which Congress can formulate or implement foreign policy, and there is no way for the president to have assurance that congress will support the executive branch in carrying out the policies formulated by it.
This situation is highly confusing to friend and foe alike and can lead foreign nations to miscalculations of our intention that could easily have serious or even catastrophic consequences. In a recent interview Sir Nicholas Henderson, the British ambassador in Washington, was asked his views of our government. His comments are most illuminating. He said, ''You don't have a system of government. You have a maze of government. In (other countries) if you want to persuade the government . . . or find out their point of view on something it's quite clear where the power resides. It resides with the government.
''Here there's a whole maze of different corridors of power. There's the administration. There's Congress. There are the staffers. There's the press. . . .
''Here, because of your Constitution, because you never wanted another George III, you made sure that the executive did not have ultimate power.''
Our system of government was viable during the first 150 years of our history when we could and did exist in relative isolation. It continued to be viable in the immediate post-war era when our economic amd military power dominated the world. But that is no longer the case. Today possibly the most important longer-range question facing us as a nation, a question transcending all immediate issues, is whether we can continue to afford the luxury of the separation of power in Washington between the executive and the legislative branches of our government.
One may ask, ''What is the alternative?'' The answer could well be some form of parliamentary democracy. Parliamentary systems vary from those where the chief of state is merely a protoclaire figurehead to those, such as France, where great power resides in the president. But all of them have one thing in common. Responsibilty for policy and its execution lies clearly with the head of government and his party, which stands or falls on its overall record. Legislators must follow the party line or face loss of party designation in the next election. As a result individual issues tend to be submerged in the overall record of the government which has far greater ability to act promptly and energetically in the face of crisis, foreign or domestic, than is the case in Washington.
Such a significant shift in our Constitution is unlikely to come about except as a result of a crisis that is very grave indeed, one that I hope we never have to face. But we cannot be complacent, and, if such a crisis does come upon us, we should be as prepared as possible. That requires extensive thought and debate , led in the first instance by our academic community. There are many leading scholars today interested in studying our constitutional system with a view to improving the operations of government. The bulk of these studies are aimed at relatively modest changes, designed to make our present system work better. I refer to such things as a single, six-year term for the president, four-year terms for members of the House of Representatives, or government financing of congressional as well as presidential elections.
Some or all of these changes may be helpful, and studies of this sort are important and well worth pursuing. However, they do not address the much more serious problem of the in-ability to place responsibility for events on any one party or person. That can only be remedied by a truly significant shift - a change to some form of parliamentary government that would eliminate or sharply reduce the present division or authority between the executive and legislative arms of government.