The Power to Declare War

The Power to Declare War Ritwik Ravin Poltical Science Mrs. Mooney December 13, 2010 Ricky Ravin, Mrs. Mooney The Power to Declare War Congress and the president use their powers to check and balance each other. One power of Congress is the ability to declare war. However, Congress generally gives the president control during war time. Because of this, the president is able to acquire more power over the war while Congress can do little if they have already given their approval.

After the Vietnam War, in which Presidents Johnson and Nixon continued to wage despite a divided Congress[i]; they decided that the Constitution did not warrant the president to have the power to declare war, so they passed the War Powers Resolution[ii]. While the War Powers Act was meant to explicitly limit presidential war powers, it is largely ignored by the president, who holds the power to send troops into combat.

According to Section 2C of the War Powers Act, the constitution states that the president holds the right to send troops into combat only after: a Congressional declaration of war, a specific statutory authorization, or in a National emergency created by an attack on the United States. Since the president does not follow this statement, the War Powers Act attempts to curb some of the powers he has obtained that have been set by precedent. Under Section 3, the act states that if possible, the president must consult with Congress before sending troops into combat, and he must report to Congress regularly on the status of the war.

Section 4 is more specific, it states that if troops are sent into war without a declaration, the president needs to report on: why it’s necessary, the constitutional authority under which such introduction took place, and the estimated duration of the war. Furthermore, it states that between sixty and ninety days after a report is submitted or is required to be submitted, the president must terminate use of troops unless Congress: declares war, authorizes use of the troops, extends the period, or cannot meet due to an attack on the United States[iii].

Prior to the War Powers Act, President Harry Truman, rather than seek Congressional declaration, used his constitutional power as commander in chief to commit troops to the Korean War. Congress had no say in whether this war would be fought. Along with this, the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution gave Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon the power to “take all necessary measures … to prevent further aggression[iv]. ” This gave the presidents complete control over the war despite the Congresses eventual division, who could do nothing about it.

These incidents caused Congress to decide that the Framers did not intend for the president to have this kind of war making power, so they passed the War Powers Act on November 7th, 1973, right after the Vietnam War. The War Powers Act was explicitly meant to limit presidential powers during war time, but it has failed to do so. The ninety day limit has never been followed and while 99 reports have been submitted to Congress because of the Resolution, the reports are simply to inform, rather than consult with Congress, after a planned action is already under way.

During the presidential reign of Gerald Ford, the United States was involved with six military crises: the rescue of U. S. citizens and refugees in Vietnam after the war, the rescue of the Mayaguez, and two evacuation operations in Lebanon. The War Powers Act was not applied in any of these situations, and it’s relevancy in military rescue operations has been questioned. Also, in 1990, President George H. W. Bush committed 500,000 troops to Saudi Arabia in Operation Desert Storm. The troops were left there for longer than 60 days without Congressional approval, again defying the limits of the act.

President Bill Clinton sent troops into Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, the Middle East, and Kosovo, all without Congressional approval. Clinton, like other presidents, believes that the president has the authority of Commander in Chief to send troops into combat. House Joint Resolution 114, passed on October 16th, 2002, gave a broad authorization to the President to use troops against Iraq to protect the national security of the United States. The plaintiffs argued in the Supreme Court case Doe vs.

Bush and Rumfield, that a specific declaration was necessary for the president to use troops. The case was dismissed as it was believed that foreign policy is outside the jurisdiction of the courts and President Bush was allowed to wage this war without any Congressional Declaration. In fact, Congress has only declared five wars, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II. In these wars, the president has been the one who decided that war was necessary and asked Congress for a declaration.

On the other hand, the president has waged over 100 conflicts without Congressional approval. The Constitution was left ambiguous by the framers when it came to war powers. They did not clearly state that the president could not send troops without a declaration of war, and they did not give Congress the final power to wage wars. Technically, Congress does have the final say on a war because they provide the money for the troops; but they have not used this power because the troops would be stranded without supplies.

The framers left the Constitution ambiguous on war powers in order for it to be flexible for changing times[v]. Congress does not need to declare war for it to be fought, and the president has the final say in declaring war. Throughout history, Congress has let the president have complete control of wars while they focus on laws. The War Powers Act has attempted to restrict presidential powers, but it is largely ignored by latter presidents. Congress supports wars that are won even if undeclared, but they criticize the President if an undeclared war is lost.

Congress is an important part of wartime with the supplying of troops, nevertheless, it is the President’s call whether to wage a war or not. Congress can declare war, but if the President does not send troops, then there is no war. As Commander in Chief, it is the president who can truly declare war. Bibliography National Constitution Center. “War Making – Executive and Legislative Powers – Educational Resources. ” National Constitution Center. http://constitutioncenter. org/ncc_edu_War_Making_Executive_and_Legislative_Powers. aspx (accessed December 9, 2010)

Washington Post. “War Powers Act Timeline. ” Washington Post. http://www. washingtonpost. com/wp-srv/onpolitics/articles/timeline_politics1. html (accessed December 9, 2010) Williams, Charles F. “War Powers: A New Chapter in a Continuing Debate. ” Social Education 67 (April 2003): 128, 131-132 Yale Law School. “Avalon Project – War Powers Resolution. ” Yale Law School. http://avalon. law. yale. edu/20th_century/warpower. asp (accessed December 9, 2010) ———————– [i] Washington Post, “War Powers Act Timeline,” Washington Post, http://www. ashingtonpost. com/wp-srv/onpolitics/articles/timeline_politics1. html. [ii] Ibid. [iii] Yale Law School. “Avalon Project – War Powers Resolution. ” Yale Law School. http://avalon. law. yale. edu/20th_century/warpower. asp (accessed December 9, 2010) [iv] National Constitution Center, “War Making – Executive and Legislative Powers – Educational Resources,” National Constitution Center. [v] Charles F. Williams, “War Powers: A New Chapter in a Continuing Debate,” Social Education 67 (April 2003): 128, 131-132.


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