The History of Declaring War
Genevieve Syverson /
With the full Senate vote to come on whether to authorize air strikes against the Assad regime in Syria, it would be useful to have a well-established threshold regarding the authorization of military strikes. But there isn’t one. As Kim Holmes outlines in a Washington Times op-ed, the recent history of the implementation of the War Powers Act is inconsistent and gives little clarity for today’s debate.
Congressional leaders would do well to review America’s record of military engagements. Throughout all the armed conflicts the U.S. has been involved in since the Declaration of Independence, only five congressional declarations of war have been issued. And, as The Heritage Guide to the Constitution points out, the “Supreme Court has never intervened to stop a war that a President has started without congressional authorization.”
Furthermore, since the War Powers Act was passed in 1973, Republican Presidents have generally argued that it is unconstitutional, though they “have often taken actions ‘consistent’ with the War Powers Resolution to avoid unnecessary conflict with Congress,” while Democratic Presidents have complied with the act with little argument.
The U.S. would be better served with a consistent employment of military power. As Holmes explains, “We don’t need a new law, but we could be more consistent when it comes to seeking congressional authorization of military action. Right now it seems mostly to be about which political party occupies the White House.”
U.S. leaders in Congress and the Administration should use the current debate and the lessons learned from past applications of the War Powers Act to establish a threshold for the use of military force that has nothing to do with partisan politics.