Date of Graduation
Bachelor of Science in International Business
How Can the War Powers Act of 1972 be Reformed to Increase the Chances of Winning Wars?
This paper examines the effects of the War Powers Act of 1973’s Authorisation for Use of Military Force (AUMF) system on the conduct of war, especially regarding the ongoing War on Terror. The War on Terror, began in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks when President Bush invaded Afghanistan. Congress, using the War Powers Act, passed the 2001 AUMF in the weeks after the attacks. The 2001 AUMF has been used in twenty-two countries to justify anti-terror operations thus far (Savell, 2021), with most of these conflicts ongoing. Yet the initial war this AUMF approved (in Afghanistan) ended in 2021 with the Taliban regaining government control and, according to the United Nations, Al-Qaeda cells are still active in the country (Tirumurti, 2021). This is a direct failure to meet the goals of the war, despite what the Pentagon may say (Wittes & Huggard, 2019).
The War Powers Act of 1973 was passed by Congress (after overriding Nixon’s veto) in response to the perceived (and actual) failures of the Vietnam War, which occurred without congressional approval. It set out the three methods for which the US Military may be used in conflict. The first, allows the president to commit military forces abroad without congressional approval for no more than sixty days. The second requires to Congress issue an Authorisation for the Use of Military (AUMF) which allows the president to continue the use of military force without a formal declaration of war. The president must follow any stipulations set out by the AUMF. The third is where Congress may pass a formal declaration of war (its Article 1 power in the Constitution). A formal war declaration has not occurred since World War 2.
Whilst the War Powers Act has allowed Congress to regain control over foreign conflicts by requiring its authorisation or a war declaration, it has clearly not been effective. The massive failures in Afghanistan (2001 – 2021), and lacklustre congressional oversight and reporting illustrate this failure. Due to the rise in conflicts with groups and organisations within countries, rather than nation-states themselves, reforms to the AUMF process might be specifically helpful to constrain the President’s power and give Congress more control and information. AUMFs are not required to specify the enemies being fought or the political/governing groups we will be working with in-country. Such omissions can cause confusion both on and off the battlefield. There are also no requirements for periodic congressional testimony or the contents of any potential testimony. Furthermore, there are no requirements for Congress to specify an end to any conflict sanctioned by an AUMF, leading to perpetual (or ‘forever’) wars. And finally, there are not required to be any mentions of spending or budgets that the war will necessitate. Essentially the Department of Defence chooses its own war budget (from its Congressionally approved DoD budget) and how to spend it in each conflict. I want to explore the notion that constraining AUMF’s use and requiring testimony may lead to a more responsibly managed conflict and thus a more successful, shorter, and cheaper conflict overall.
Terrorism, International Relations, War on Terror, AUMF
Fletcher V, B. (2023). The US War in Afghanistan and the War Powers Act: A Natural Experiment. Economics Undergraduate Honors Theses Retrieved from https://scholarworks.uark.edu/econuht/52
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