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Saturday, May 1, 2010

The War Powers Resolution: After Thirty-Six Years

Richard F. Grimmett
Specialist in International Security

This report discusses and assesses the War Powers Resolution and its application since enactment in 1973, providing detailed background on various cases in which it was used, as well as cases in which issues of its applicability were raised. It will be revised biannually. 

In the post-Cold War world, Presidents have continued to commit U.S. Armed Forces into potential hostilities, sometimes without a specific authorization from Congress. Thus the War Powers Resolution and its purposes continue to be a potential subject of controversy. On June 7, 1995, the House defeated, by a vote of 217-201, an amendment to repeal the central features of the War Powers Resolution that have been deemed unconstitutional by every President since the law's enactment in 1973. In 1999, after the President committed U.S. military forces to action in Yugoslavia without congressional authorization, Representative Tom Campbell used expedited procedures under the Resolution to force a debate and votes on U.S. military action in Yugoslavia, and later sought, unsuccessfully, through a federal court suit to enforce presidential compliance with the terms of the War Powers Resolution. 

The War Powers Resolution P.L. 93-148 was passed over the veto of President Nixon on November 7, 1973, to provide procedures for Congress and the President to participate in decisions to send U.S. Armed Forces into hostilities. Section 4(a)(1) requires the President to report to Congress any introduction of U.S. forces into hostilities or imminent hostilities. When such a report is submitted, or is required to be submitted, section 5(b) requires that the use of forces must be terminated within 60 to 90 days unless Congress authorizes such use or extends the time period. Section 3 requires that the "President in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing" U.S. Armed Forces into hostilities or imminent hostilities. 

From 1975 through 2009, Presidents have submitted 127 reports as the result of the War Powers Resolution, but only one, the 1975 Mayaguez seizure, cited section 4(a)(1), which triggers the time limit, and in this case the military action was completed and U.S. armed forces had disengaged from the area of conflict when the report was made. The reports submitted by the President since enactment of the War Powers Resolution cover a range of military activities, from embassy evacuations to full-scale combat military operations, such as the Persian Gulf conflict, and the 2003 war with Iraq, the intervention in Kosovo, and the anti-terrorism actions in Afghanistan. In some instances, U.S. Armed Forces have been used in hostile situations without formal reports to Congress under the War Powers Resolution. On one occasion, Congress exercised its authority to determine that the requirements of section 4(a)(1) became operative on August 29, 1983, through passage of the Multinational Force in Lebanon Resolution (P.L. 98- 119). In 1991 and 2002, Congress authorized, by law, the use of military force against Iraq. In several instances neither the President, Congress, nor the courts have been willing to trigger the War Powers Resolution mechanism.

Date of Report: April 22, 2010
Number of Pages: 81
Order Number: R41199
Price: $29.95

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