The War Powers Resolution, and More from CRS

04.29.10 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Although the U.S. Constitution assigned the power to declare war to Congress, the use of armed forces has often been initiated by the President without congressional authorization.  The enactment of the War Powers Resolution in 1973 was an attempt by Congress to reassert its constitutional role and to regulate military action by the executive branch.  For the most part, it failed to accomplish those goals.

“The main purpose of the Resolution was to establish procedures for both branches to share in decisions that might get the United States involved in war,” a new report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) observes. “The drafters sought to circumscribe the President’s authority to use armed forces abroad in hostilities or potential hostilities without a declaration of war or other congressional authorization, yet provide enough flexibility to permit him to respond to attack or other emergencies.”

“But the record of the War Powers Resolution since its enactment has been mixed, and after 30 years it remains controversial,” the CRS report said.

The new report documents that mixed record, listing all of the instances from 1973 to December 2009 in which Presidents submitted reports to Congress under the Resolution, as well as instances of the use of U.S. armed forces that were not reported.  See “The War Powers Resolution: After Thirty-Six Years,” April 22, 2010.

For reasons that defy easy comprehension, Congress does not believe that CRS reports should be made readily available to members of the public, so identifying and acquiring reports of interest takes a bit of extra effort.  Noteworthy new CRS reports obtained by Secrecy News include the following (all pdf).

“Monitoring and Verification in Arms Control,” April 21, 2010.

“Emergency Communications: Broadband and the Future of 911,” April 27, 2010.

“Unauthorized Aliens in the United States,” April 27, 2010.

“Bangladesh: Political and Strategic Developments and U.S. Interests,” April 1, 2010.

“Guinea’s New Transitional Government: Emerging Issues for U.S. Policy,” April 23, 2010.