Declaration of war by the United States

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A declaration of war by the United States is the statement of purpose traditionally requested by the President of the United States and granted by Congress to engage military force against another nation. Since World War II, the decision-making power of Congress to declare war has been voluntarily limited to issuing authorizations of force. The War Powers Resolution of 1973 (Public Law 93-148) limits the power of the President of the United States to wage war without the approval of the Congress. (See below.) The United States has formally declared war against foreign nations eleven separate times.


[edit] Formal declarations of war

The table below gives the eleven separate times that the United States has formally declared war against foreign nations. The only country against which the United States has declared war more than once is Germany, against which the United States has declared war twice (though a case could be made for Hungary as a successor state to Austria-Hungary). Each time the declaration was requested by the President either in writing or in person before a joint session of Congress.

War Declared On Declaration Date Senate Vote House Vote President Peace Treaty
War of 1812 United Kingdom June 18, 1812 19-13 79-49 Madison Treaty of Ghent (December 24, 1814)
Mexican-American War Mexico May 11, 1846 40-2 174-14 Polk Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (February 2, 1848)
Spanish-American War Spain April 24, 1898 42-35 310-6 McKinley Treaty of Paris (December 10, 1898)
World War I Germany April 4 & 6, 1917 82-6 373-50 Wilson Treaty of Berlin (August 25, 1921)
World War I Austria-Hungary December 7, 1917 74-0 365-1 Wilson Treaty of Trianon (in part)
World War II Japan December 8, 1941 82-0 388-1 FDR San Francisco Peace Treaty (September 8, 1951)
World War II Germany December 11, 1941 88-0 393-0 FDR Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany, Treaty of Vienna with Austria
World War II Italy December 11, 1941 90-0 399-0 FDR Paris Peace Treaty (February 10, 1947)
World War II Bulgaria June 5, 1942 73-0 357-0 FDR Paris Peace Treaty (February 10, 1947)
World War II Hungary June 5, 1942 73-0 360-0 FDR Paris Peace Treaty (February 10, 1947)
World War II Romania June 5, 1942 73-0 361-0 FDR Paris Peace Treaty (February 10, 1947)

[edit] Military engagements authorized by Congress

Many times, the United States has engaged in extended military engagements that, while not formally declared wars, were explicitly authorized by Congress, short of a formal declaration of war.

War or conflict Enemy or enemies Initial authorization Senate vote House vote Conclusion
Quasi-War France 1798     Convention of 1800 (Treaty of Mortefontaine)
First Barbary War Barbary States 1801      
Second Barbary War Barbary States 1815      
Raid of slave traffic Africa 1820      
Redress for attack on U.S. Navy vessel Paraguay 1859      
Intervention during the Russian Civil War Bolshevist Russia 1918      
Protection of Lebanon Rebels 1958      
Vietnam War National Liberation Front, later Democratic Republic of Vietnam Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, August 7, 1964 88-2 416-0 Peace agreement signed in Paris, January 1973
Restoration of Lebanese government   1982      
Invasion of Panama a.k.a. Operation Just Cause Panama Defense Force December 20, 1989     Manuel Noriega deposed
Persian Gulf War a.k.a. Operation Desert Storm Iraq January 12, 1991 52-47 250-183 The United Nations Security Council drew up terms for the cease-fire, April 3, 1991
Invasion of Afghanistan a.k.a Operation Enduring Freedom Taliban government of Afghanistan and
S.J. Res. 23
September 18, 2001
98-0 420-1 ongoing
Iraq War a.k.a. Operation Iraqi Freedom Iraq H.J. Res. 114,
October 16, 2002
77-23 296-133 ongoing

[edit] United Nations resolutions

The Korean War was not a war authorized by the U.S. Congress. President Harry S. Truman cited authority under United Nations resolutions. Major US Military involvement began with Task Force Smith on July 5th, 1950. A cease fire agreement was signed on July 27, 1953; however no formal treaty has been signed to this date.

[edit] Other undeclared wars

There are many undeclared "wars" missing from this list. The United States fought in Korea in 1870 and in Nicaragua in 1927.

The United States' longest war was fought between approximately 1840 and 1886 against the Apache Nation. During that entire 46-year period, there were never more than 90 days of "peace."

[edit] The War Powers Resolution

Template:NPOV-section In 1973, following the withdrawal of most American troops from the Vietnam War, a debate emerged about the extent of presidential power in deploying troops without a declaration of war. A compromise in the debate was reached with the War Powers Resolution. This act clearly defined how many soldiers could be deployed by the President of the United States and for how long. It also required formal reports by the President to Congress regarding the status of such deployments, and limited the total amount of time that American forces could be employed without a formal declaration of war.

Although the constitutionality of the act has never been tested, it has been followed, most notably during the Grenada Conflict, the Panamanian Conflict, the Somalia Conflict, the First Gulf War, and the Second Gulf War. In each case, the President asserted the constitutional authority to commit troops without the necessity of Congressional approval, but in each case the President received Congressional authorization that satisfied the provisions of the War Powers Act.

[edit] Controversy regarding U.S. declarations of war

Those who oppose waging war without declaration point to Article I of the Constitution, which reads The Congress shall have the power to declare war.

In the case of smaller conflicts not requiring large commitments of manpower and money, many Americans believe that precedents have already been set for acting without the need for declarations of war. In the case of major conflicts, however, debate is centered around the aforesaid words of the United States Constitution.

Those who believe that formal declarations of war are not necessary, argue that since the Constitution expressly prohibits the states from engaging in war without consent of Congress unless actually invaded or in imminent danger, that if a similar prohibition had been intended for the President, then such words would have also been written to effect it. They also point to the military connotations of the phrases engaging in war (used in the aforesaid prohibition) and levying war (used in the definition of treason) as opposed to the diplomatic connotations of the phrase declare war. Further historical arguments point to the decisions to not issue a formal declaration of war preceding either the Civil War or the Revolutionary War, the latter decision being made by a Continental Congress comprising a number of those who went on to write the Constitution.

There are also diplomatic reasons for a dislike of "declaring war" on a country, as it can often be perceived as holding an entire nation responsible for the actions of a few of its citizens. In the case of the most recent public opposition, those who support such actions have noted that, in the case of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there was no 'target' for a legal declaration of war, rather political groups or individuals. On the other hand many argue that since an invading army seeks to occupy and cause havoc to a target country and its population and not just a political group or individual, the aforementioned justification is tenuous at best.

However, the historical record disagrees somewhat on this point. The Barbary Coast War was clearly waged against a political entity not regarded as the legitimate government of its nation of operation; the Border War, quietly declared as it was, was waged against a single person, Pancho Villa. Needless to say, in both instances many hundreds if not thousands or people belonging to a neither political entity or being Pancho Villa also died in the event

[edit] Current status of the U.S. debate

Extremely heated debate developed in the United States beginning on or around September 11, 2001. Opponents of the uses of military force since began to argue, chiefly, that the Second Gulf War was unconstitutional, because it lacked a clear declaration of war, and was waged over the objection of a significantly sized demographic in the United States.

Instead of formal war declarations, the United States Congress has begun issuing authorizations of force. Such authorizations have included the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that greatly increased American participation in the Vietnam War, and the recent "Authorization-of-the-Use-of-military-force" (AUMF) resolution that started the 2003 Gulf War. Some question the legality of these authorizations of force. Many who support declarations of war argue that they keep administrations honest by forcing them to lay out their case to the American people while, at the same time, honoring the constitutional role of the United States Congress.

Those who oppose requiring declarations say that it only takes more time, and that more lives will be lost for the sake of a political formality. Americans, they argue, should support their President and question military actions only after the fact. However, the courts have consistently refused to intervene in this matter, and in practice Presidents have the power to commit forces with Congressional approval but without a declaration of war.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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