War Powers Resolution: A Brief Summary of Pro and Con Arguments
CRS Report for Congress
War Powers Resolution:
A Brief Summary of Pro and Con Arguments
Richard F. Grimmett
Specialist in National Defense
Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division
The War Powers Resolution, Public Law 93-148, was enacted by Congress over
the veto of President Nixon on November 7, 1973. Through more than twenty-two years
of experience, the resolution has remained a focus of controversy on the war powers of
the President and Congress under the Constitution.1 Major areas of controversy include
the constitutionality of some provisions, the proper roles for the President and Congress
in entering armed conflicts, the effect on U.S. military operations, and the effectiveness
of the resolution in achieving its purpose of assuring that the collective judgment of the
Congress and the President apply to the introduction of U.S. Armed Forces into
hostilities. In the post-Cold War era, the relationship of the War Powers Resolution to
U.S. participation in military/peacekeeping activities under the auspices of the United
Nations, as well as peacekeeping operations in general have become an issue. This
report lists major arguments for and against the resolution. This report will not be
The War Powers ResolutionThe War Powers Resolution is
seeks to carry out Article I, Section 8unconstitutional because it impedes
of the Constitution which grantsthe ability of the President to carry out
Congress the power to declare war andhis function as Commander in Chief
to make all laws necessary for carryinggranted by Article II, Section 2 of the
into execution the powers vested byConstitution. The War Powers
the Constitution in the government.Resolution attempts to take away
The founding fathers gave Congressauthorities that the President has
1For additional information, see: The War Powers Resolution: Twenty-Two Years of
Experience. May 24, 1996. CRS Report 96-476 F. 58 p.; War Powers Resolution: Presidential
Compliance. CRS Issue Brief IB81050; updated periodically. War Powers: Bibliography-in-
Brief, 1988-1992. CRS Report 93-675 L.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
the power to declare war so that theexercised for 200 years. Throughout
President alone could not commit theAmerican history Presidents have used
Nation to war.U.S. forces abroad, without a
The War Powers Resolution isdeclaration of war or other
necessary to reverse the trend sincecongressional authorization, when
World War II for Presidents to sendnecessary to protect American citizens
armed forces into conflicts abroador defend U.S. interests.
without congressional authorization.
The War Powers ResolutionThe War Powers Resolution
permits adequate flexibility byimpedes the President's flexibility to
recognizing the President's right torespond quickly and decisively to
respond to a national emergencyworld events by providing for
created by attack upon the Unitedcongressional consultation and
States, its territories, or its armedauthorization for sustained
forces. deployments into hostilities. It
encourages foreign adversaries to
continue their activities until U.S.
mandatory withdrawal deadlines are
The War Powers Resolution hasThe War Powers Resolution has
been effective in encouragingbeen ineffective because it has not
Presidents to consider the opinion ofprevented Presidents from undertaking
Congress prior to engaging in conflictmilitary actions without congressional
and in some instances in restrainingapproval and it has not brought about
the size or duration of militaryconsultation prior to decisions. Except
commitments. Presidents havein the Mayaguez incident, Presidents
reported consistent with the Warhave never reported under section
Powers Resolution on more than sixty4(a)(1) that they have introduced
occasions.forces into hostilities or imminent
Collective judgment and theThe War Powers Resolution
support of Congress and the Presidenthinders effective conduct of military
are essential to effective conduct ofoperations abroad. The resolution is
wars, and the War Powers Resolutionnot necessary because Congress has
seeks to assure that both branchesample opportunity through resolutions,
share in making the decision from theauthorizing legislation, and
beginning.appropriations, to shape decisions on
the use of armed forces.
The War Powers ResolutionThe War Powers Resolution
provides a framework of procedures todiverts congressional debate from the
obtain congressional advice andmerits of specific courses of action
authorization for military actionsand focuses attention on prerogatives
abroad in a timely fashion.and procedures.
The power of the purse provides
The War Powers ResolutionCongress opportunity to halt any
provides a method for Congress tomilitary action it disapproves so the
bring about the end of anyWar Powers Resolution is not
commitment of forces into hostilitiesnecessary.
or imminent hostilities.
The War Powers ResolutionIt is unconstitutional to require
provides a time limit for using forcesthat forces be withdrawn within 60 to
without first obtaining congressional90 days because of congressional
authorization, and this time limitinaction. The time limit is arbitrary
provides important leverage forand inflexible and assures adversaries
Congress. After the President reportsthat if they wait out the time limit,
under the War Powers Resolution, orU.S. forces will be withdrawn. Some
should have reported, that he hasMembers object that the time limit has
introduced forces into hostilities orin practice given the President 60 free
imminent hostilities, the forces mustdays in which he can use forces
be withdrawn within 60 to 90 dayswithout congressional authorization.
unless Congress declares war or
authorizes the forces to remain.
Section 5(c) of the War PowersThe War Powers Resolution is
Resolution provides that at any timeunconstitutional because Section 5(c)
Congress by concurrent resolution canis a legislative veto, providing for
direct the President to withdraw forcesaction to withdraw forces from
from hostilities. This is not ahostilities by a concurrent resolution
legislative veto because there is noof Congress. A concurrent resolution
delegation of authority as in otherdoes not require presentation to the
legislative vetoes (rulemaking,President for signature, and thus such
suspension of deportation, etc.), wherea measure does not go through the full
Congress placed a condition onlegislative process. In INS v. Chadha
delegated authority. If Members wantand related cases, the Supreme Court
to act by joint resolution, thatdeclared legislative vetoes
procedure already exists in Sectionunconstitutional.
1013 of P.L. 98-164, signed
November 22, 1983.
If the War Powers Resolution hasLaws such as the War Powers
been less effective than its supportersResolution are attempts by Congress
originally hoped, it is becauseto micromanage foreign policy and to
Presidents have not complied with allforce consultation and cooperation.
its provisions, or because CongressSuch cooperation cannot be mandated
has not had the will to take theby legal line-drawing but must be
decisions necessary to enforce it. Ifbased on recognition of shared
either the President or Congress wouldresponsibilities, attitudes of trust, and
observe the legislation, the resolutionmutual goals.
could be effective in assuring that both
branches supported military action.
The War Powers Resolution isThe War Powers Resolution is a
essentially sound and any necessaryvestige of the Vietnam War era and
steps to adapt its functioning to thenot suited to the new world situation
new post-Cold War world could bein which U.S. involvement in
taken through minor amendments orhostilities may often be part of a
without amending the resolution itself.multilateral effort. The post-Cold War
Such measures might includeera requires greater flexibility for the
establishing a standing consultativePresident to make rapid decisions that
group or specifying congressionalmay entail the use of forces in new
procedures in the United Nationsand varied ways.