Authorizing the Use of Military Force
Friends Committee on National
Washington Newsletter, October
On October 10, the House and Senate passed
identical resolutions authorizing the use of force against Iraq,
H.J. Res. 114/S.J. Res. 45. The final vote in the House was 296-133
for the resolution, and 77-23 in favor in the Senate. The joint
resolution provides broad authorization for the President to wage
unilateral, preemptive war against Iraq at his discretion. Although
the resolution passed both houses by significant margins, the
opposition vote was notably larger than expected. Many members
who voted for the resolution also spoke out on the floor during
debate expressing strong support for resuming UN weapons inspections
and deep concerns over the costs and consequences of a possible
unilateral, preemptive war.
The first two pages of the resolution
review the evidence and relative authorities upon which the authorization
rests. The final three sections lay out the conditions of authorization
and reporting requirements. The operative sections of the resolution
cover three main areas.
* Support for efforts through the UN.
The resolution states congressional support for efforts by the
President to work through the United Nations Security Council
to enforce resolutions related to Iraq. However, the joint resolution
is not binding in this regard and does not compel the President
to work with the UN.
*Authorization for Use of Unilateral Force.
The main operative portion of the resolution reads:
The President is authorized to use the
Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary
and appropriate in order to 1.) defend the national security of
the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq;
and 2.) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions
Within 48 hours of U.S. military action
against Iraq, the President is required to report to the leadership
of Congress that diplomatic or other peaceful means are no longer
adequate and that U.S. military action against Iraq will not impede
the war on terror. The resolution does not provide any standards
by which the President should make these determinations or any
mechanism through which the Congress could challenge the President's
determinations. The resolution also does not rule out the use
of nuclear weapons in a U.S. attack against Iraq.
* Reporting to Congress The joint resolution
requires that the President report to Congress at least once every
60 days on actions taken under the authorization of force. Reports
should include information on any use of force employed against
Iraq as well as "the status of planning for efforts that
are expected to be required after such actions" (i.e., planning
for post-war operations in Iraq). The resolution does not include
active congressional oversight beyond this reporting process for
U.S. military action against Iraq.
Congress's joint resolution does demonstrate
modification and some limitation of the White House's original
discussion draft. However, the joint resolution remains a near-blanket
authorization for unilateral, preemptive war, to be undertaken
at the President's discretion. It also suggests a number of troubling
* What are U.S. obligations as a member
of the UN? The UN Security Council-not the U.S.- is responsible
for enforcing UN Security Council resolutions. Although the congressional
resolution supports efforts to work cooperatively with the UN,
ultimately it leaves the enforcement of Security Council resolutions
in the hands of the President, usurping the UN role.
* Is preemptive, unilateral attack against
a "continuing threat" legal under international law?
Under the UN Charter, attacks by individual states against other
nations are justified only in response to an actual attack or
in cases of imminent threat of attack. The congressional resolution
defines the threat posed by Iraq as a "continuing threat"
and authorizes preemptive, unilateral U.S. military action. Will
this resolution set a new precedent for preemptive attack by other
nations against perceived threats?
* How will the President determine when
diplomatic and other peaceful means have failed? The international
community strongly supports a resumption and completion of UN
weapons inspections. Weapons inspectors are ready to return to
Iraq, and Iraq has signaled its willingness to admit them to all
sites covered by UN Security Council resolutions. Will the President
allow a reasonable time for UN weapons inspections and disarmament
efforts to be carried out successfully before pursuing other actions?
The UN Security Council-not the President of the U.S.-should determine
when inspections and other peaceful, diplomatic efforts have failed.
* Should there be limits on what constitutes
the "necessary and appropriate" use of force? The resolution
does not rule out the possible use of nuclear weapons.
* How would a massive, preemptive, unilateral
U.S. assault on Iraq defend U.S. national security or enforce
UN Security Council resolutions? What is the immediate threat
that Iraq poses to U.S. national security? If it is a threat of
weapons of mass destruction and possible support for terrorism,
how will initiating a war that could lead to the use of chemical,
biological, or even nuclear weapons and that might sow more seeds
of anti-U.S. sentiment in the Middle East help protect national
security? Moreover, once a war is underway, it will be impossible
to enforce UN Security Council resolutions which call for inspections
to verify and destroy weapons of mass destruction.
* How long will this authorization remain
in effect? There is no date of expiration for the authorization
of force, and the resolution does not address the possibility
of long-term U.S. occupation of Iraq.
* Has Congress surrendered its constitutional
responsibilities for overseeing U.S. foreign and military policies?
Aside from minimal reporting requirements, the resolution does
not provide an active oversight role for Congress in a U.S. war
against Iraq. The potential costs of such a war- financial, humanitarian,
and political-should demand greater congressional caution and
oversight than the resolution provides.
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