The War Powers Act of 1973

The text of the War Powers Act stipulates that the president must consult Congress before committing the military in extended overseas operations lasting more than 60 days. (It can be extended by the president for an additional 30 days.) It also requires that the executive consult the judicial branch before any use of force, whenever possible. This 1973 act or resolution as it is sometimes referred was vetoed by then President Nixon and then passed by two-thirds majority of both the house and senate.

A big part of the reason for this resolution was the U.S. involvement in the Viet Nam war in which a succession of presidents, most notably President Johnson escalated a conflict that met with a large degree of disapprobation by Congress. Since war had not been declared, Congress was not consulted as it might have been under the appropriate provision of the Constitution, Article I: Section 8.

It has long been a bone of contention between the executive and legislative branches of government, but has not been thoroughly tested in the courts. The act itself might be deemed unnecessary in some regard, because Congress has always held the power of the purse and could at any time defund a military operation, making necessary the withdrawal of troops from any specific region or conflict. For example, defunding U.S. weapons and support for the South Viet Nam government in 1975 precipitated its collapse in the face of continued Soviet support of the North.

The consultation provision of the War Powers Act actually seems to be the more controversial section as may be illustrated by the U.S. week long 1983 invasion of Grenada. Individual members of Congress were only informed on the night before the invasion began in order to prevent leaks and unnecessary deaths due to the event.1

Both the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan have raised questions of how long an authorization of a use of force by Congress is valid.


  1. Framing the Sixties page 77

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