First Blood in Vietnam
This report discusses and assesses the War Powers Resolution, its application since enactment in 1973, providing detailed background on a variety of cases where it was utilized, or issues of its applicability were raised. It will be revised biannually.
In the post-Cold War world, Presidents have continued to commit U.S. Armed Forces into potential hostilities, sometimes without a specific authorization from Congress. Thus the War Powers Resolution and its purposes continues to be a potential subject of controversy. On June 7, 1995 the House defeated, by a vote of 217-201, an amendment to repeal the central features of the War Powers Resolution that have been deemed unconstitutional by every President since the law's enactment in 1973. In 1999, after the President committed U.S. military forces to action in Yugoslavia without congressional authorization, Rep. Tom Campbell used expedited procedures under the Resolution to force a debate and votes on U.S. military action in Yugoslavia, and later sought, unsuccessfully, through a federal court suit to enforce Presidential compliance with the terms of the War Powers Resolution.
The War Powers Resolution (P.L. 93-148) was passed over the veto of President Nixon on November 7, 1973, to provide procedures for Congress and the President to participate in decisions to send U.S. Armed Forces into hostilities. Section 4(a)(1) requires the President to report to Congress any introduction of U.S. forces into hostilities or imminent hostilities. When such a report is submitted, or is required to be submitted, section 5(b) requires that the use of forces must be terminated within 60 to 90 days unless Congress authorizes such use or extends the time period. Section 3 requires that the "President in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing" U.S. Armed Forces into hostilities or imminent hostilities.
From 1975 through 2003, Presidents have submitted 111 reports as the result of the War Powers Resolution, but only one, the 1975 Mayaguez seizure, cited section 4(a)(1) which triggers the time limit, and in this case the military action was completed and U.S. armed forces had disengaged from the area of conflict when the report was made. The reports submitted by the President since enactment of the War Powers Resolution cover a range of military activities from embassy evacuations to full scale combat military operations, such as the Persian Gulf conflict, and the 2003 war with Iraq, the intervention in Kosovo and the anti-terrorism actions in Afghanistan. In some instances U.S. Armed Forces have been used in hostile situations without formal reports to Congress under the War Powers Resolution. On one occasion, Congress exercised its authority to determine that the requirements of section 4(a)(1) became operative on August 29, 1983, through passage of the Multinational Force in Lebanon Resolution (P.L. 98-119). In 1991 and 2002, Congress authorized, by law, the use of military force against Iraq. In several instances neither the President, Congress, nor the courts have been willing to trigger the War Powers Resolution mechanism.
Major Cases and Issues
Prior to the Persian Gulf War
◆ Vietnam Evacuations and Mayaguez:
What Is Consultation?
◆ Iran Hostage Rescue Attempt: Is Consultation Always
Necessary and Possible?
◆ El Salvador: When Are Military Advisers in
◆ Honduras: When Are Military Exercises More
◆ Lebanon: How Can Congress Invoke the War
◆ Grenada: Do the Expedited Procedures Work?
◆ Libya: Should Congress Help Decide on Raids to Undertake in
Response to International Terrorism?
◆ Persian Gulf, 1987: When Are Hostilities Imminent?
◆ Invasion of Panama: Why Was the War Powers Issue Not Raised?
Major Cases and Issues in the Post-Cold
War World: United Nations Actions
◆ Persian Gulf War, 1991: How Does the War Powers Resolution
Relate to the United Nations and a Real War?
◆ Iraq-Post Gulf War: How Long Does an Authorization Last?
◆ Somalia: When Does Humanitarian Assistance Require
◆ Former Yugoslavia/Bosnia/Kosovo: What If No
◆ Haiti: Can the President Order Enforcement of a
◆ Terrorist Attacks against the United States (World Trade
Center and the Pentagon) 2001: How Does the War Powers
◆ Use of Force Against Iraq Resolution 2002: A Classic
Application of the War Powers Resolution?