Authority to Declare War
Authority of Congress and the President to Declare and to Enter into War
For the United States, Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution says “Congress shall have power to … declare War” that thereby provides authority to the President to fight. However, that passage provides no specific format the legislation must take to be considered a “declaration of war” nor does the Constitution itself use this term. There is no requirement to estimate, limit, or constrain the cost in lives, injuries, and treasure.
The War Powers Resolution of 1973 is a federal law intended to check the president’s power to commit the United States to an armed conflict without the consent of the U.S. Congress. The Resolution was adopted in the form of a United States Congress joint resolution. It provides that the U.S. President can send U.S. Armed Forces into action abroad only by declaration of war by Congress, “statutory authorization,” or in case of “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.”
However, Presidents have assumed responsibility to start a war, e.g. the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident that kicked off the Vietnam war. Moreover, the President is the Commander-in-Chief and has the sole authority to release nuclear weapons. Furthermore, once started, there is no legislative or constitutional mechanism to define or even consider a mandatory end to a mistaken war.
According to Wikipedia in March 2013, the total cost of the Iraq War was estimated to have been $1.7 trillion by the Watson Institute of International Studies at Brown University. Critics have argued that the total cost of the war to the U.S. economy is estimated to be from $3 trillion to $6 trillion, including interest, by 2053.
It seems that there should be more clarity about such monumental issues. Checks and balances between Congress and President warrant elevation of defining the declaration of war authority decision-making process above branches of Government to the Constitution. As of this writing, 2016-2017, the U.S. is attacking and killing and maiming opponents and collateral civilians in seven countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, in the name, authority, and responsibility of all the People of the U.S..
This is a difficult but critical subject that the People may wish to take up, perhaps first by an Advisory Initiative, but care will be needed to avoid exposing the US to greater risk by making information public that is now secret. Obviously, the People cannot be responsive to immediate war threats, but the People have been through enough wars, some possibly avoidable and certainly hugely costly in life, limb, and money, to at least review the process taken by Congress and the President to declare war in the name of all the People.