Constitutional War Study Group

jones“With the threat of ISIS and our never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is absolutely necessary that Congress reclaims its constitutional authority to debate and declare war.–Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC)

Rep. Jones writes:

This month (April 2015), Congressman Walter B. Jones (R-NC) and Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) started a Constitutional War Study Group to focus on the history, philosophy, legal authority and political need behind Congress’ constitutional war powers. The Constitutional War Study Group is open to all members of Congress and will hold regular meetings with academic, legal, and military scholars who will brief the group on how Congress can reclaim its constitutional authority and legislative process for debating and declaring war. On Friday, May 1, Congressmen Jones and McGovern will speak about the Constitutional War Study Group on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal from 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM EST.

“For decades, Congress has slipped into a dangerous and unconstitutional pattern of failing to carry out its responsibilities and has ceded its authority to the executive branch in matters of war. This is not what the Founding Fathers intended,” said Congressman Jones. “With the threat of ISIS and our never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is absolutely necessary that Congress reclaims its constitutional authority to debate and declare war. It is a moral responsibility of Congress to do so. I hope the Constitutional War Study Group will foster a greater urgency in Congress to address matters of war.”

“Congress must uphold its constitutional duty to authorize military action. The lack of open debate and discussion in Congress around recent military actions in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have made it clear that it is time to re-examine the role and responsibilities that we, as Members of Congress, have in committing our country to war,” said Congressman McGovern. “It is my hope that the Constitutional War Study Group will help foster dialogue among Members and increase awareness around the issues pertaining to U.S. engagement in armed conflicts around the world.  At a minimum, we owe it to our servicemen and women and their families to carry out our Constitutional duties as responsibly and faithfully as they carry out theirs.”

Are Jones and McGovern right; should every military action be approved by Congress with a declaration of war? What problems would that solve; what problems might it cause?

Here are some military actions, wars, in which Congress took a relatively passive role.

  • Korea
  • Lebanon
  • Cuba (Bay of Pigs)
  • Viet Nam
  • Bosnia
  • Somalia
  • Iraq
  • Afghanistan
  • Lybia
  • Gaza
  • Syria

Had a declaration of war been necessary, the United States might have not been involved. Would we be better off today in that case? Keeping in mind that Congress has been unwilling to debate and vote on a bill authorizing military force against ISIS, Jones and McGovern should anticipate an uphill battle.

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3 Responses to Constitutional War Study Group

  1. josephurban says:

    The first legal issue, I suppose is a definition of terms. What, exactly, is “war”. ? Is any use of military action a “war”? Certainly the planning and mobilization of large numbers of troops (as in VietNam, Iraq 1, Iraq2 and Afghanistan) would be considered a war.
    Are the drone strikes against ISIS a war ? Or a “military action”?
    Congress has been able to have it both ways. Let the POTUS make the tough decisions about military action, then sit back and criticize when things go wrong. And they always go wrong.
    Establishing a “study group” sounds to me like a way to pretend to constituents that you are actually doing something. Like forming a committee.
    Of course, when the Constitution was written there was no ability to use quick strike nuclear weapons. And the US did not have troops stationed around the world sitting as targets. So, the POTUS today does need to be able to use military force on a moment’s notice.


  2. whungerford says:

    Are the drone strikes against ISIS a war or a “military action”? Maybe neither one. They reportedly are controlled by the CIA which is not part of the Defense Department (military). When John McCain suggested drone operations might better be the responsibility of the Defense Dept., he probably wasn’t thinking of Constitutional issues, but if they were transferred to Defense, then the War Powers Act might be applicable.


  3. Deb Meeker says:

    The Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and of course they were and are wars, were funded by Congressional decision, as were all the other “actions” listed above. To suggest that Congress needs to “reclaim” it’s powers, is to suggest that Congress no longer holds the purse strings for war. If they won’t fund wars, wars won’t happen.
    The following seems to support what Congressman Jones and Congressman McGovern are talking about.


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