TRIALS BY FIRE - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

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TRIALS BY FIRE - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

According to former Secretaries of State James Baker and Warren Christopher,the War Power Resolution is poorly crafted law because it “too narrowlydefines the president’s war powers to exclude the power to respond to suddenattacks on Americans abroad; it empowers Congress to terminate an armedconflict by simply doing nothing; and it fails to identify which of the 535 membersof Congress the president should consult before going to war.” 61Presidents have taken military action without explicit Congressional authorizationmultiple times since the resolution’s 1973 passage. For instance,President Carter attempted to unilaterally rescue American hostages in Iranin 1980, President Reagan unilaterally bombed Libya in 1986 and PresidentClinton unilaterally initiated military engagements in Somalia and Kosovoin the 1990s.Members of Congress may actually prefer that the White House bear the politicalrisks for international conflicts. According to one scholar, Congress oftenexpresses support for US military action despite not having ‘authorized’the President from engaging in overseas military actions. 62 This suggests thatMembers of Congress could demur from making tough decisions in war andpeace, leaving the White House to ultimately succeed or fail in these criticalnational security endeavors.Congressional NotificationThe executive branch claims the power to classify documents and programsand the prerogative to withhold classified information from Members of Congress.By doing so, the executive branch can greatly influence the legislativebranch’s ability to make competent decisions. Cognizant of this political dynamic,Congress has attempted to maintain a stake in national security affairsby passing laws to ensure they remain as informed as possible on critical nationalsecurity issues.The 1947 National Security Act states Congress must be kept “fully informed”of significant intelligence activities; however, under “extraordinary circumstances,”only the so-called Gang of Eight must be informed of intelligenceBelfer Center for Science and International Affairs | Harvard Kennedy School37

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