Declaring War

One of the responsibilities of the United States Congress is exercising its authority to declare war on another country. According to the Constitution, only Congress can declare war. The president of the United States cannot declare war. Eleven times in U.S. history, Congress has declared war on another country. The last time was during World War II. One December 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. That was approved and led to a series of additional declarations of war against Germany, Italy, Rumania, Bulgaria, and Hungary. While it is true that the U.S. has had several "wars" since then, such as in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, war not officially declared in any of those cases.

The Constitution also states that the president is the commander-in-chief of all branches of the U.S. military. Therefore, even though the president cannot technically declare war, the president has the authority to make many wartime decisions. If war is declared, the president is also given a great deal of control over the nation's economy, which is a major reason why Congress has been very hesitant to declare war over the past century.

And what if a president wants to use military force with getting Congressional approval? As the commander-in-chief, there are actions that a president can take without consulting Congress. In 1973, Congress approved the War Powers Act, which gives the president the authority to oversee military action against another country for 60 days before asking Congress for a declaration of war. However, this does not mean that a president can launch a full-scale military action against another country without a valid reason. If a president uses the authority to send the military to another country to drop bombs or commit some other type of military offensive, there must be a legal reason to do so. If not, the president could be accused of abusing the authority of the office, which could lead to impeachment.


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