Since World War II, Congress has opted to pass a series of resolutions to authorize the president to use force rather than declare war. These resolutions are an extension of the War Powers Resolution (WPR), a federal law passed in 1973 that was meant to limit presidential war powers. The WPR originally stipulated the following:
The War Powers Resolution requires the president to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days, with a further 30-day withdrawal period, without congressional authorization for use of military force (AUMF) or a declaration of war by the United States.
Since its passing, the WPR has largely failed to reign in the executive branch's ability to unilaterally take military action. A particular flaw in the resolution is its use of the word "hostilities" to describe conflict. The introductory text to the resolution is as follows:
It is the purpose of this joint resolution to fulfill the intent of the framers of the Constitution of the United States and insure that the collective judgment of both the Congress and the President will apply to the introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, and to the continued use of such forces in hostilities or in such situations.
Unfortunately, "hostilities" fails to precisely describe warfare. This terminology has been exploited by various presidencies, culminating in testimony by the Obama administration explicitly stating its futility to constrain the executive branch's authority. Consequently, this loophole handicaps the WPR's ability to function as originally intended. Policymakers have considered replacing the current term with "armed conflict", which would align with the Geneva Convention's terminology and the international legal obligations requiring congressional oversight that would come with such a conflict.
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