The date is June 4, 1942. The United States declares war on Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania in a vote of 73-0 in the Congress and Senate. This would mark the last time that war would be officially declared. Up to this day, war had been formally declared against 11 different nations in five wars. From the War of 1812, Mexican-American War, Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II, this process occurred after the president formally requested for Congress to declare war. We have fought over 125 conflicts without Congressional declaration – so what changed, and what are the effects of not declaring war?
A formal declaration of war is a requirement that was put in place during the Hague Convention III – relative to the opening of hostilities between countries, and signed by 42 countries (including the United States). It has immediate affects both domestically and abroad. From an international perspective, a declaration of war changes the official status of the two nations. This legally permits the killing or capturing of combatants, seizing of property or territory, arrest of citizens of the foreign nation, and a suspension or termination of agreements and trade amongst the countries and makes them unlawful. This means that commercial entities cannot conduct businesses between the two nations until the declaration of war is complete.
An authorization for force on the other hand allows specific aspects of war declaration to be initiated without all aspects being enacted. An example of this was depicted during the limited use of force against France in 1798. The authorization for force allowed the seizure of armed ships or those which had declared their hostilities, as well as the detaining of French citizens that had publically declared hostility towards the United States. It broke off trade agreements, but only until the next session of Congress.
Domestically, a declaration of war has immediate consequences. It enables the employment of the Alien Enemy Act, seen during World War II through the internment of Japanese Americans along the west coast. It automatically extends enlistments in the military forces until the war is over. This was seen during World War II again, and contrasted to the employment of Stop Loss programs during the surge in Iraq.
The authorization for force in regards to the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the United States is still in debate as to the overall legality and ramifications of decisions made. In general, the executive office has determined that it enables the detention of foreign citizens without trial, initiated foreign intelligence gathering, and instituted military tribunals. These are still open to both debate and heated discussions, both internally and abroad, as to their legality.
Under the War Powers Resolution of 1973, the President must report to Congress within 48 hours of initiating hostilities, entering a foreign country for combat purposes, or increasing the size of the military to support a combat role. Upon notification, hostilities must be ended unless Congress declares war, authorizes the use of force, extends the period for up to 60 days, or is unable to meet due to an attack on the United States.
The reality is that war has become a notion of semantics. A police state, an authorized use of force, a military intervention, or an armed peace keeping mission all mean the same thing. Military service members are put in a foreign location where they are fighting against that nation or groups. By failing to declare war, Congress abdicates its responsibilities towards the service member, and leaves its members able to debate later that it was not their conflict, but an act by the executive branch. While declaring war may seem a significant event nowadays, it demonstrates solidarity both in the decision and within the service members that are deploying. One nation, one purpose, one fight. This is why the executive authorization for force fails to be effective, because at the same time service members are fighting on behalf of their country, politicians are picking sides for their reelection campaigns.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.