Declaration of war
A Declaration of War is a formal declaration issued by a national government
indicating that a state of war exists between that nation, and one or more others.
Declarations of war and international law
In classical public international law a declaration of war entailed the
recognition between countries of a state of hostilities between these
countries and such declaration acted to regulate the conduct between the
military engagements between the forces of the respective countries. In the
twentieth century the concept of war has been gradually replaced with the
authorized use of force as recognized under international norms. The League
of Nations formed in 1919 in the wake of the First World War and the General
Treaty for the Renunciation of War 1928 signed in Paris demonstrated that
world powers were seriously seeking a means to prevent the carnage of the
world war. However, these powers were unable to stop the Second World War
and, thus, the United Nations System was put in place after that war in an
attempt to prevent international aggression through a declaration of war.
Due to these developments states that saw valid reasons for aggression
against other states could undertake acts against aggressor states that may
appear similar to the classical definition of war before the twentieth
century; the justification of the use of state sponsored force could be
found within the ambit of these developing international law norms. In many
ways the 2003 Iraq War demonstrate the limits of such an approach in
Declarations of war have been acceptable means and diplomatic measures since
the Renaissance, when the first formal declarations of war were issued. In
most cases, however, declarations of war have been phased out as a
diplomatic tool since the end of the Second World War, particularly in the
case of the United States. Among other reasons, this is because the legal
concept of a "state of war" brings with it many logistical complications
involving the established laws of war and other complex political issues.
Currently, a few declarations of war remain in effect, although largely
ignored and retained for only political purposes.
* North and South Korea have remained legally at war since the Korean War
* Israel is still at war with Lebanon and Syria since the Yom Kippur War.
* There is some debate as to wheter or not Japan is still technically at
war with Russia. Although the Soviet Union declared War on Japan in
1945 and never repealed, some say that since the Soviet Union no longer
exists, niether does the declaration.
Declarations of war in the United States
Of the many conflicts waged by the United States, there have been seven (7)
declared wars since the formal independence of the country.
* The First Barbary War 1801-1805
* The War of 1812 1812 - 1814
* The Mexican-American War 1846-1848
* The Spanish-American War 1898
* The Border War 1917-1921
* The First World War 1917 - 1918
* The Second World War 1941 - 1945
There have been many conflicts fought by the United States without a
declaration of war - but few have been long enough or formal enough to
necessitate formal declarations. Among some of the major undeclared wars of
the United States are the following ten conflicts.
* The Florida Seminole Wars 1817 - 1858
* The American Civil War 1861 - 1865 (against the Confederate States of
* The Korean War 1950 - 1953 (against North Korea)
* The Vietnam War 1964 - 1972 (against North Vietnam)
* The First Gulf War 1991 (against Iraq)
* The War on Drugs 1980's-Present
* The Kosovo War (against Yugoslavia)
* The War on Terror 2001-Present
* Operation Enduring Freedom (against Afghanistan) 2001
* The Second Gulf War (against Iraq) 2003
Controversy regarding declarations of war in the United States
In nearly every case, particularly the ten listed above, public opposition
has been shown to the prosecution of war without the formal approval of
Congress. Particularly vehement objections were displayed during the Korean
War, the Vietnam War, and The Second Gulf War. A small but vocal opposition
even developed during the largely popular War Against Terrorism.
Those who oppose waging war without declaration point to Article I of the
United States Constitution which reads, in part:
The Congress shall have the power... to declare war.
In the case of smaller conflicts not requiring large commitments of manpower
and money, many Americans believe that precedents have already been set for
acting without the need for declarations of war. In the case of major
conflicts, however, debate is centered around the aforesaid words of the
United States Constitution.
Those who believe that formal declarations of war are not necessary say that
an absence of a formal declaration does not necessary mean that a military
conflict will be chaotic and unlawful; in many cases the rules of war are
now well enough accepted to make formal declarations unecessary. There are
also diplomatic reasons for a dislike of "declaring war" on a country, as it
can often be perceived as holding an entire nation responsible for the
actions of a few of its citizens. In the case of the most recent public
opposition, those who support such actions have noted that, in the case of
the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there was no 'target' for a legal
declaration of war, rather political groups or individuals.
However, the historical record disagrees somewhat on this point. The Barbary
Coast War was clearly waged against a political entity not regarded as the
legitimate government of its nation of operation; the Border War, quietly
declared as it was, was waged against a single person, Pancho Villa!
The U.S. War Powers Resolution
In 1973, following the withdrawal of most American troops from the Vietnam
War, debate raged in the United States between those who supported
declarations of war, and those who opposed them. A compromise was reached
with the War Powers Resolution. This act clearly defined how many soldiers
could be deployed, and for how long, by the president of the United States.
It also required formal reports by the president to Congress regarding the
status of such deployments, and limited the total amount of time that
American forces could be employed without a formal declaration of war.
Although the constitutionality of the act has never been tested, for the
most part it has been followed, most notably during the Grenada Conflict,
the Panamanian Conflict, the Somalia Conflict, the First Gulf War, and the
Second Gulf War. In each case, the President asserted the constitutional
authority to commit troops without the necessity of Congressional approval,
but in each case the President received Congressional authorization that
satisfied the provisions of the War Powers Act.
Current status of the U.S. debate
Extremely heated debate developed in the United States beginning on or
around September 11, 2001. A significant percentage of Americans were found
by polls to favor formal declarations of war against the Taliban regime of
Afghanistan and the Al Qaeda terror network; their requests were largely
pushed aside as "uninformed" by the White House. They since began to argue
that the recent Second Gulf War was unconstitutional, because it lacked a
clear declaration of war, and was waged over the objection of a
significantly sized minority in the United States.
Instead of formal war declarations, the United States Congress has begun
issuing authorizations of force. Such authorizations have included the Gulf
of Tonkin Resolution that initated American participation in the Vietnam
War, and the recent "Use-of-force" resolution that started the 2003 Gulf
War. However, there is some question as to the legality of these
authorization of force in some circles. Many who support declarations of war
argue that such declarations keep administrations honest by forcing them to
lay out their case to the American people, while at the same time honoring
the constitutional role of the United States Congress.
Those who oppose this measure say that it only takes more time, and that
more lives will be lost for the sake of a political formality. Americans
should, they argue, support their presidents and question military actions
only after the fact. Notably, those who oppose such activities without
formal declaration include among them widows and veterans of most undeclared
American wars. However, the courts have consistently refused to intervene in
this matter, and in practice Presidents have the power to commit forces with
Congressional approval but without a declaration of war.