International Security Studies

Events

Book Discussion—Undeclared War and the Future of U.S. Foreign Policy

September 12, 2008 // 12:00pm1:00pm
Event Co-sponsors: 
Congress Project

Speaker/author: Kenneth B. Moss, Professor of National Security Studies, Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University

This meeting, co-sponsored by International Security Studies and the Congress Project, marked the publication of Moss's new book by Johns Hopkins University Press and Wilson Center Press.

Since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, the United States has waged two wars – first, in Afghanistan, to destroy the Al Qaeda terrorist network and the Taliban government abetting it; and second, in Iraq, to topple the Saddam Hussein regime. Although President George W. Bush did not seek a formal declaration of war in either case, he did turn to Congress to obtain legal authority to use force. To most Americans, it appeared the process of going to war laid out in the Constitution still worked. But, as Ken Moss asks in his provocative new book, had it?

The debate over the respective prerogatives of the executive and legislative branches concerning the use of force is as old as the Republic. Moss argues that presidents in the late 18th and 19th centuries largely accepted Congress's dominance in the decision to use force. But even then, he notes, an alternative view was developing that favored independent presidential authority, particularly as the potential uses of force expanded beyond a narrow conception of coastal and border defense to the more expansive furthering of American foreign policy objectives as the United States emerged on the world stage in the 20th century. In the modern era, most notably during the Cold War and post-9/11 eras, presidents have pointed to their inherent authority as commander-in-chief as a source of legitimacy.

Moss states that even in the wake of congressional disillusionment over the Bush administration's conduct of the war in Iraq, "the imbalance between the president and Congress seems nearly impossible to correct." The reason for this is not just the existence of a large standing army (in contrast to the country's early history), but, more fundamentally, the long-emerging trend to use military support to advance the country's foreign policy objectives. This development was accelerated further by the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the resulting increased emphasis on the preemptive, and even preventive, use of military force in U.S. strategy.

If anything, Moss sees the problem of congressional oversight and executive branch accountability growing further in the face of the increased use of special forces for covert operations and the outsourcing of military functions to private firms. To begin to redress the existing institutional imbalance Moss proposes a number of institutional reforms to improve congressional oversight. Central among his proposed reforms is the establishment of a special joint House-Senate committee to deal with the authorization of force.



Robert Litwak, International Security Studies


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