Trump and National Security: A Return to Teddy Roosevelt?
With Donald Trump ascending to the presidency in 2017, which will also make him the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces, will the chances of the United States getting involved in another war increase? Will President Trump be more likely to use nuclear weapons than his predecessors? Like many other questions surrounding the president-elect and his future administration, this is difficult to answer. Here are some preliminary thoughts.
The President’s War Powers
The U.S. president’s powers to wage war are quite extensive. Most importantly, he can take military actions without specific congressional authorization, although the so-called War Powers Resolution from 1973 mandates that the president has to withdraw combat troops from foreign territory within 60 to 90 days unless Congress authorizes their continuous deployment. However, no president — including Barack Obama back in 2011, when he did not seek congressional authorization 60 days into the Libyan intervention — has accepted the constitutionality of the 60-90 day limit.
According to executive branch interpretation, most conflicts that the United States has been involved in did not pass the threshold definition of war for constitutional purposes. Indeed, the United States has not declared war since 1942 and ever since U.S. President Harry Truman’s decision to dispatch U.S. troops into Korea in 1950, the president has made the initial decision to commence military hostilities abroad. In the late 20th/early 21st century, executive branch power was generously interpreted as giving the president the ability to wage war without congressional authorization even when the United States is not facing an actual or imminent threat to its national security.
Like it or not, President Donald Trump will have a large say over the question of war and peace in the next four years.
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