When Can The President Use Military Force? Some Senators Want Updated Rules.

Last weekend’s air strikes on Syrian targets raised the issue of how and when a president can use the military without congressional authorization.

By Rhonda FanningApril 17, 2018 1:27 pm,

Both houses of the U.S. Congress will be briefed Tuesday on the situation in Syria. This comes days after President Donald Trump declared “mission accomplished” after U.S., British and French forces attacked three sites linked to chemical weapons. So what’s next? And will the president seek congressional approval for any future military engagement?

Bobby Chesney is professor in law and associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Texas School of Law as well as Director of the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law. He says the mission Trump claimed had been accomplished was to punish Syria for its used of chemical weapons, and to deter such use in the future.

“That’s a very different and distinct mission from the main focus of our military involvement in Syria, which has been going on for many years now,” Chesney says. “For quite awhile, it’s been focused on defeating and destroying the Islamic State. And this isn’t that.”

Chesney says U.S. action against the Islamic State is authorized by congressional statute, but that the action against Syria is not covered under that authorization. The president’s claim is that his authority to strike Syria is inherent in the Constitution. Chesney says that’s a controversial assertion. And it comes down to the definition of “war.”

In Congress, a bipartisan group wants to clarify the rules for use of force. The Corker-Kaine Draft AUMF outlines when force can be used, and when it requires authorization from Congress. It also names groups and entities that are subject to use of force, based on their past association with terrorism. The draft also allows the president to add new groups, after having reported their names to Congress. This idea is controversial, Chesney says.


Written by Shelly Brisbin.