CRS Annotated Constitution
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The Historic Use of Force Abroad.—In 1912, the Department of State published a memorandum prepared by its Solicitor which set out to justify the Right to Protect Citizens in Foreign Countries by Landing Forces.”158 In addition to the justification, the memorandum summarized 47 instances in which force had been used, in most of them without any congressional authorization. Twice revised and reissued, the memorandum was joined by a 1928 independent study and a 1945 work by a former government official in supporting conclusions which drifted away from the original justification of the use of United States forces abroad to the use of such forces at the discretion of the President and free from control by Congress.159
New lists and revised arguments were published to support the actions of President Truman in sending troops to Korea and Presidents Kennedy and Johnson in sending troops first to Vietnam and then to Indochina generally,160 and new lists have been pro[p.449]pounded.161 The great majority of the instances cited involved fights with pirates, landings of small naval contingents on barbarous or semibarbarous coasts to protect commerce, the dispatch of small bodies of troops to chase bandits across the Mexican border, and the like, and some incidents supposedly without authorization from Congress did in fact have underlying statutory or other legislation authorization. Some instances, President Polk’s use of troops to precipitate war with Mexico in 1846, President Grant’s attempt to annex the Dominican Republic, President McKinley’s dispatch of troops into China during the Boxer Rebellion, involved considerable exercises of presidential power, but in general purposes were limited and congressional authority was sought for the use of troops against a sovereign state or in such a way as to constitute war. The early years of this century saw the expansion in the Caribbean and Latin America both of the use of troops for the furthering of what was perceived to be our national interests and of the power of the President to deploy the military force of the United States without congressional authorization.162
The pre–war actions of Presidents Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt advanced in substantial degrees the fact of presidential initiative, although the theory did not begin to catch up with the fact[p.450]until the “Great Debate” over the commitment of troops by the United States to Europe under the Atlantic Pact. While congressional authorization was obtained, that debate, the debate over the United Nations charter, and the debate over Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949, declaring that “armed attack” against one signatory was to be considered as “an attack” against all signatories, provided for the occasion of the formulation of a theory of independent presidential power to use the armed forces in the national interest at his discretion.163 Thus, Secretary of State Acheson told Congress: “Not only has the President the authority to use the armed forces in carrying out the broad foreign policy of the United States implementing treaties, but it is equally clear that this authority may not be interfered with by the Congress in the exercise of powers which it has under the Constitution.”164
The Theory of Presidential Power.—The fullest expression of the presidential power proponents has been in defense of the course followed in Indochina. Thus, the Legal Adviser of the State Department, in a widely circulated document, contended: “Under the Constitution, the President, in addition to being Chief Executive, is Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy. He holds the prime responsibility for the conduct of United States foreign relations. These duties carry very broad powers, including the power to deploy American forces abroad and commit them to military operations when the President deems such action necessary to maintain the security and defense of the United States. . . .
“In 1787 the world was a far larger place, and the framers probably had in mind attacks upon the United States. In the 20th century, the world has grown much smaller. An attack on a country far from our shores can impinge directly on the nation’s security. In the SEATO treaty, for example, it is formally declared that an armed attack against Viet Nam would endanger the peace and security of the United States.[p.451]
“Under our Constitution it is the President who must decide when an armed attack has occurred. He has also the constitutional responsibility for determining what measures of defense are required when the peace and safety of the United States are endangered. If he considers that deployment of U.S. forces to South Viet Nam is required, and that military measures against the source of Communist aggression in North Viet Nam are necessary, he is constitutionally empowered to take those measures.”165
Opponents of such expanded presidential powers have contended, however, that the authority to initiate war was not divided between the Executive and Congress but was vested exclusively in Congress. The President had the duty and the power to repeal sudden attacks and act in other emergencies, and in his role as Commander–in–Chief he was empowered to direct the armed forces for any purpose specified by Congress.166 Though Congress asserted itself in some respects, it never really managed to confront the President’s power with any sort of effective limitation, until recently.
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