Statement on the President’s Use of Military Force

FPA Statement on the President’s Use of Military Force

April 25, 2017

Pursuant to the mission of the Foreign Policy Alliance, which calls for a reform of U.S. foreign policy emphasizing diplomacy, law, and cooperation, rather than the use of military force as a means of addressing international conflict, we oppose the recent unrestrained use of military force and the threat of force by the United States government. Under resolve statements number 1 and 7 of the Foreign Policy Alliance’s resolution, “A Call to Reform U.S. Foreign Policy,” we reject the “policeman of the world” foreign policy posture whereby the U.S. intervenes militarily in the affairs of other states. Further, authority to initiate military hostilities rests with the Congress, under Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution.

The recent U.S. attack on a Syrian air base was unconstitutional and could potentially drag the United States into becoming an active combatant in a civil war with regional and global implications. The insertion of U.S. military forces into Somalia expands America’s involvement in yet another civil war. The military posturing and threats of force in response to North Korean missile testing all point to a pattern of aggressive and reckless behavior by the President that must be subject to a full and transparent debate in Congress to determine if the use of force is in the vital interests of the United States, narrowly defined.

HFPA Resolution Supporting Text

  1. Whereas, American military personnel are being killed and wounded, and civilian casualties inflicted, in wars fought for purposes unrelated to America’s vital security interests, which the U.S. Government defines too broadly

    Fourteen years of military intervention, 6,800 U.S military fatalities, thousands of contractor deaths, many more tens of thousands in civilian casualties, with about 970,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans having made disability claims with the VA (Watson Institute Brown Univ. 2015 stats), and there is no peace or stability in either country. None of our foreign policy objectives have been achieved.  There is no stability in Iraq; we have failed to oust the Taliban from Afghanistan.  Now Syria, Yemen, and Libya are failed states and we are beginning to increase our military involvement in each country.  Despite the failures key members of congress and political pundits are calling for a direct intervention “boots on the ground” approach thereby adopting the same failed policies we pursued in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

  1. Whereas, America’s military interventions in other countries have led to costly blowback and unintended consequences.

    The overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya has contributed to the further destabilization of the Middle-East.  The rise of ISIS was fueled, in part, by resentment within the Arab world against the American military presence in the region.  Radical jihadist terrorist organizations have framed their struggle as a global struggle against the U.S. “crusader” aggressor.  ISIS and other such organizations have cynically manipulated social media to bring about the radicalization of impressionable young people throughout the world.  That radicalization has brought terrorism to our shores and has spurred an exodus from the region that threatens the stability of our European allies.

    The tension between communities within our own country have sowed the seeds of mistrust with  some candidates for the presidency suggesting armed patrols of “Muslim neighborhoods” and restricting Muslims from entering the country.    Continued hostility between the U.S. and the Muslim world prevents the level of cooperation required to address broad strategic objectives with regard to global peace, economic stability, and religious tolerance.

  1. Whereas, outdated Cold War alliances create trip-wires that could compel the use of U.S. military force to resolve conflicts,

    Currently the United States has seven cooperative collective defense agreements (NATO, Rio Treaty, U.S. – South Korea, U.S. – Japan, U.S. – Philippines, U.S. – Australia/New Zealand, and Southeast Asia)  with a total of 53 countries.  These treaties obligate the United States and signatory nations to assist one another in the event of an armed attack by an outside force.  The level of assistance is relegated to the restraints imposed by the signatory nation’s “constitutional processes.”  This would imply, with respect to the United States, congressional approval.  

    Given the current state of international affairs there are several potential trip wires that could compel U.S. military involvement: Russia and NATO regarding Ukraine (Crimea), the Baltic States (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia), and a potential military confrontation between Russia and Turkey over the civil war in Syria.  Outside of NATO commitments, the U.S. – Japan defense agreement would require U.S. military action should China move to seize Senkaku/Diaoyu Island.  Similarly, the U.S. – Philippine defense treaty could involve the United States in a conflict with China in support of the Philippines over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.  

    The United States initially entered into a number of collective defense treaties as a response to the cold war.  The system of regional alliances was designed to contain the then-Soviet Union/ Warsaw Pact, and Communist China.  The conditions that led to the implementation of the Cold War containment policy do not now exists and the treaties that followed need to be reviewed, revised, or abrogated.

  1. Whereas, escalating tensions between the U.S. and other nuclear powers are moving our nation towards military confrontation and potential nuclear war.

    North Korea continues to pursue ballistic missile development and the miniaturization of nuclear warheads with the goal of having the capability to strike targets in the United States.  There are currently no negotiations with the North Korean regime.  The regime seems impervious to economic sanctions and our difficult relations with China make concerted diplomatic efforts to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions problematic.  

    The ongoing dispute between China and its regional neighbors, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea in the East China Sea region and The Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia in the South China Sea –Spratly Islands region has led to heightened tensions and military brinkmanship. The U.S. has entered the fray under the aegis of freedom of navigation in a direct challenge to Chinese claims of sovereignty in both areas.  The Philippines has sought to litigate the dispute through the arbitration mechanism under the Law of the Seas Convention.  Unfortunately, China, which is a signatory to the treaty, refused to participate and has refused to honor the outcome of the proceedings.

    With regard to Russia, tensions over the annexation of the Crimea and Russian incursions into eastern Ukraine have rekindled NATO and Russian antipathy to the point that the U.S. will deploy additional forces to Eastern Europe on a rotational basis.   The Russians, having abandoned the no first use doctrine of nuclear weapons since 1993, have integrated nuclear weapons into their warfighting planning. Recent large scale Russian military drills included the deployment of nuclear weapons.  Russian war planners envision the use of “low yield” nuclear weapons at the outset of a conflict as a means of bringing it to an early resolution on terms favorable to Russian geopolitical objectives.

  1. Whereas, erosion of civil liberties long held dear by Americans, including freedom from warrantless surveillance, searches and seizures, has accelerated with the passage of the USA Patriot Act in 2001, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, and the USA Freedom Act of 2015.

    The Authorization for Use of Military Force (2001), Public Law 107-40, 115 Stat. 224 authorizes the President to use military force against any nation, organization, or person he determines to be responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks, enabling war and suspension of civil liberties in perpetuity, including but not limited to presumption of involvement without due process, warrantless searches, suspension of habeas corpus, and indefinite detention without trial;

     The AUMF has been used to justify the broad expansion of government surveillance of American citizens, and the concomitant expansion of the internal security and intelligence infrastructure. Further, Congress has been unwilling to pass a resolution re-authorizing the use of military force to persecute the war against ISIS which raises serious questions as to the war’s legality.

    The National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, particularly sections 1021 and 1022.  Provide for the President to order the arrest and indefinite detention of “any person” including American Citizens without civil due process if they are determined to be “… part of or substantially supported by al-Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners”.  The broad sweep of the law also covers those who commit “a belligerent act”, and authorizes their detention “without trial, until the end of the hostilities authorized by the [AUMF]”.

   Essentially this act gives the President the power to suspend Habeas Corpus protections for American Citizens accused of being a terrorist or affiliated with a terrorist organization.   Court challenges to this provision of the law while initially successful in the trial court have been dismissed at the appellate level on technicalities regarding the standing of the litigants.

  1. Whereas, in a post-Cold War era, the U.S. can safely reduce its security budget by developing a new and more relevant strategy for right-sizing the military to better deal with 21st century security needs, and

    The United States accepted the burden for containing the Soviet Union and maintaining international stability against regional aggressors during the Cold War.  However, the evolution of global economic and political complexity is not well served with a Cold War era military posture. The reliance of the U.S. on an aggressive global military strategy that emphasizes force or the threat of force as the default means for resolving conflict necessitates an enormous military bureaucracy  that is needlessly top heavy and expensive to maintain.  Further, it requires a large forwardly deployed military with hundreds of bases scattered around the globe.   More importantly, it has proven ineffective in dealing with the emerging threat of cyber warfare, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, global economic disruptions, or the spread of infectious diseases.   Addressing these threats will require deft diplomacy, strengthened legal institutions, and cooperative international action.  

    A vigorous national debate to redefine America’s vital interest is needed that will recognize the emerging threat picture within the current framework of global complexity and interdependence.  The tools to address and mitigate such treats requires a toolbox that goes beyond the use of military force and utilizes America’s strengths in technological innovation, a vibrant culture, sound and stable economy, and global leadership.  

  1. Whereas, a healthy U.S. economy is critical to an effective security program but is now put at risk by the trillion dollar annual security budget that contributes to an $18 trillion plus national debt.

    Prosecuting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has cost the U.S. tax payer treasury close to $2 trillion dollars of expenditures. The U.S. now spends over 59% of its total discretionary spending on military activities, including $598 billion per year on direct military spending, plus another $65 billion per year on Veterans benefits.  When you add military assistance payments the costs of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan alone totaled $4.4 trillion through 2014 (and still increasing), and with decades to come of medical care needed for veterans.  


  1. Rejecting the role of “policeman of the world” ceasing military and covert intervention in the affairs of foreign countries, and using military force only when necessary to protect U.S. Sovereignty, territory, and vital interest, narrowly defined;

    The heavy handed use of military force and the widespread policy of intervention (overt and covert) in the affairs of other countries has been a dismal failure.  These policies have not brought about global security and stability.  The record shows increasing instability, the spread of radical extremism, and a proliferation of failed states. Current American foreign policy has suppressed political reforms, social aspirations, and economic development thus destabilizing underdeveloped parts of the world. The resultant instability has fueled population dislocation, political destabilization, violence and bloodshed, environmental degradation, diminished prosperity, and massive flows of desperate refugees moving to safer regions.  None of our often stated geopolitical objectives: the diminution of extremism and terrorism, expanded democracy, economic development, increase human rights and the rule of law have been achieved through this policy.

  1. Substantially reducing the more than 700 U.S. military installations around the world;

     Commensurate with the reorientation of U.S. foreign policy from one predicated on the efficacy of military force to achieve national objectives to one that relies on the exercise of “soft power” international cooperation, resource efficiency, and in accordance with the law.  A reordering of priorities along these lines would necessitate a much smaller global footprint and a lower profile for our military forces. As we restructure our international agreements, repurpose the remaining military force structure we can begin closing hundreds of bases worldwide and do so without negatively impacting the security of the United States.   We assert that this process will actually enhance the nation’s security as we deescalate our involvement in global conflicts and seek alternative means to bring about peace and security.

  1. Curtailing the bloated military budget, allowing resources to be redirected towards cutting the deficit, cutting taxes, investing in America, or any other use as Americans see fit;

    U.S. military spending is more than the total of the next seven countries combined, and a significant cut in military spending (up to 50%) would still leave the U.S. as the top military spender. Spending at a significantly reduced level would be sufficient “To Provide for the Common Defense” as prescribed in the Constitution.  This reordering of spending priorities would allow resources to be redirected to: tax relief, food and agriculture, public health, transportation, education, science, energy, conservation and the environment, housing, and deficit reduction.

    Further, Congress continues to increase military spending for weapons systems and bases not requested by the Pentagon, in order to keep the scarce public financial resources flowing to pet weapons projects and defense contractors.

  1. Reducing the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal to a minimum deterrent level, and fully supporting the implementation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty;

    According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the U.S. plans to spend $355 billion dollars between 2014 – 2023, and up to $1 trillion dollars over the life of the program to develop, test, and field (modernize) its arsenal of nuclear weapons.  Other nuclear powers are following this example.  While the stated policy of the U.S. and most nuclear armed States is the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons that fact remains that most nuclear armed States are rapidly moving in the opposite direction and the nuclear club is only growing.  

    The U.S. and Russia concluded the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in 2010. Under the terms of the treaty, by February 2018 each side is required to reduce its strategic nuclear forces to 1,550 warheads with no more than 700 deployed strategic missiles and bombers.  However, since START there has been no further progress on the reduction of nuclear arms by the two sides.  More troubling is that the new classes of nuclear weapons under development are more accurate, and can be employed in a greater variety of platforms.  This makes them more destabilizing as they are easier to deploy and integrate into what had been conventional war planning doctrine.   For example, Russia now includes the early use of “low yield” nuclear weapons in its war fighting doctrine and has conducted numerous large scale exercises to build that capability into existing force structures.  

  1. Emphasizing diplomacy, law, and cooperation in international relations and dispute resolution,

     To effectively prevent the United States from being dragged into armed conflict, we are calling for the United States to exercise leadership in the pursuit of world peace and to do so through the mechanism of diplomacy.  A foreign policy grounded in diplomacy rather than military force would place the U.S. Department of State as the lead agency and de-emphasize the role of the Department of Defense and Intelligence agencies as high profile actors on the world stage.

       There are sufficient mechanisms in the expansive architecture of treaties and agreements painstakingly negotiated by various administrations both Democrat and Republican to provide for nonmilitary resolution of disputes.  The U.S. should embrace and support the use of bilateral and multilateral means to mitigate and resolve conflict using these dispute resolution mechanisms where appropriate.  

  1. Upholding civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution; and

      Given the sweeping powers granted to the executive under the Authorization for Use of Military Force (2001), Public Law 107-40, 115 Stat. 224, and   The National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, sections 1021 and 1022. While the President has indicated that the Administration does not interpret section 1021 of the NDAA 2012 to include American citizens, the potential for abuse and the denial of the right of every American to Habeas Corpus protection, civil trial, and effective counsel enshrined in the U.S. Constitution call for the immediate repeal of these laws.  Any further exercise of military force needs to be debated and approved in Congress and if a reauthorization of military forces is passed by both houses of Congress it must include all Constitutional safeguards for American citizens at home and abroad.

  1. Reining in executive military action, recognizing that war powers reside solely in the legislative branch.

    Congress has abrogated its Constitutional responsibility by not addressing the need to either approve or reject an updated Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) for the conduct of military operations against ISIS in Syria, Iraq, and Libya.  We are currently witnessing mission creep as U.S. special operations forces are on the ground in Libya conducting covert operations against ISIS militants.  The Administration has argued that the 2001 AUMF provides the legal justification for such operations however; some legal scholars disagree and claim that the administration’s interpretation of the 2001 AUMF is overbroad (Noah Feldman- Harvard University).  

     At the very least and vigorous and transparent debate is needed to include Congressional Hearings and town hall meetings to engage the public on the cost and benefits (if any) of passing an AUMF to authorize the expanding U.S. role in these conflicts (Libya, Somalia, Kenya, Yemen, etc.).  This national conversation must include all of the direct and indirect costs of such an operation and provide details as to how it will be financed.

August 2016
Houston Foreign Policy Alliance