Senate debates

Wednesday, 3 February 2010


5:11 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—Yesterday in my speech on Senator Bob Brown’s suspension motion on Afghanistan I indicated that in the United States an act of congress is needed before troops can be committed to war. I have since been informed that, in part, this is incorrect. May I clarify that, under the US Constitution, congress has the power to declare war and to raise and support armies and the navy. However, as the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, the President has the power to deploy troops.

The War Powers Resolution 1973 states that, if the President does deploy troops, he or she must report this to congress to be approved within 60 calendar days or the action will be terminated. There are concerns about the legality of this act, and presidents can and have ignored it. There has recently been some discussion about strengthening the act, although no changes have as yet been made.

However, the point I was making with this statement yesterday remains the same. While congress may find it difficult to enforce the act, presidents have chosen to follow it, giving congress the deciding vote on whether the United States will or will not go to war. One example of this is President George W Bush’s request to congress to authorise the action against Iraq in 2002. So while the US Congress may find it difficult to enforce their powers under the act, the act does exist and, in certain circumstances, congress has the right to determine whether the US goes to war, and I seek to clarify my remarks.