My Followup to Senator Wellstone

I sent the following followup letter to Senator Wellstone on 14. April, 1999 in response to Paul Wellstone's Reply.

Dear Senator Wellstone,

You wrote:

I believe these criteria have been met in Kosovo, and that the effort to deter further ethnic cleansing by the Serbs justified its use. In our system of checks and balances, military action of this kind should also have prior Congressional authorization, as required by the Constitution; I do not believe that the President should be given a blank check by Congress in Kosovo.

The War Powers Act (50 USC S.1541-1548) is supposed to be the mechanism by which the President may use US Armed Forces. It spells out the situations under which he may deploy the Forces with and without a Congressional declaration of war. The particularly relevant portion is S.1541(c), which reads:

     (c) Presidential Executive Power as Commander-in-Chief; Limitation
     The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief
     to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into
     situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly
     indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to
     (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or
     (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States,
     its territories or possessions, or its armed forces. 

Congress has not issued a formal declaration of war, so 1541(c)(1) is out. The United States itself hasn't been attacked, nor have its territories which pretty much rules out 1541(c)(3). That leaves "specific statutory authorization" in 1541(c)(2), and as far as I know, there has been no specific statutory authorization of the attacks on Yugoslavia.

Furthermore, while I believe the President has complied with S.1543, which requires him to report to Congress within 48 hours, I have little confidence that he will comply with in S.1544. The reason I have little faith is that S.1544 was not complied with in the case of Operations Desert Shield & Desert Storm or in our continuing attacks on Iraqi forces in the unilaterally declared "no-fly zones", and I fear this will be the case in Yugoslavia, as well. To paraphrase:

     Within 60 calendar days after a report is submitted the President
     shall terminate any use of United States Armed Forces unless Congress
     declares war, grants a 60-day extension, or has been unable to meet
     due to attack on the US itself.

While I support our troops who are in harm's way, sympathize with the plight of the ethnically Albanian Yugoslavs, and believe that something needs to be done to stop the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, I also believe that we should not be killing Serbian Yugoslavs without a formal declaration of war, and that the President has overstepped his bounds.

Without a formal declaration of war, President Clinton is breaking the law.

I understand that it is unlikely that the current US attacks on other nations will stop until the stated objectives are met, I would like to encourage you to do whatever you can to help prevent similar "undeclared wars" by seeing that the War Powers Act is enforced. Meanwhile, a formal declaration of war would legitimatize the current actions in Yugoslavia. I fully agree with you in supporting our troops in the Balkans, but I do not want to see American troops dying in an undeclared and illegal war.

David Polaschek

Last built on Sun, Apr 25, 1999 at 10:27:11 AM CDT by Dave Polaschek

Copyright 2009, Dave Polaschek. Last updated on Mon, 15 Feb 2010 14:05:56.