Date of Award

Spring 2004

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science & Geography


Graduate Program in International Studies

Committee Director

Simon Serfaty

Committee Member

Regina Karp

Committee Member

Glen Sussman


Immediately following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, Vice President Richard Cheney identified the moment as a turning point in the relationship between the executive and legislative branches. As the representative leaders of the nation responded to the crisis that confirmed the new enemy, they granted the President substantial authority to shape the nation's policies towards the new threat. The nature of the threat called for this milestone in the executive-legislative relationship, which provided near unanimous support for the Commander-in-Chief to secure America and its interests. Yet, this moment has been relatively short-lived and the history of the tenuous executive-legislative relationship overshadows the momentary unanimity of support. Congress must now determine how it will support the campaign against terrorism while maintaining an active role in policy making, particularly over the use of military force.

In 1973, Congress enacted the War Powers Resolution as a way to secure its constitutional war powers authorization and role over the use of U.S. military force. The Resolution requires the Commander-in-Chief to provide Congress with the specific details and timetables for any deployment of American servicemen. Since its ratification during the Nixon Administration, every subsequent President has declared the War Powers Resolution unconstitutional; yet none has acted without giving thought to it. The Resolution stirs much debate regarding the conditions and limitations it places on the President. With the close of the Cold War, military interventions have taken on new meaning. Will the institutional constraints of the War Powers Resolution imposed upon the President become legislation that is no longer useful and might even prove harmful?

This study will address Congress's role over the use of military force in the context of the 1973 War Powers Resolution in two separate cases: the 1983 Multinational Peacekeeping Force in Beirut; the 1991 Persian Gulf War with Iraq. The objective is to draw on these case studies to assess whether and how the Resolution has outlived its usefulness. In other words, after thirty years of debate and controversy is the War Powers Resolution still an effective and appropriate method for Congress to assert its role over the use of military force?

The research shows that as it is currently written, the Resolution would prove detrimental to military operations that are unconventional, lack an explicit strategy, or necessitate expediency. The requirements set forth in the War Powers Resolution compromise expediency, secrecy, and to a certain degree autonomy for the President—all integral to conducting war and maintaining the nation's security. Yet, Congress is reluctant to repeal and even revise any aspect of the Resolution that may compromise its legal right to assert itself over the use of military force. Notwithstanding, new formulas to address the weaknesses of the Resolution during times of national security crises must be explored as the role of the military and the nature of intervention evolve in the 21st century.


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