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The strongest of all governmental powers is the power to engage in war; and the strongest challenge for constitutionalism is to bring the war power of the state under meaningful control. The 1787 Constitution allocated some military powers to the Congress and others to the President as part of the scheme of constitutional checks and balances. To this day, however, the distribution of authority between the branches remains contested and uncertain.

The Clinton Administration has had substantial opportunity to contribute to the evolution of constitutional practice concerning war powers, by virtue of numerous occasions of combat deployments, cruise missile strikes, and other forms of military engagement since January 1993. In broad outline, the constitutional practice of the Clinton Administration concerning war powers is similar to that of previous administrations in the sense that sweeping claims of executive authority have been tempered through pragmatic political accommodation. The legal opinions issued to explain the constitutional and statutory rationales for executive military initiatives embody some subtle differences from those of other administrations. This article compares the record of the Clinton Administration with those of its predecessors, after first briefly locating U.S. war powers practice in the context of crossnational comparisons.


Law | Military, War, and Peace | President/Executive Department


Copyright © 2000 by Lori Fisler Damrosch.