After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the Congress of the United States formally declared war on Japan. After Germany declared war on the United States, the Congress then formally declared war on Germany. However for all subsequent conflicts that the United States has been involved (Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan), there has been no formal declaration of war. Instead, these conflicts have been justified as UN police actions, UN peacekeeping activities, requests by local governments, security threats, etc. Congress has passed resolutions but no declarations. It now appears that the position of the President as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces has usurped the power of Congress to control whether the US goes to war or not.

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    While the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, if memory serves me correct, was faked and got the US into Vietnam it still only gives the President 90 days before he needs to go to Congress for a formal declaration. Is it like it used to be? No. Has the War Power gone away from Congress? No, but times have changed.
    – MichaelF
    Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 3:34
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    @MichaelF, your comment looks like it could make an answer.
    – Russell
    Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 7:28
  • Related question: history.stackexchange.com/questions/259/…
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 14:09
  • Another war that was not declared was the attack on Iraq after their invasion of Kuwait which was done under UN auspices.
    – Barry
    Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 20:34

1 Answer 1


What you may be confusing in this case is what is termed the War Powers Act which gives the President latitude to actually engage in military operations for up to 90 days before declaring war or going to Congress. Part of this stems from the face that Vietnam avoided this with the Gulf of Tonkin resolution which then President Lyndon Johnson used to initially get Congress to accede into allowing soldiers to be sent to Vietnam. Later there were disputes about the accuracy of the attacks cited to get the resolution passed, note the end of the article which mentions the major points. While the War Powers Act has been side-stepped since its passing, the discussions on this came up most recently after the September 11th attacks, a good read on this at Slate which goes over the War Powers act and some of the discussions around sending troops into combat.

So to reiterate my comment, its not like it used to be but times and the methods of war have changed since the Constitution and the Presidents powers have been written.

  • I don't think I am confusing the case. Your answer supports my conclusion: the President can get the US into a war without a formal declaration of war by Congress as stated in the Constitution. Yes indeed, times have changed.
    – Barry
    Commented Nov 22, 2012 at 14:03
  • +1, but actually, the last time I heard it brought up was during the NATO action over Libya last year. nytimes.com/2011/06/16/us/politics/16powers.html?pagewanted=all
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Nov 22, 2012 at 15:46
  • @T.E.D. True but we were more acting with NATO as far as I remembered and it wasn't really "the US was going to war" moment. A good point though.
    – MichaelF
    Commented Nov 23, 2012 at 14:24
  • @Barry I think you need to separate out the actions done by the US on our own, like Vietnam where the President sent troops on the ground against those like Korea, the Balkans and Kuwait when we worked with the UN, NATO or other countries and didn't formally declare war. It's definitely a grey line that politicians love to blur.
    – MichaelF
    Commented Nov 23, 2012 at 14:26
  • Again, you are reinforcing my premise. By invoking the UN, NATO, etc., the President is now able to go to war without the approval of Congress as supposedly required by the Constitution.
    – Barry
    Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 16:22

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