Earlier this week, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R–Ill.) proposed a new military authorization resolution which would allow the president to introduce U.S. forces to the conflict in Ukraine if Russia exercises the use of specific weapons in its ongoing invasion. If adopted, the resolution would be the latest installment in a decade long trend of Congress abdicating its constitutional role in the war-making process.
According to Kinzinger, the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to Defend America’s Allies Resolution of 2022 represents “a clear redline“ that would act as “a deterrent to Vladimir Putin.” Kinzinger has also previously called for a U.S.-enforced no-fly zone over Ukraine, and on Sunday he said it isn’t too soon for U.S. politicians to discuss the potential use of military force in Ukraine.
Like military authorizations of years past, Kinzinger’s AUMF resolution is extremely open-ended and would give the president a concerning level of power to enter the war in Ukraine. Though Kinzinger claims the AUMF would give Biden “leverage” and “flexibility” in the fight against Putin, that would come at the expense of the Congress forfeiting its traditional, constitutionally mandated role in American war making.
According to the AUMF text, once the president determines whether Russia has used chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons in Ukraine, he may then deploy U.S. forces as he “determines to be necessary and appropriate” in order to “protect the national security interests of the United States with respect to Ukraine” and “assist in defending and restoring the territorial integrity of Ukraine.” The president wouldn’t have to receive congressional approval prior to any troop deployment; rather, he would only have to determine that “diplomatic or other peaceful means alone” are insufficient to protect U.S. security interests or Ukrainian territorial integrity. The AUMF text also contains an unclear sunset provision: The president’s authority to use the U.S. Armed Forces to defend Ukraine will “terminate the date on which the President certifies to Congress that the territorial integrity of Ukraine has been restored.”
Per Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, only Congress has the sole authority to declare war against another nation: and, only after a congressional declaration of war may the president then direct resources & U.S. Armed Forces in a conflict. Unfortunately, that process has completely fallen apart, as the last time Congress officially declared war was in 1942. Thanks to unconstitutional presidential overreach and an increasingly deferential Congress, the US. has been involved in military conflicts during every decade since then.
That deference has come partially in the form of AUMFs similar to the one Kinzinger is now proposing. Some AUMFs have either never been used or were invoked only for the short term. But the 2001 AUMF has been invoked by presidents to justify dozens of military operations in at least 19 countries, all allegedly to combat the organizations and individuals behind the September 11 attacks. The 2002 AUMF saw similar mission creep despite explicitly authorizing conflict against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The Trump Administration also invoked it to justify its fight against the Islamic State. AUMFs have often served as a carte blanche for presidents as they engage in conflicts, and Kinzinger’s proposed authorization could very well be extended to permit prolonged military action.
The reasoning behind placing war declarations in the hands of Congress is to ensure American involvement in armed conflicts is properly debated before execution; with the costs and benefits debated in public view by elected representatives. AUMFs put that power exclusively in the hands of presidents to encourage less transparency and more unilateral decision making. Strangely, Kinzinger is proposing an AUMF at the same time as many of his congressional colleagues are working to repeal the previous authorization resolutions which help to create & enable endless wars.
This AUMF resolution is premature and comes at a time when deescalation in the Ukraine conflict is imperative. Instead of compelling lawmakers to prioritize diplomacy over conflict, it would only serve to further hobble the body that has already drastically weakened its own role in America’s military engagements. ✪