A new set of essays explores the state and possible trajectory of modern war powers.
Matthew Waxman is a law professor at Columbia Law School, where he co-chairs the Program on Law and National Security. He is also co-chair of the Cybersecurity Center at Columbia University’s Data Science Institute, as well as Adjunct Senior Fellow for Law and Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. He previously served in senior policy positions at the State Department, Defense Department, and National Security Council. After graduating from Yale Law School, he clerked for Judge Joel M. Flaum of the U.S. Court of Appeals and Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter
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In the course of researching a book, I’ve come across many episodes that Benjamin Wittes and I like to call “Weird War Powers $h*t.” One of my favorites is a story about American constitutional war powers and actual $h*t. It’s a story about very expensive bird-$h*t, or guano, and how one of the 19th century’s most important thinkers on war powers nearly stumbled the nation, figuratively speaking, into a giant pile of it.
Daniel Webster and War Powers
On this date in 1854, the U.S. Navy bombarded and torched the town of Greytown, in present-day Nicaragua. The event gave rise to a federal court opinion by Justice Samuel Nelson favored by modern-day lawyers who believe that the president wields vast unilateral power to use military force. The story behind the case reveals much more about how presidential naval powers, as well as congressional checks, operated in the mid-19th century.
Durand v. Hollins
In a new Washington Quarterly article titled “Presidential Alliance Powers,” we wrestle with a subject that has become familiar in these pages: the chief executive’s ability to dismantle American alliances. We argue that although many Trump foreign policy critics worry that his disdain for American alliances such as NATO might lead him to withdraw the United States, the more subtle, probable and already-manifest danger is that he weakens U.S. alliances from within.
Tomorrow is an ignominious anniversary. On that date in 1961, about 1,400 American-trained Cuban exiles launched a secret invasion of Cuba in an effort to overthrow the Fidel Castro regime. After landing on the island’s southern coast at the Bay of Pigs, the invading guerrillas were routed by government forces. The humiliating disaster gave rise to a rare, publicly available Justice Department analysis of presidential power to wage covert war.
On this date in 1957, President Eisenhower signed into law perhaps the most open-ended force resolution in American history. It was never directly invoked, and it remains formally on the books to this day.
Eisenhower’s Request, Congress’s Response
On this date in 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower signed a congressional joint resolution authorizing military force to protect Formosa, as Taiwan was then called by the U.S. government, and surrounding islands. It’s one of the most interesting force authorizations in American history: It reflected Eisenhower’s complicated ambivalence toward constitutional powers, it was open-ended, it contemplated the possible use of nuclear weapons, and it was never actually invoked.