1. Update
  2. U.S. Wars & Militarism

19 Years Ago, the 2001 AUMF Became Law. May This Anniversary Be Its Last.

By Heather Brandon-Smith , September 18, 2020


Another year, another anniversary of the blank check for endless war.

On this day 19 years ago, the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) was signed into law. This 60-word resolution, passed by Congress three days after the Sept. 11 attacks, has been used to justify nearly two decades of ever expanding war, including against groups, like ISIS, that didn’t even exist on 9/11. Most recently, it has been reported that the Pentagon is seeking to expand drone operations into Kenya to target the Somali group al Shabab, which also had no connection to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

This 60-word resolution, passed by Congress three days after the Sept. 11 attacks, has been used to justify nearly two decades of ever expanding war.

The vastly overmilitarized approach to counterterrorism that the 2001 AUMF has helped create has cost $6.4 trillion and now sees the United States conducting operations in 80 countries around the world, including combat operations, drone strikes, and programs to train and arm other countries and groups to respond to terrorism threats with lethal force.

To say that these policies have had a devastating impact is putting it mildly. The Brown and Black (and largely Muslim) people in the countries where U.S. militarism wields its deadliest force continue to suffer its horrific effects. 335,000 civilians have been killed. 37 million have been displaced. And despite a Department of Homeland Security finding that white supremacist terrorism poses the greatest threat to the U.S. homeland, we continue to fund the Pentagon at astronomical levels and export violence abroad, ostensibly in the name of protecting our national security.

With such a disparity between the genuine threats to our nation and the government’s response, the American public has rightly turned against militarized counterterrorism. A recent survey found Americans favor increased diplomatic engagement to prevent violent conflict and oppose military intervention. These results echo the advice of many counterterrorism experts, who have long emphasized the importance of non-violent measures to address security threats, including diplomacy, law enforcement, properly tailored development assistance, and peacebuilding.

Given the public’s growing disdain for militarism and its failure to bring about peace and security, it is perhaps unsurprising that both presidential candidates have pledged to end the endless wars. But we have heard such promises before. And we know that several key steps must be taken to ensure that the era of ever expanding militarism comes to a close. We must end all operations under the 2001 AUMF, shift away from a war paradigm as the basis for counterterrorism operations, and refocus our resources on critical non-military tools to prevent violent conflict and respond to security threats.

Congress must also reclaim its constitutionally assigned war powers by setting a date for the 2001 AUMF to expire and repealing other AUMFs.

Congress must also reclaim its constitutionally assigned war powers by setting a date for the 2001 AUMF to expire and repealing other AUMFs. For far too long, Congress has ceded its responsibility to the president, to decide whether the United States chooses war. In July, the House Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment from Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-13) to the annual defense spending bill to repeal the 2001 AUMF after eight months. Members of Congress should ensure that this provision is included in the final bill.

After nearly two decades of conflict, our elected leaders must reorient U.S. national security policy away from the endless wars and militarism that have caused untold harm and failed to keep us safe, and towards a more sustainable path. We hope this anniversary of the 2001 AUMF will be its last.

U.S. Wars & Militarism 

Since September 11, Congress has largely ceded its constitutional authority to determine when and where the U.S. goes to war, and three different presidents have expanded our country’s military presence around the world. The result has been a ballooning military budget, torture, compromises on civil and religious liberties and rising Islamophobia. Help FCNL change these policies.

Heather Brandon-Smith

  • Legislative Director, Militarism and Human Rights

Heather Brandon-Smith is FCNL’s Legislative Director for Militarism and Human Rights. Heather leads FCNL’s work to repeal the 2001 authorization for war, promote respect for human rights and international law, and reduce U.S. armed interventions around the world.