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

Changing the Blank Check for War

By Chris Kearns-McCoy, May 1, 2019

With the Trump Administration taking threatening steps toward Iran and Venezuela, and U.S. forces involved in dozens of conflicts around the world, it is clearer than ever that Congress must act to take back its constitutional authority over war. This authority is guaranteed in Article I of the U.S. Constitution, but for too long, Congress has ceded this power to the executive branch.

Recently, we have seen cause for hope that Congress is reasserting its power. In April, Congress sent a historic bill (S.J. Res. 7) to the president’s desk to end U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Although President Trump vetoed the bill, this is the first time that Congress has invoked the 1973 War Powers Act to end an illegal war.

FCNL contributed to this achievement by faithfully working with a broad coalition of organizations and allies in both parties and chambers of Congress. Just a year ago, many members of Congress were not even aware that the United States was supporting the Saudi-led coalition in its devastating war in Yemen. The war has resulted in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

'We need a people-centered foreign policy that defines national security as the health, safety, and well-being of human beings and the planet.'

FCNL is currently mobilizing support for legislation to repeal the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMFs). These laws have been used by three presidents to justify military interventions around the world, without geographic or time limitations. As a result, the United States is engaged in a long series of conflicts in the so-called Global War on Terror, which have dragged into what many call the “forever war” or the “endless war.”

Congress has so far been reluctant to rein in these authorizations, which have essentially served as a blank check for war. FCNL’s strategy to change this involves public and congressional education, grassroots advocacy, and professional lobbying, said Heather Brandon-Smith, legislative director for militarism and human rights.

FCNL’s more than 100 Advocacy Teams in 38 states are working on repealing the AUMFs. They educate their lawmakers and bring public pressure on Congress to assert its constitutional authority over matters of war and peace. So far this year, Advocacy Teams have published 35 letters to the editor and convinced several representatives to cosponsor Rep. Barbara Lee’s (CA-13) bill to repeal the 2001 AUMF (H.R. 1274).

In Washington, D.C., FCNL is working with a broad coalition of organizations, including veterans’ organizations, human rights groups, and peace groups, to build congressional support for ending endless war and repealing the AUMFs.

From our work on Yemen to AUMF repeal to our ongoing support for peacebuilding efforts, FCNL is working to shift U.S. foreign policy to a more ethical, effective, and sustainable path.

“We need a people-centered foreign policy that defines national security as the health, safety, and well-being of human beings and the planet,” said Diana Ohlbaum, FCNL’s senior strategist and legislative director for foreign policy. “The first step is recognizing that our current approach of global military primacy is not working. We can’t make ourselves more secure by making others less secure.”

The second step is showing that there is a better way. “It's not just ‘oppose all wars and then do nothing’,” said Brandon-Smith. It means building and supporting alternatives to prevent and respond to violent conflict as shown in the work of FCNL’s peacebuilding team and others, like the American Friends Service Committee.

'Quakers are in this for the long haul—working for a world free from war and the threat of war.'

This also includes the United Nations (UN), which Quakers have supported since its founding in 1945. The Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO), with offices in New York and Geneva, works directly with diplomats from around the world to foster solutions to end and prevent war.

“When you read the UN charter, particularly the introductory segments, it is largely one that Quakers could have written,” said Andrew Tomlinson, director of QUNO’s New York office. “There is an emphasis on nonviolent solutions.”

Like Quaker peace work throughout the world, FCNL’s advocacy is deeply rooted in the Quaker peace testimony. “This testimony is rooted in the lives of the first Quakers in 17th century England who experienced a sense of holiness and life that was founded on what many call radical Christianity. Their interpretation of that was to deny wars, strife, and violence of any kind,” said Diane Randall, FCNL executive secretary.

Quakers are called to bear witness in many ways. FCNL lobbies Congress against war and violence because Congress has the power to halt it. “It is largely governments that go to war with each other, so it is our work to try to prevent our government from going to war or enacting violence,” said Randall.

Quakers are in this for the long haul—working for a world free from war and the threat of war. As Randall reminds us, “We’re going to keep working at [ending war] because it is part of our faith. We have a direction that is true and deep and profound.”

Chris Kearns-McCoy

  • Program Assistant, Communications

Chris Kearns-McCoy served as the program assistant for communications from 2018-2010. He worked with various teams within FCNL to lift up important issues and work, and to share stories of that work in Washington, D.C. and throughout the country.