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

The AUMF 2018: What Does it Really Authorize?

By Susan Nahvi, May 1, 2018


On April 16, a bipartisan group of senators led by Tim Kaine (D- VA) and Bob Corker (R- TN) introduced a new authorization for the use of military force in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. While these senators have presented the AUMF 2018 as an opportunity for Congress to exercise more oversight over the executive branch, we believe this bill will extend the existing blank check for war.

Here are the major elements of the bill:

When would it end?

There is no sunset clause in the AUMF 2018. Instead, there is a review period every four years, when Congress has 60 days to repeal or modify the resolution with the same voting process described before. If Congress takes no action, the authorization stays in place.

Supporters of the bill tout this as a chance for Congress to weigh in on U.S. military involvement. Instead, it sets the default to endless war. If both chambers of Congress do not pass a resolution that repeals the AUMF 2018 and has a two-thirds supermajority, the authorization would remain in effect. The bill includes mechanisms to help force a vote, but these could be easily circumvented to avoid repealing the authorization.

Does it repeal the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs?

120 days after passing this authorization, the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs would be repealed. However, the AUMF 2018 explicitly states that all current military activities authorized under the 2001 AUMF are included in this bill. Repealing the 2001 AUMF is meaningless if we pass a bill that authorizes all the overreach of the 2001 AUMF and reaffirms its worst flaws.

Who would we be fighting and where?

This bill provides authority for the president to use military force against the Taliban, al Qaeda, ISIS, and five other groups named as ‘associated forces.’ This covers military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, and the president can add new groups and areas of fighting at any point. Within 48 hours of adding a new targeted group, the president needs to tell Congress, and then Congress has 60 days to vote to remove the addition. If Congress takes no action, the addition stands.

Proponents of this bill have presented it as giving Congress a bigger oversight role and a chance to weigh in on the expansion of U.S. military involvement. Senator Kaine has noted that this bill prevents the addition of sovereign nations to the list of ‘associated forces,’ which he feels would curb the president’s powers to launch a war against Iran. However, this is a small element that could be achieved through other means, and there are possible loopholes in this language.

While requiring the administration to disclose added groups is a step forward, the process for adding new groups is deeply flawed. In essence, it flips congressional war authority on its head. The president decides where and against whom the U.S. goes to war, and Congress only has the power to stop the expansion of war, rather than being asked to explicitly authorize it. Our default should be peace—not war. Additionally, any vote to curb the president’s power would need a two-thirds majority vote to avoid a presidential veto. This officially codifies a status quo of expanding war.

FCNL has been a constant voice calling for bipartisan action to repeal the 2001 AUMF, and we applaud the members of Congress who are willing to reach across the aisle and discuss these issues. Our hope in encouraging that debate is to push Congress to reclaim its war authority and to create a more peaceful foreign policy. This bill would accomplish neither of those goals. Some small gains in reporting requirements are not enough to outweigh the dangerous subversion of Congress’ war authority and the possibility of continued endless war.

Susan Nahvi

  • Program Assistant, Human Rights and Civil Liberties

Susan Nahvi advocates on behalf of FCNL in the area of Human Rights and Civil Liberties. She concentrates on several issues, including the Muslim travel ban, Islamophobia, and Syrian refugees. She writes articles that appear on FCNL’s website, lobbies members of Congress, and supports the work of Legislative Director Yasmine Taeb.