Grappling with the Meaning of “Hostilities”
By: Svetlana Matt on July 4, 2011
Enacted in 1973, the War Powers Resolution (WPR) requires the President to submit a report to Congress within 48 hours of introducing U.S. forces into hostilities or into situations where involvement in hostilities is imminent. The President must terminate the use of such forces within 60 days (or 90 days for military necessity) unless Congress extends this deadline, declares war, or enacts a specific authorization for the use of force. The statute, however, does not define what constitutes “hostilities.” The lack of a definition is at the center of the controversy as to whether the WPR applies in various circumstances, including the current U.S. military operations in Libya.
The U.S. operations are a response to the violent acts committed by Gaddafi’s security forces following the civilian revolt against the Gaddafi regime in February. Both the U.S. and the United Nations Security Council initially responded by imposing economic sanctions against Libya (see Executive Order 13566 and Resolution 1970, respectively). On March 17, in light of escalating violence, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973, which demanded an immediate ceasefire in Libya and authorized the use of all necessary measures to protect civilians. In accordance with this resolution and his constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations and carry out duties as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive, President Obama on March 19 directed U.S. military forces to commence operations in Libya – an effort undertaken with the support of NATO allies. Currently, the U.S. provides intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, ammunition and bombs, as well as targeting and planning for NATO’s campaign against Libya. While the U.S. uses drones to fire missiles, it does not fly its pilots over the country nor has it deployed ground troops.