Restoring War Powers: Repealing the 2001 AUMF (Marcellus Policy Analysis)

By Emerson Victoria Johnston, Fall 2021 Marcellus Policy Fellow

After the September 11th terrorist attacks, the United States Congress enacted the Authorization for Use of Military Force (2001 AUMF; P.L. 107-40; 50 U.S.C. §1541 note) to enable the use of military force against those thought to be the perpetrators and supporters of the attacks. Since October 2001, the U.S. Armed Forces have used the 2001 AUMF to conduct military operations primarily in Afghanistan but also around the world. As armed conflict against terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban expanded, so did the applicability of the U.S. ‘s use of military force under the 2001 AUMF. It has since expanded to include targets in Ethiopia, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and more.

Both the Obama and Bush administrations found themselves relying on the 2001 AUMF heavily, not only for continuing the U.S.’s fight in Afghanistan but also to promote a new campaign against the Islamic State in the interest of U.S. national security Moreover, both administrations left open the possibility of expansion to other countries if the Islamic State or other associated groups expanded their reach as well. As a result, many members of Congress have begun to question whether this continued reliance on the 2001 AUMF as the primary and effective authority for U.S. military action is truly good for the country or if this dependency has taken the 2001 AUMF outside its intended scope.

Since 2001, Congress has considered a number of proposals to refine and change the 2001 AUMF’s authorization. The most commonly cited solution, outside of total repeal, is to change the congressional role in its oversight. This paper suggests that while such a shift in congressional oversight of military authorization is needed, it should accompany a repeal of the 2001 AUMF. The resolution has for too long been a terror authorization for the U.S. Commander in Chief and the actions taken under it prove not only that repeal is necessary, but also that the authorization for use of military force should not lay in the hands of a single world leader, and instead be in the hands of Congress.