Can Congress Declare Cyberwar?


One of the basic principles of our Constitution is the idea that only Congress can declare war.

The last time Congress passed joint resolutions saying that a “state of war” existed was on June 5, 1942, when the U.S. declared war on Bulgaria, Hungary, and Rumania.  Read it again.  We haven’t declared war since those members of the “evil empire” justified our wrath.  We didn’t declare war with North Vietnam. We never declared war with Iraq. The only declared war since Pearl Harbor was with three impoverished countries in Eastern Europe that had no standing armies. They had no navy. They certainly did not have an Air Force.  America is under- utilizing its constitutional powers.

Since 1942, the U.S. has used the term “authorization to use military force” to justify military intervention.  We launched cruise missiles and put boots on the ground against Iraq in 2003, and before that, in our defense of Kuwait in 1990.  But those weren’t wars.  We only used all of our military power to vanquish a country led by a dictator who had been a thorn in our side for decades.  The distinction between “war” and “use of military force” has blurred to the point of irrelevance.

In our present reality, war is seldom waged between countries. We fight terrorists, or our perception of them, and use our military might to defeat them on the turf of the country they chose to use for refuge. The true battlefields of our time are computer screens that guide the drones to their intended targets. We have the hardware to wage war but we seldom use it. The battleships and aircraft carriers that survived World War II are museums in port cities, and our hardware is deployed in “hot spots” throughout the world to monitor the situation. Submarines, drones, and satellites have been deployed to protect America from attack. The old movie image of the battlefield, with hand-to-hand combat, rifles and cannons and tanks, has become a dusty part of history for the most part. Ground battles in Afghanistan and other countries where we employ guerrilla warfare are strategic efforts where we attack and withdraw.

We have the military power to destroy the world many times over. In developing that power, we have apparently come to the realization that the use of it will certainly result in the destruction of ourselves. There has never been a General or President who had the wisdom to wage a nuclear war without losing it. We hold power to destroy, but not to contain it, and that is our conundrum.

The new wars are being fought without planes, ships, tanks, or foot soldiers. As this article is being written, Iran has accused the United States of cyber-attacks. South Korea has accused North Korea of cyber-attacks on its banking system.  The United States has accused China of cyber-attacks in thefts of technology that is the commodity of the present-day world.

Gone are the battlefields of the past, with boots on the ground.  The enemy does not wear an identifiable uniform.  Instead, they make themselves like the rest of us, and they do damage from within, like a cancer.  The wars of the future will be fought internally, without a geographic component, globally.  Congress will never be able to declare war in our future.  The enemy is not a country, or even a philosophy.  They are only the enemy.


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