The Best Defense

The Future of War (IV): What should replace the current authorization of force?

By the Future of War team, New America Foundation
Best Defense office of the future

A pivot point for serious consideration of some of the issues discussed so far in this series was provided by President Obama's speech at the National Defense University in Washington in May, which was designed to lay the political groundwork to wind down America's longest war: the war that began on 9/11. The most significant aspect of the speech was the president's case that the "perpetual wartime footing" and "boundless war on terror" that has permeated so much of American life since 9/11 should come to an end. Obama argued that the time has come to redefine the kind of conflict in which the United States is engaged, saying, "We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us." This is why the president focused his speech on a discussion of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that Congress passed days after 9/11 and that gave George W. Bush the authority to go to war in Afghanistan against al Qaeda and its Taliban allies.

Few, if any, in Congress who initially voted for the AUMF understood at the time that they were voting for a virtual blank check that has provided the legal basis for more than a decade of war. It is a war that has expanded in recent years to other countries in the Middle East and Africa, such as Yemen and Somalia.

Some argue that when U.S. combat troops finally withdraw from Afghanistan in December 2014, the nation will no longer be at war, and the 2001AUMF should be repealed -- or be deemed to have effectively expired. Others argue that the end of the conflict in Afghanistan will not mark the end of U.S. efforts to use military force against terrorists in other parts of the globe, and that we need some sort of new AUMF to structure (and constrain) such future uses of force.

But what, if anything, should the United States replace the 2001 AUMF with?  There are a host of nitty-gritty policy questions we can help address:

  • Both of the Special Operations raids against al Qaeda members and allies in Libya and Somalia in early October were conducted under the AUMF. How does one get congressional buy-in for a new legal framework that might constrain such raids?
  • What should the United States do about the 40 or so prisoners at Guantanamo Bay who are deemed "too dangerous to release," but are not chargeable with a crime, and who would theoretically have to be released if the present AUMF expired?
  • And how exactly would the end of the present AUMF affect the CIA drone program, which is somewhat dependent on those authorities? 

Although a number of scholars and think tanks are looking at what should come after the AUMF, much of this work is being done in a conceptual vacuum. While the "Future of War" project will engage on the AUMF and related immediate policy questions, our recommendations on these issues will be grounded in our broader study of how warfare and the state are changing.

The Future of War project is led by Peter Bergen, director of national security studies at the New America Foundation, and the author of several books. This series was drafted by him and the team's other members: Rosa BrooksAnne-Marie SlaughterSascha Meinrath, and Tom Ricks.  

The Best Defense

The Gates files (IV): Boy, does he hate attending those international conferences

  • Gates on the annual Munich Security Conference: "incredibly tedious."
  • Gates on NATO meetings: "excruciatingly boring."
  • The Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas: "boring beyond words, and little ever results." 
  • (And even more to come)

Jerry Morrison/OSD Public Affairs/DVIDS