Undeclared War and the Future of U.S. Foreign Policy

  • Published

Undeclared War and the Future of U.S. Foreign Policy by Kenneth B. Moss. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008, 320 pp.

Kenneth Moss, a professor and chairman of the Department of National Security Studies at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University, tackles the vagaries of presidential and constitutional power associated with US declarations of war over the nation’s history.

Moss points out that the US Constitution, as its framers intended, allows only for a true declaration of war to come from the Congress. The consolidation of presidential power has slowly usurped this authority, creating precedent such that in the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the president informs the Congress of the need for increased, and regular, financial supplementals to finance ongoing operations. Moss finds this especially troubling because not only is the president no longer accountable to Congress, the Congress itself has become deferent and timid in face of this form of presidential power.

What the framers of the Constitution intended, in Moss’s view, did not account for many of the so-called limited wars America’s men and women have found themselves fighting in the modern age. The lack of accountability by the president to the Congress has had a deleterious effect on the relationship between the chief executive and the legislative branch, such that what was supposed to be a cooperative check-and-balance of powers is more of an adversarial game of one-upmanship.

Moss begins his well-documented and detailed study with a foundational argument for the Constitution’s accounting for limited wars, noting that the Constitution does not exactly differentiate between the conditions of war and peace. War in the historic sense consisted of set-piece battles pitting armies and navies against each other without regard to gray space or limited objectives. Even the Clausewitzian notion of war as a political lever did not enter the strategic dialog until the early nineteenth century.

After interpreting the Constitution and Congress’ role with respect to war declaration, Moss tackles the perceptible increases of presidential power through time. Complicating the calculus was the Cold War and the concurrent limited wars. It is at this point in the book—about halfway—that Moss undergirds the troubling prospects of increasing presidential power at Congress’ expense with his own articulated strategy for enhancing and improving congressional oversight and giving teeth to the War Powers Resolution. The framework he provides, however, does not apply neatly to every kind of limited war, as Moss himself hints, but serves well as an intellectual point of departure.

Overall, Moss’s book fills a niche relevant to today’s interpretation of presidential powers. Scholars wishing to learn in depth about the history of declaring wars in the United States will be well served by this work. It is also a must for national security scholars wishing to glean more about constitutional, congressional, and presidential power.


Col Chad Manske, USAF

Chief, Strategy and Integration (HAF/A8XS)

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."