The surprisingly few times the U.S. actually declared war

The armed forces of the United States are just over 200 years old and have been involved in at least 318 military operations, according the the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. That number doesn’t count humanitarian missions or CIA operations.

So it may surprise you that America has only been at war 11 times.

Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution gives the power to declare war exclusively to the Congress, without describing exactly how that should be done. Congress figured it out by June 17, 1812 when it gave its first authorization for war, against Great Britain.

For better or for worse.

For better or for worse.

The only 11 Congressional declarations of war were:

  • Great Britain, 1812
  • Mexico, 1846
  • Spain, 1898
  • Germany, 1917
  • Austria-Hungary, 1917
  • Japan, 1941
  • Germany, 1941
  • Italy, 1941
  • Bulgaria, 1942
  • Hungary, 1942
  • Romania, 1942

That’s not to say all the other engagements were illegal or a violation of the Constitution. There were other times the Congress authorized funds for military actions and later, to support United Nations Security Council resolutions. It just means those other engagements weren’t officially a “war.”

Desert Storm Air War

Pictured: Enforcing UNSC Resolutions

There’s a distinct difference between a war declaration and an authorization of military force. The most important is that an official state of war triggers a new set of domestic laws, like giving the President the power to take over businesses and transportation systems, detaining foreign nationals, warrantless domestic spying, and the power to use natural resources on public lands. The authorization of force doesn’t give the President these powers.

The current way the President as Commander-In-Chief uses the military is defined by the War Powers Resolution of 1973. It requires the President to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and forbids them from remaining for more than 60 days, with a further 30-day withdrawal period, without an authorization of the use of military force or a declaration of war. Congress passed the War Powers Resolution to reign in President Nixon’s use of the military, even overriding his veto to pass the law.

"Listen, we can do this thing if we promise not to tell Congress. So shut up."

“Listen, we can do this thing if we promise not to tell Congress. So shut up.”

TOP ARTICLES
SpaceX launching a third top-secret satellite

SpaceX is launching a secretive mission this month. The mission, shrouded in secrecy, has some considering it may be for the CIA or the NSA.

This is how the Air Force will use prop planes on high-tech battlefields

The Air Force is looking toward a light-attack aircraft program, known as OA-X, to produce a plane that meets its needs and gets the job done.

A retired SEAL commander on how to stop thinking and 'get after it' every day

This former Navy commander has some excellent advice on how to jump start your day, and "get some" in order to make it as productive as possible.

Marines return to battle in 'old stomping grounds'

The Marines recall their "old stomping grounds" as they return to Fallujah and the surround areas of Al Anbar Province to battle a new enemy.

How Chinese drones are set to swarm the global market

China has stepped up it's drone game, and even though United States technology can still compete, China's drones are kind of really in demand.

That time two countries' Special Forces squared off in combat

In an area the size of the Falkland Islands, British and Argentine special operators were bound to run into each other at some point – a lot.

5 times pilots got in trouble for having fun in the sky

When pilots decide to do some fancy flying in their high-performance fighters, it can land them in trouble once they're back on the ground.

This is why Nazis dubbed these paratroopers 'devils in baggy pants'

"American paratroopers – devils in baggy pants – are less than 100 meters from my outpost line. I can’t sleep at night," wrote one German commander.

9 ISIS weapon fails that you have to see to believe

Many bad guys just want record themselves laying rounds down range for social media purposes — and we're glad they did. Laugh away, America!

US Army recruitment campaigns, ranked from worst to best

Advertising can really impact recruitment for the military. For better or for worse, here are some of the Army's most memorable slogans...