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Webb Legislation to Require Congressional Approval of "Humanitarian Interventions"

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) today introduced bipartisan legislation to restore the proper Constitutional role of Congress in authorizing the use of military force in "humanitarian interventions." The Military Humanitarian Operations Act of 2012 would require that the President seek Congressional approval--through expedited procedures--before engaging the military in humanitarian operations where hostile activities are reasonably anticipated, and where no imminent threat to the United States, its military, allies, or citizens is evident.

"The Military Humanitarian Operations Act offers a legislative solution to the most important constitutional challenge facing the balance of power between the Presidency and the Congress in modern times," said Senator Webb, who served as a combat Marine in Vietnam, a journalist covering the U.S. military in Beirut and Afghanistan, and an Assistant Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Navy. "The question is simple: When should the President have the unilateral authority to decide to use military force, and what is the place of the Congress in that process? Year by year, skirmish by skirmish, the role of the Congress in determining where the U.S. military would operate, and when the awesome power of our weapon systems would be unleashed has diminished."

Senator Webb, a member of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, has repeatedly voiced concerns over the Administration's evolving policy of humanitarian intervention since the lead-up to U.S. involvement in Libya. In June 2011, he introduced a Joint Resolution with Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) to require the Administration to justify its actions in Libya, to prohibit U.S. troops on the ground, and to call for Congressional authorization of continued operations. More recently, he has raised similar concerns regarding possible U.S. intervention in Syria.

"This is not a political issue," said Senator Webb. "We would be facing the exact same Constitutional challenges no matter the party of the President. In fact, unless we resolve this matter, there is no doubt that we someday will.

"This legislation will serve as a necessary safety net to protect the integrity and the intent of the Constitution, itself. It will ensure that the Congress lives up not only to its prerogatives, which were so carefully laid out by our founding fathers, but also to its responsibilities."

The Military Humanitarian Operations Act of 2012:
Requires the President to request and obtain specific Congressional authorization for the use of military forces in humanitarian operations, except in certain clearly-defined circumstances.
Recognizes the potential requirement for timely consideration, providing expedited procedures for Presidential authorization requests. Upon receipt of such a request, both Houses of Congress must proceed with debate of a highly privileged resolution, to be approved or disapproved within 48 hours of the President's request. If Congress is in recess, the President would have the option of asking for the immediate consideration of his request (calling Congress back into session) or delaying consideration until Congress returns.
Clarifies the historically justified circumstances under which the President may act without obtaining prior Congressional authorization, including:
Responding to or repelling attacks, or preventing imminent attacks, on the United States or any of its territorial possessions, embassies, or consulates, or members of the United States Armed Forces;
Direct acts of reprisal for attacks on the United States or any of its territorial possessions, embassies, or consulates, or members of the United States Armed Forces;
Invoking the inherent right to individual or collective self-defense under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations;
Military missions to protect or rescue United States citizens or military or diplomatic personnel abroad;
Carrying out treaty commitments to directly aid allies in distress;
Humanitarian missions in response to natural disasters where no civil unrest or combat with hostile forces is reasonably anticipated, and where such operation is for a limited duration;
Actions to maintain maritime freedom of navigation, including actions aimed at combating piracy; and,
Training exercises conducted by the United States Armed Forces abroad where no combat with hostile forces is reasonably anticipated.

The full text of the legislation, of which Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) is an original cosponsor, is available here:


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