Veterans and the Inter-Branch Tension Over Use of Force Decisions
The tension between Congress and the president over which branch controls the use of military force abroad has existed since America’s founding. Congress' constitutional powers over declarations of war and military funding constantly push against the president’s role as commander in chief of the American armed forces. Scholars today largely accept the president’s preeminent role in use of force decisions, but they still recognize that Congress influences this all-important policy realm. While many scholars have studied the various ways that Congress influences the use of military force abroad, very few have attempted to model the conditions under which that influence takes place. Even fewer include a logically relevant variable in their models despite scholarly evidence of its potential impact, the personal military experience of the most elite members of the executive and legislative branches. Using a list of uses of force compiled by the Congressional Research Service, this paper develops a unique measure of formal influence over use of force decisions and tests that influence against a simple difference in veteran proportions between Congress and the Cabinet to determine if veterans impact this inter-branch tension. Ultimately, this paper finds no statistically significant relationship between these two variables; indeed, when considering deliberate decisions to engage in combat operations, the president is just as likely to initiate force without Congress’ approval as he is with it.
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