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Expansion of the AUMF: The Only Means to an End?

With eyes turned towards the debate of who should be in control of the drone strikes, little attention was given to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week when they heard the testimony from proponents for the expansion of the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). The proposed expansion would take the scope of AUMF from narrowly targeting al Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan and broadening it to including a new and undetermined set of future terrorist groups across the globe.

The AUMF is a joint resolution that was passed by Congress and signed by George W. Bush in response to the attacks on the United States during September 11, 2001. The resolution granted the President the power to use all “necessary and appropriate force” against those whom he determined “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks, or who harbored said persons or groups in order to prevent future attacks. This joint resolution was targeted towards al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the Taliban rulers who sheltered and aided the terrorists. AUMF was expanded in 2002 in the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 to authorize military action against Iraq as well. This expansion had many justifications, one of which was the notion that al Qaeda groups were in Iraq.

Now, in our waning war against al Qaeda, many people believe that the AUMF must be expanded to include the ability for military action against new terrorist groups springing up in the wake of Al-Qaeda’s demise. Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced his plans this week to introduce legislation to expand AUMF to address these “new generation” terrorist groups. As a justification for this action he states that, “[f]or far too long, Congress has failed to fully exercise its constitutional responsibility to authorize the use of military force… I urge the committee to consider updating current antiterrorism authorities to adapt to threats that did not exist in 2001.” Advocates for the legislation are afraid of the legislative limits that have stayed stagnant as al Qaeda’s morphing organization has turned from a strong, centrally organized group to many separate franchises spread throughout the world, introducing new threats that cannot be fought within the current powers of the AUMF. The advocates for expansion do concede that some terrorist groups with ties to al Qaeda can be sufficiently brought into the scope of the AUMF as it currently stands. However, as the ties to al Qaeda get blurrier, so does the government’s legal standing to use military force.

Counter to these worries of an imminent threat to the U.S. from new emerging terrorist groups, opponents to the AUMF expansion ask to be shown where the threat actually lies. Opponents argue that AUMF was narrowly tailored to al Qaeda, the Taliban, and those who aided in attacks on the U.S. home front.  They point to the idea that in a time where we are about end our armed conflict with al Qaeda in the name of victory; expansion of AUMF shouldn’t even be on our minds. As well as to the fact that the only new terrorist group that has been found to have the intent and capacity to launch attacks on U.S. soil (al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) falls clearly within the scope of the AUMF’s current authority. Expansion opponents believe this preemptive and sweeping military legislation to combat a faceless, future enemy would be counterproductive since there are already sufficient legal powers in place that give the government power to combat terrorist’s threats. There is no evidence these new terrorist groups will ever pose a threat to the U.S. and to impose new legislation would take the AUMF from a defensive role to an offensive one, which could pose a threat to the international community’s stability.  The opponents stand behind the government’s use of military force in situations that merit such action, but find that the other side’s justifications for expanding the AUMF, as of this moment, fall short of such merits.

If and when the time comes, and a new terrorist group presents an imminent threat to the U.S., the President can ask for a narrowly tailored expansion of AUMF from Congress to specifically include the threatening group. However, to this day, there is no evidence of any such terrorist groups. So, in the end we have to ask ourselves, is a simple presupposition of danger without proof enough to expand and change the nature of already adequate legislation or is Sen. Corker correct in thinking that expansion is the only legal way to keep the U.S. safe from new terrorist threats?


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