Friday, July 18, 2003
Plagiarising the War Powers Act - 18th July 2003, 23.23

We know that what is debated one year becomes policy the next in the 'ever closer union' that we abhor. Now the Centre for European Studies has placed a paper in the public domain calling for the European Parliament to have the right to declare war, using a European version of the US War Powers Act.

The problems of modern political executives that Marc Houben identifies are both worrying and clarified for debate.

Why are national governments so reluctant to declare war?...The reasons not to declare war are crystal clear: Government does not want to involve Parliament in the decision-making process. If the national parliaments would be formally involved, the dynamic of the (intergovernmental) political process would change dramatically. The executive would lose its flexibility and decisiveness and the effectiveness of the coalition and the outcome of the operation might be degraded.

Libertarians can sympathise with the need to strengthen the laws and conventions that nations apply before they enter conflicts in order to ensure that violence and coercion is not wielded by states in more arbitrary ways. With the 'war on terror' we have witnessed the development of this disturbing trend.

"...the consequences of not declaring war but nevertheless engaging in war-like actions are severe. War and the use of force are exceptional. When war is declared, an exceptional situation is consciously created, not only from a legal point of view, but also from a moral and social point of view. Not declaring war leads to the political and cultural normalisation of war and the use of force. That is, 'war-like actions' (as dreadful as they are or can be) become part of what we consider normal. If war-like action is considered normal, our political, cultural, social and moral schemes of norms and values - schemes that guide us through our day-to-day activities - are enormously extended."

However, the conclusion is typical of that cast of mind which views all solutions through the European prism. To counterbalance the executives within Europe and provide greater democratic accountability, the European Parliament should have the power to stop a group of European countries from declaring or continuing a conflict. One is mindful of how closely this proposal follows on from the Iraq war.

A European War Powers Act could serve three purposes. Firstly, it would empower the European Parliament, acting on behalf of EU citizenry and all EU member states, with the right to stop a crisis management operation after 60 days that is conceived and executed by a number of EU Member States using the mechanism of 'enhanced cooperation'....Secondly, introducing armed forces into hostilities is in most European states the prerogative of the executive, declaring war is not. If a situation exists in which soldiers are introduced into hostilities and war is not declared, the European Parliament should be involved. A European War Powers Act would lay down the obligation for the executive, after having deployed soldiers to a crisis, to inform the European Parliament on a regular basis during the operation. As such it would serve as an instrument structuring the relation between the executive and the EP and consequently have an ordering effect on an inherently messy and ad hoc political process. Thirdly, a European War Powers Act could empower the European Parliament to evaluate each operation in a systematic and consistent fashion (ex post facto). This would not take away competencies from national parliaments, but would create and attribute a new one.

Although Houben concentrates on the deployment of troops at a European level, it is clear that the confusion between a European executive and national executives would allow the European Parliament to monitor and even attempt to gain control over national powers to initiate and continue conflict at a Member State level. It is a proposal now, so we can expect some concrete action by 2005.


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