Stymied by Russia and China, the United States has not been able to secure approval from the 15-member U.N. Security Council. Unlike the 1999 intervention in Kosovo, in which the United States led a 78-day bombing campaign, the Obama administration has not received a NATO authorization for action against Syria, either.
When political bodies do provide military authorizations, the resulting actions can grow beyond what some may have originally contemplated.
In March 2011, for instance, the U.N. Security Council authorized a “no-fly zone” in Libya and gave a go-ahead for “all necessary measures” to protect civilians. NATO forces, including U.S. warplanes, ultimately reported flying more than 26,000 sorties. The NATO air attack destroyed or damaged approximately 6,000 military targets, with several European country leaders pressing the alliance to act more aggressively toward Libyan government forces.
The congressional authorization of military action following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks has been used even more aggressively.
The measure authorized “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons (the president) determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”
The Bush and Obama administrations have subsequently invoked the post-9/11 authorization to support at least 30 different actions, including undertakings in countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya and the Philippines, the Congressional Research Service noted.
On Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry declined to be pinned down on what might happen if Congress rejects an authorization of force against Syria, though he several times stressed the president’s inherent power to act in the nation’s self-defense.
“He has the right to do that no matter what Congress does,” Kerry said on CNN’s State of the Union program. “But the President believes, and I hope we will prove to the world, that we are stronger as a nation, our democracy is stronger when we respect the rights of the Congress to also weigh in on this.”