The Necessity for Declarations of War

Alan Cai

September 2, 2022

War declarations are seldom-used in the modern day with the purpose of formally declaring military action against another country. This is partially due to the presence of United Nations international norms and guidelines that prohibit violence and aggression between two countries. Yet, it is evident that the past decades cannot pride themselves for being void of war. De facto warfare has indeed claimed the lives of countless combatants and civilians through preventable conflict such as imperialist ambitions, proxy wars, or civil wars that splinter a nation and bleed into the rest of the globe.

Notable declarations of war include the invasion of Iraq, the Vietnam War, and the invasion of Ukraine. The lack of a necessity to declare war has rendered traditional legal resolutions obsolete, giving commanders in chief near total authority to commit acts otherwise deemed as warfare without legislative nor any additional oversight, an exclusion especially detrimental in three-branch governments. Similarly, as the start of wars is blurred, even more so are the ends. Conflicts have the ability to endure indefinitely if they are not so declared as existing. Conflicts the United States participated in, such as the Korean War and War in Afghanistan did not have legislative approval prior to the military giant’s entering. Henceforth, the only armistice or peace possibly attained is a ceasefire, which has proven many times to be unreliable and easily violated. 

Unchecked military involvement in conflicts sparked by an impulse breeds a drastic and easily preventable cause of death. The necessity to declare war prior to military action not only formalizes the proponents of conflict, but also binds a country on the international standpoint to its promise in conducting warfare in a stable and responsible way. In other words, declaring war comes with acknowledging the rules of warfare. Similarly, peace treaties or some form of written surrender agreement following the end of such conflicts become an unspoken mandate. 

In any scenario, violent conflict should, and always will be regarded as the last resort. However, in the rare case that acts of aggression are deemed necessary, the minimum a country should be obligated to perform is a formal declaration. It is the right of the victim to understand the existence of a conflict before actions occur. Therefore, national governments or governments who have the ability to wage war ought to declare intention to do so before initiating armed conflict with another state.