The launch of over 50 missiles to strike a Syrian military base could be considered an act of war.

The UN charter states:

All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.

That should at least on paper stop member countries from engaging.

USA law has an "Authorization for the Use of Military Force" that can be issued by congress (I think?) to allow the president to take action.

Also under the War on Terror, there is an Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists that can be issued.

I haven't found mention of any of the above in media, but my English is not that good.

It states that it was a retaliation for the use of chemical weapons. Does it mean the USA and Syria are now at war?

On what grounds did the USA launch those missiles?

  • 1
    This's actually similar to this question, politics.stackexchange.com/questions/16885/….
    – Panda
    Apr 7, 2017 at 12:07
  • Did the attack threaten the territorial integrity of Syria, or harm their political independence? Apr 7, 2017 at 13:32
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    It's not on topic. Politics SE is not the small wars council or a military think tank or a legal soapbox. Your opinion holds zero weight. Zero. Apr 7, 2017 at 14:38
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    I agree with user4012. This falls into that very considerable overlap between laws and politics, both of which impact the other, significantly. But, my own opinion is obvious, based on the fact that I thought it was worth offering an answer. I'd hope my answer doesn't have too much injection of partisan or moral subjectivity. Apr 7, 2017 at 16:18
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    See also law.stackexchange.com/q/18258/287 Apr 7, 2017 at 20:10

3 Answers 3


"Could be considered an act of war." Also could be considered other things, as well. The unilateral nature of the action puts it on more shaky ground, but a missile strike on a base is not going to remove Assad, in and of itself, and is not in conjunction with the seizing of any territory, so the claim that it threatens the "territorial integrity or political independence" would be difficult to build a consensus around.

Within the USA, the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists is so broad as to be a rubber-stamp for any action by the president. It was a source of concern for the opposition party and certain segments of the population from the very start, and after the end of the Bush administration, when Obama had those sweeping powers, the questioning of those broad powers gained more momentum as previous supporters suddenly found it to be troubling.

Obama cited that act as legal justification for some of his actions. At the same time, he acknowledged that it was excessively broad, and invited Congress to visit the issue, repeal the previous one and pass a more specific, narrowly-defined Authorization related to the actions he was taking. Congress failed to do so, for a number of reasons, and left the previous one in place.

If that were not in place, the War Powers Act, which, ironically, was meant to set boundaries on the Executive Branch use of military force, would still allow for this action, in all probability.

Even if Congress and the Courts robustly interpreted the Act (which they don't) to try and reign in presidential use of force, the letter of that law states that the president must notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action, and forbids the forces from remaining for more than 60 days without specific authorization for use of military force.

So, he has two days just to mention it. Since he deployed missile strikes, it's hard to say that the forces remain committed, so he already has met the "60 day" requirement. And, finally, under the very broad authorization against terrorism he already has the authority, with Syria being designated as an official state sponsor of terrorism.

In dealing with the UN, you will probably see the argument that, with the brazen war crime committed by Assad, there was an immediate need to deter him from further acts, and that these strikes were limited in scope so they only did that, and no more, and that the USA will defer to other bodies' deliberations, having only acted under exigent need.

NOTE: My framing of how the law is interpreted, or arguments the USA might make to support their action should not necessarily be interpreted that I am making those same arguments or claims. Based on how similar actions have rolled out over the past 25 or so years, and discussions that arose about the authority at the time of those actions, this is how I believe the situation is, not how the world would be if I got to make all the rules.

Wikipedia: War Powers Resolution

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    The 60 days part is true. After that, congress should declare war. But it never does...
    – SDsolar
    Apr 7, 2017 at 18:45
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    I really don't imagine how attacking a military base could possibly not be an act of war - if Pearl Harbour was an act of war then this is, too.
    – Bregalad
    Apr 7, 2017 at 21:25
  • @Bregalad - you have a fairly limited imagination, then. A chemical weapons attack on civilians is a war crime. Retaliation or deterrence as a reaction to a war crime could be characterized as something other than an act of war. You may still feel that it's an act of war, but, then, not all acts of war are the same in terms of aggression. Establishing a UN-blessed "no fly zone" made the patrolling of that area in Iraq not officially an act of war, but certainly the actions carried out in enforcing the no-fly zone, alone, would be considered acts of war. Context matters. Apr 10, 2017 at 15:32
  • @PoloHoleSet Please provide definitive, credible evidence that the Syrian army is directly responsible for any of the ALLEGED chemical attacks. (AFAIK, most of the "chemical attacks" were aired by the media, but no international organization has been able to confirm the presence of the attacks.) Refuugees fleeing Ghouta say there were no chemical attacks as reported by the news. Even if a chemical attack is confirmed, it's fairly easy now to determine where the chemicals were produced. There is no evidence supporting the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian army.
    – MishaP
    Mar 21, 2018 at 14:27
  • Also, US is knowingly and intentionally attacking a branch of government in Syria (an army is considered a branch of government, in any country) How is that NOT an act of war against Syria?
    – MishaP
    Mar 21, 2018 at 14:29

Not really an answer, but as @SDSolar notes, the Constitution states only Congress can actually declare war.

To the best of my knowledge, no court has ever decided whether the War Powers Act or any other act allowing/restricting what military actions the President can take, is Constitutional or not.

Given the number of legal challenges to President Trump's actions, it's not unforeseeable that a Congressman will bring this issue to the federal courts.

Of course, with a Republican majority in both the House and the Senate, it's quite possible a declaration of war would pass anyway, so challenging it legally might be pointless.


According to Donald Trump himself, he clearly thought so:

The President must get Congressional approval before attacking Syria-big mistake if he does not!

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    No, the War Powers act clearly states Congressional notice is only required if troop are 60 days in the field. Even then, Obama ignored that requirement in Libya, setting a new precedent that all but deligetimized Congressional oversight
    – user9790
    Apr 14, 2017 at 19:34
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    60 days declaration of war was also ignored by Bush
    – MishaP
    Mar 21, 2018 at 14:30

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