What is the difference between war powers and emergency powers?

I have been hearing about both war powers and emergency powers in the context of COVID-19, but I have not been able to find a clear explanation of the distinction between them, especially considering that the defence production act, which according to the below USA today article is "a war authority", is being used even though we are not at war. Why is this, and if being used only when at war is not the distinction between them, what is?


The following Time magazine also refers to the defense production act as a war power and makes no further explanation: https://time.com/5813277/trump-emergency-powers-gm-coronavirus-theatrics/

  • 2
    I'm assuming you are asking just about the US, given the articles cited, so tagged accordingly. Apr 12, 2020 at 4:21

1 Answer 1


If you are talking about the United States, the difference is the type of powers and how they are used. War Powers are defined by the War Powers Resolution of 1973. It says that the president would be allowed to send Armed Forces into action, but only under a declaration of war by Congress,"statutory authorization," or in case of "a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces." The President can send people into armed conflict for sixty days with a 30-day withdraw period as long as Congress in notified within 48 hours and can be extended if Congress allows without calling the action an act of war.

Emergency powers are called by the National Emergencies Act that was made effective in 1976. The President is given 136 emergency powers defined by Congress and the powers can be extensive, ranging to things like:

* Suspending all laws regulating chemical and biological weapons, including the ban on human testing

* Suspending any Clean Air Act implementation plan or excess emissions penalty upon petition of a state governor

* Authorizing and constructing military construction projects

...and more. These powers can be terminated and an emergency ended along with the President's emergency powers by a joint resolution of Congress. Under these conditions, the current Defense Production Act would not be a war power legally speaking unless the President is planning later to amend the act and add some stature about sending the military in armed action in addition to ramping up production of masks.

  • So, to get back to OP’s original question, despite its name, the Defense Production Act would count as an emergency power, not a war power, since it’s not directly about sending armed forces into action?
    – divibisan
    Apr 12, 2020 at 22:08
  • Sorry, got to add that to the answer. Yes, that would be an emergency power, not war power.
    – Tyler Mc
    Apr 12, 2020 at 22:10

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