The Constitution seems to indicate that Congress should control war making, since it has the sole power to declare war. However, as the Commander in Chief, the President is given very broad powers over foreign policy and the use of the military.

If the US President wants to keep fighting a war, but Congress (presumably a veto-proof majority) wants to end it, is there any way to do so? If so, what tools can Congress use to end the war.

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    Remember that it's not actually a war unless Congress declares war.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jul 2, 2021 at 5:16

3 Answers 3


There's quite a lot of verbiage about POTUS war powers, but it's otherwise unclear exactly how Congress stops a war, even if is the one that has to declare it.

If it was considered urgent enough that Matt's defunding solution would be too slow, Congress could impeach the President, though that would be stretching the definition of high crimes and misdemeanors.

However, if Congress felt strongly enough about ending a war to have a veto-proof majority to do so, it would presumably be concerned about some aspects of that war, or POTUS's leadership in it, that it would be willing to consider something in POTUS's conduct as crimes. And note that the 2/3 of each chamber of that veto-proof covers majority to impeach (House) and 2/3 to remove (Senate) nicely.

(remember: high crimes and misdemeanors is basically whatever House and Senate says it is).

During the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1999, White House Counsel Charles Ruff described a "narrow" interpretation of "high crimes and misdemeanors" as requiring "a standard that the framers intentionally set at this extraordinarily high level to ensure that only the most serious offenses and in particular those that subverted our system of government would justify overturning a popular election". Writing in 1999, Mark R. Slusar commented that the narrow interpretation seemed to be most common among legal scholars and senators.

I'd argue that subverted our system of government would stretch handily to a POTUS refusing to end a war whose beginning needs to be approved by Congress.

Note that this might be different in the case of a "real war", i.e. declared as such by Congress and with a declaration of war to an enemy. Versus one of the numerous conflicts that are not declared wars (very few wars have been declared as such by Western countries in the last 65 years).

See also War Powers Resolution

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    +1, I would think that "high crimes" should cover the case where the president is in practice waging a war without Congress having formally declared war (e.g., Korean war) if Congress felt so inclined. It should be a misdemeanor at least ¯_(ツ)_/¯
    – Cat
    Commented Jul 2, 2021 at 5:51
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    IMHO: Letting thousands of americans die for no good reason (congress does not see the war as justified = no good reason), is some kind of crime, surely
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Jul 2, 2021 at 8:24

Congress controls funding for the military. In an extreme situation, Congress could choose to defund the military budget entirely. In practice, this will probably never happen because members of Congress have numerous incentives to keep the military funded.

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    Upvoted, but would defunding affect the current budget? i.e. could Congress take away money already allocated for the military budget for that fiscal year? At $650-700B a pop, that's a big enough kitty to buy at least a few F35 paint jobs to keep the war going, although I suspect there are already lots of strings on what items the money can be spent on. Commented Jul 2, 2021 at 4:58
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica I suppose it would depend on (a) how regularly the military receives money it has been allocated in the federal budget (e.g., is it all given once at the start of the fiscal year or is it dolled out monthly?) and (b) how much money the military has in reserve before funding is cut off. I think if we're at the point where these sorts of details matter (if the threat of removing future funding is not enough), then Congress would be better served in the short term by amending the constitution to broaden the definition of war, which only Congress can legally declare.
    – Cat
    Commented Jul 2, 2021 at 5:10
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    So: 1) it can be done if they do X, 2) they will not do X. Logical conclusion: it won't be done. The president has complete control over which wars are started and ended, and Congress has none at all. Commented Jul 2, 2021 at 10:57
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    @user253751 The question was what can Congress do --- not what would Congress do in equilibrium. Just like the president can wage wars without consensus, but they are unlikely to do so for a number of reasons.
    – Cat
    Commented Jul 2, 2021 at 15:26
  • @user253751 you are over-simplifying. POTUS generally gets a pretty big pass for waging wars and that includes public support and bi-partisan congressional support. If it somehow came to a point where Congress really felt this strong about stopping a war, they would be unified enough to apply all sorts of pressure to POTUS, through this, impeachment or any sorts of political pressure. Ask Lyndon B Johnson about his freedom of action. Commented Jul 2, 2021 at 17:01

The legislative branch is in charge of deciding the rules. The executive branch is, as the name says, in charge of executing those rules. If Congress wishes to end a war, they can simply pass a bill doing so. This would be subject to the president's veto power, so if the president is determined to continue the war, Congress would need 2/3 majority in both houses. If you want textual support, there is plenty in Article I, Section 8. For instance:

The Congress shall have Power ...
To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

So they can make a rule that the land and naval forces can't participate in the war (I suppose there is a bit of a loophole regarding the air force, but I think most judges would find that to be included).

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations;

The Congress can declare the war illegal and punish anyone participating in it.

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

The Congress can prohibit any capturing, which would make prosecuting a war more difficult.

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

The power to support the army suggests the power to have it not be supported.

To provide and maintain a Navy;

This implies that the power to maintain a navy is Congressional prerogative, and they are free to, for instance, disband it if they wish.

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