President Richard Nixon Points to a Map of Cambodia during a Vietnam War Press Conference, photograph by Jack E. Kighlinger, April 30, 1970
On April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon addressed the nation. He explained that he had ordered military action in Cambodia, a formerly neutral nation. Nixon wanted to protect American troops in Vietnam by “cleaning out” border areas occupied by North Vietnamese fighters. He had not discussed his plan with Congress, and many legislators accused the president of expanding the war illegally.
Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum
Congress Limits Presidential War Powers
The Constitution divides war powers between Congress and the president. Only Congress can declare war and appropriate military funding, but the president is commander in chief of the armed forces. The United States nonetheless engaged in conflicts in Korea and Vietnam without congressional declarations of war. After President Richard Nixon ordered the bombing of Cambodia without Congress’s consent, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution of 1973, intended to limit the president’s authority to conduct war.
While Congress holds the constitutional authority to declare war, it is balanced by the president’s authority as commander in chief. In 1973 Congress passed legislation further clarifying the division of power.