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Somin Participates in NRO Online Symposium on U.S. Actions in Libya

Professor Ilya Somin was one of nine legal experts commenting in an online symposium on recent U.S. military actions in Libya. Sponsored by the National Review Online (NRO), the symposium tackled the questions, "Is what we’re doing in Libya constitutional? How ought a president go about such a thing?"

Somin expressed his belief that the actions are constitutional so far but will require congressional authorization should they escalate or continue for a protracted period of time.

"Some small-scale uses of force may not rise to the level of a war and therefore can be undertaken by the president alone under his authority as Commander in Chief of the armed forces. President Reagan’s 1986 airstrike on Libya might be an example, as were Bill Clinton’s 1998 missile strikes against al-Qaeda base camps. If the Libya intervention remains limited to a small number of missile attacks and airstrikes, perhaps it can be justified on the same basis," Somin said.

He explained, "There is some ambiguity about exactly where a small-scale 'conflict' ends and 'war' begins. But the fact that we cannot draw a precise line between the two does not mean that there aren’t cases that clearly fall on one side or the other. We can’t draw a precise line between people who are 'short,' those who are of 'average' height, and those who are 'tall.' But we can still easily recognize that Shaquille O’Neal is tall. Similarly, a large-scale military action against a foreign government clearly qualifies as 'war.'”

Read the legal analyses.