Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 08/2011

Parliamentary War Powers Around the World, 1989–2004. A New Dataset

Wolfgang Wagner, Dirk Peters, Cosima Glahn

December 2010

Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces


War powers have been contested between governments and parliaments throughout the history of democratic politics and political theory. On the one hand, the authorisation of standing armies, of conscription and of taxes for the purpose of waging war has been the raison d’être of early modern parliamentarianism ever since the English nobility reached a constitutional settlement in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Moreover, as few decisions potentially have a more severe impact on the lives of citizens than decisions regarding military missions, one can argue that no meaningful notion of democracy could possibly exempt them from parliamentary control (see Lord, 2008). On the other hand, theorists of democratic politics have been concerned that parliamentary influence over military deployments would threaten to undermine executive flexibility and thus hamper the effectiveness of military operations. Machiavelli, Locke, Montesquieu and de Tocqueville all argued that the executive should be able to decide autonomously over the deployment of armed forces (see Damrosch, 2002: 43; Owens and Pelizzo, 2009). Both arguments have survived significant changes in the nature of armed conflict, with self-defence and peace-support missions replacing war as legal and legitimate forms of military force (Neff, 2005).