A declaration of war is a formal act by which one state goes to war against another. The declaration is a performative speech act (or the signing of a document) by an authorized party of a national government, in order to create a state of war between two or more states.
The legality of who is competent to declare war varies between nations and forms of government. In many nations, that power is given to the head of state or sovereign. In other cases, something short of a full declaration of war, such as a letter of marque or a covert operation, may authorise war-like acts by privateers or mercenaries. The official international protocol for declaring war was defined in the Hague Convention (III) of 1907 on the Opening of Hostilities.
Since 1945, developments in international law such as the United Nations Charter, which prohibits both the threat and the use of force in international conflicts, have made declarations of war largely obsolete in international relations. The UN Security Council, under powers granted in articles 24 and 25, and Chapter VII of the Charter, may authorize collective action to maintain or enforce international peace and security. Article 51 of the United Nations (UN) Charter also states that: "Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right to individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a state."
Few nations have formally declared war upon another since then. In addition to this, non-state or terrorist organizations may claim to or be described as "declaring war" when engaging in violent acts. These declarations may have no legal standing in themselves, but they may still act as a call to arms for supporters of these organizations.
A definition of the three ways of thinking about a declaration of war was developed by Saikrishna Prakash. He argues that a declaration of war can be seen from three perspectives:
An alternative typology based upon the form of the declaration is formulated by Brien Hallett  according to 1) the degree to which the state and condition of war exists, 2) the degree of justification, 3) the degree of ceremony of the speech act, and 4) the degree of perfection of the speech act:
However, the practice of declaring war was not always strictly followed. In his study Hostilities without Declaration of War (1883), the British scholar John Frederick Maurice showed that between 1700 and 1870 war was declared in only 10 cases, while in another 107 cases war was waged without such declaration (these figures include only wars waged in Europe and between European states and the United States, not including colonial wars in Africa and Asia).
In modern public international law, a declaration of war entails the recognition between countries of a state of hostilities between these countries, and such declaration has acted to regulate the conduct between the military engagements between the forces of the respective countries. The primary multilateral treaties governing such declarations are the Hague Conventions.
The League of Nations, formed in 1919 in the wake of the First World War, and the General Treaty for the Renunciation of War of 1928 signed in Paris, France, demonstrated that world powers were seriously seeking a means to prevent the carnage of another world war. Nevertheless, these powers were unable to stop the outbreak of the Second World War, so the United Nations (UN) was established following that war in a renewed attempt to prevent international aggression through declarations of war.
In classical times, Thucydides condemned the Thebans, allies of Sparta, for launching a surprise attack without a declaration of war against Plataea, Athens' ally – an event that began the Peloponnesian War.
The utility of formal declarations of war has always been questioned, either as sentimental remnants of a long-gone age of chivalry or as imprudent warnings to the enemy. For example, writing in 1737, Cornelius van Bynkershoek judged that "nations and princes endowed with some pride are not generally willing to wage war without a previous declaration, for they wish by an open attack to render victory more honourable and glorious." Writing in 1880, William Edward Hall judged that "any sort of previous declaration therefore is an empty formality unless the enemy must be given time and opportunity to put himself in a state of defence, and it is needless to say that no one asserts such a quixotism to be obligatory."
The Hague Convention (III) of 1907 called "Convention Relative to the Opening of Hostilities" gives the international actions a country should perform when opening hostilities. The first two Articles say:
In 1989, Panama declared itself to be in a state of war with the United States. On 13 May 1998, at the outbreak of the Eritrean–Ethiopian War, Ethiopia, in what Eritrean radio described as a "total war" policy, mobilized its forces for a full assault against Eritrea. The Claims Commission found that this was in essence an affirmation of the existence of a state of war between belligerents, not a declaration of war, and that Ethiopia also notified the United Nations Security Council, as required under Article 51 of the UN Charter.
Declarations of war, while uncommon in the traditional sense, have mainly been limited to the conflict areas of the Western Asia and East Africa since 1945. Additionally, some small states have unilaterally declared war on major world powers such as the United States, United Kingdom, or Russia when faced with a hostile invasion and/or occupation.
This is a list of declarations of war (or the existence of war) by one sovereign state against another since the end of World War II in 1945. Only declarations that occurred in the context of a direct military conflict are included.
|Arab–Israeli War (1948–49)
Suez Crisis (1956)
Six-Day War (1967)
War of Attrition (1967–70)
Yom Kippur War (1973)
|15 May 1948||declaration of war|| Egypt
|Israel||Egypt: 26 March 1979
Jordan: 26 October 1994
Syria: still at war
Iraq: still at war
Lebanon: still at war
|Ogaden War||13 July 1977||declaration of war||Somalia||Ethiopia||15 March 1978|
|Uganda–Tanzania War||2 November 1978||declaration of war||Tanzania||Uganda||3 June 1979|||
|Iran–Iraq War||22 September 1980||declaration of war||Iraq||Iran||20 July 1988|||
|Falklands War||11 May 1982||declaration of war (declaring the existence of a zone of war.)||Argentina||United Kingdom||20 June 1982|||
|United States invasion of Panama||15 December 1989||existence of a state of war||Panama||United States||31 January 1990|||
|Eritrean–Ethiopian War||14 May 1998||existence of a state of war||Ethiopia||Eritrea||12 December 2000|||
|Chadian Civil War (2005–10)||23 December 2005||existence of a state of war||Chad||Sudan||15 January 2010|||
|Djiboutian–Eritrean border conflict||13 June 2008||existence of a state of war||Djibouti||Eritrea||6 June 2010|||
|Russo-Georgian War||9 August 2008||declaration of war (declaring the existence of a state of war.)||Georgia||Russia||16 August 2008|||
|Heglig Crisis||11 April 2012||existence of a state of war||Sudan||South Sudan||26 May 2012|||
|Sinai insurgency||1 July 2015||existence of a state of war||Egypt||Islamic State||still at war|||
The United Nations Charter is the foundation of modern international law. The UN Charter is a treaty ratified by members of the UN, which are therefore legally bound by its terms. Article 2(4) of the UN Charter generally bans the use of force by states except when carefully circumscribed conditions are met, stating:
All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.
This rule was "enshrined in the United Nations Charter in 1945 for a good reason: to prevent states from using force as they felt so inclined", said Louise Doswald-Beck, Secretary-General International Commission of Jurists.
Therefore, in the absence of an armed attack against a country or its allies, any legal use of force, or any legal threat of the use of force, has to be supported by a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing member states to use force.
In an effort to force nations to resolve issues without warfare, framers of the United Nations Charter attempted to commit member nations to using warfare only under limited circumstances, particularly for defensive purposes.
The UN became a combatant itself after North Korea invaded South Korea on 25 June 1950, which begun the Korean War. The UN Security Council condemned the North Korean action by a 9–0 resolution (with the Soviet Union absent) and called upon its member nations to come to the aid of South Korea. The United States and 15 other nations formed a "UN force" to pursue this action. In a press conference on 29 June 1950, U.S. President Harry S. Truman characterized these hostilities as not being a "war" but a "police action".
The United Nations has issued Security Council Resolutions that declared some wars to be legal actions under international law, most notably Resolution 678, authorizing the 1991 Gulf War which was triggered by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. UN Resolutions authorise the use of "force" or "all necessary means".
Throughout the Commonwealth realms (the UK, Australia, Canada, et al.) the formal right to declare war rests with the monarch, currently Elizabeth II, as part of the royal prerogative and exercised by the Prime Minister (for example in the UK) or that realm's written constitution. In the United Kingdom parliamentary approval is often sought to deploy combat forces overseas, for example in the Iraq War and airstrikes on Daesh (ISIL), but this is not a legal requirement.
Article 28.3.1° of the Constitution of Ireland states that "war shall not be declared and the State shall not participate in any war save with the assent of Dáil Éireann." Ireland has taken a policy of non-alignment (what many confuse with neutrality see: Irish Neutrality) in military terms and is thus not a member of NATO.
According to the 11° article of the Italian Constitution, Italy rejects war as an instrument of aggression. Parliament has the power to declare war if it is it necessary to create an order that ensures peace and justice among Nations; the most reliable authors exclude that among the circumstances in which it can be declared the state of war under Article 78 of the Constitution may be included also the state of internal civil war.
According to Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, war is unconstitutional. This article within the Constitution of Japan was intended to prevent the country from being needlessly aggressive in multinational affairs after World War II.
According to Article 89 § VIII of the Mexican Constitution the President may declare war in the name of the United Mexican States after the correspondent law is enacted by the Congress of the Union.
According to 2010:1408 15 kap. 14 § entitled "Krigsförklaring" (declaration of war) the Swedish cabinet (regeringen) may not declare Sweden to be at war without the parliaments (riksdagen) consent unless Sweden is first attacked.
In the United States, Congress, which makes the rules for the military, has the power under the constitution to "declare war". However neither the U.S. Constitution nor any Act of Congress stipulate what format a declaration of war must take. War declarations have the force of law and are intended to be executed by the President as "commander in chief" of the armed forces. The last time Congress passed joint resolutions saying that a "state of war" existed was on June 5, 1942, when the U.S. declared war on Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania. Since then, the US has used the term "authorization to use military force", as in the case against Iraq in 2003.
Sometimes decisions for military engagements were made by US presidents, without formal approval by Congress, based on UN Security Council resolutions that do not expressly declare the UN or its members to be at war. Part of the justification for the United States invasion of Panama was to capture Manuel Noriega (as a prisoner of war) because he was declared a criminal rather than a belligerent.
In response to the September 11 attacks, the United States Congress passed the joint resolution Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists on September 14, 2001, which authorized the US President to fight the War on Terror.
Developments in international law since 1945, notably the United Nations (UN) Charter, including its prohibition on the threat or use of force in international relations, may well have made the declaration of war redundant as a formal international legal instrument (unlawful recourse to force does not sit happily with an idea of legal equality).
The Attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service upon the United States (a neutral country at the time) against the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941. The attack led to the United States' formal entry into World War II the next day. The Japanese military leadership referred to the attack as the Hawaii Operation and Operation AI, and as Operation Z during its planning.Japan intended the attack as a preventive action to keep the United States Pacific Fleet from interfering with its planned military actions in Southeast Asia against overseas territories of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the United States. Over the course of seven hours there were coordinated Japanese attacks on the U.S.-held Philippines, Guam and Wake Island and on the British Empire in Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Additionally, from the Japanese viewpoint, it was seen as a preemptive strike.The attack commenced at 7:48 a.m. Hawaiian Time (18:18 GMT). The base was attacked by 353 Imperial Japanese aircraft (including fighters, level and dive bombers, and torpedo bombers) in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers. All eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged, with four sunk. All but USS Arizona were later raised, and six were returned to service and went on to fight in the war. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one minelayer. 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed; 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded. Important base installations such as the power station, dry dock, shipyard, maintenance, and fuel and torpedo storage facilities, as well as the submarine piers and headquarters building (also home of the intelligence section), were not attacked. Japanese losses were light: 29 aircraft and five midget submarines lost, and 64 servicemen killed. One Japanese sailor, Kazuo Sakamaki, was captured.
Japan announced a declaration of war on the United States later that day (December 8 in Tokyo), but the declaration was not delivered until the following day. The following day, December 8, Congress declared war on Japan. On December 11, Germany and Italy each declared war on the U.S., which responded with a declaration of war against Germany and Italy.
There were numerous historical precedents for the unannounced military action by Japan, but the lack of any formal warning, particularly while peace negotiations were still apparently ongoing, led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to proclaim December 7, 1941 "a date which will live in infamy". Because the attack happened without a declaration of war and without explicit warning, the attack on Pearl Harbor was later judged in the Tokyo Trials to be a war crime.British and French declaration of war on Germany
The Declaration of war by France and the United Kingdom was given on 3 September 1939, after German forces invaded Poland. Despite the speech being the official announcement of both France and the United Kingdom, the speech was given by the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, in Westminster, London.Declaration of War (film)
Declaration of War (French: La Guerre est déclarée) is a 2011 French film directed by Valérie Donzelli, and written by and starring Donzelli and Jérémie Elkaïm; it is based on actual events in their lives together, when they were a young couple caring for their dangerously ill son. It was released on the 31 August 2011 and received very positive reviews; Allociné, a review aggregation website gave it an average of 4.3 stars out of five. Le Monde gave it a full five stars, saying "Against cancer, an undoubtable force of happiness". The film was selected as the French entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards, but it did not make the final shortlist.Declaration of war by Canada
A declaration of war by Canada is a formal declaration issued by the Government of Canada (the federal Crown-in-Council) indicating that a state of war exists between Canada and another nation. It is an exercise of the Royal Prerogative on the constitutional advice of the ministers of the Crown in Cabinet and does not require the direct approval of the Parliament of Canada, though such can be sought by the government. Since gaining the authority to declare war under the Statute of Westminster 1931, Canada has declared war only during the Second World War and the Korean war.Declaration of war by the United States
A declaration of war is a formal declaration issued by a national government indicating that a state of war exists between that nation and another. The document Declarations of War and Authorizations for the Use of Military Force: Historical Background and Legal Implications gives an extensive
listing and summary of statutes which are automatically engaged upon the US declaring war.
For the United States, Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution says "Congress shall have power to ... declare War." However, that passage provides no specific format for what form legislation must have in order to be considered a "declaration of war" nor does the Constitution itself use this term. In the courts, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, in Doe v. Bush, said: "[T]he text of the October Resolution itself spells out justifications for a war and frames itself as an 'authorization' of such a war." in effect saying an authorization suffices for declaration and what some may view as a formal Congressional "Declaration of War" was not required by the Constitution.
The last time the United States formally declared war, using specific terminology, on any nation was in 1942, when war was declared against Axis-allied Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania, because President Franklin Roosevelt thought it was improper to engage in hostilities against a country without a formal declaration of war. Since then, every American president has used military force without a declaration of war.This article will use the term "formal declaration of war" to mean Congressional legislation that uses the phrase "declaration of war" in the title. Elsewhere, this article will use the terms "authorized by Congress," "funded by Congress" or "undeclared war" to describe other such conflicts.Declarations of war during World War II
This is a timeline of formal declarations of War during World War II.
A declaration of war is a formal act by which one nation goes to war against another. The declaration is usually an act of delivering a performative speech (not to be confused with a mere speech) or the presentation of a signed document by an authorized party of a national government in order to create a state of war between two or more sovereign states. The official international protocol for declaring war was defined in The Hague Peace Conference of 1907 (or Hague II). For the diplomatic maneuvering behind these events, which led to hostilities between nations during World War II, see the article entitled Diplomatic history of World War II.Fatawā of Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden authored two fatāwā in the late 1990s. The first was published in August 1996 and the second in February 1998. At the time, bin Laden was not a wanted man in any country except his native Saudi Arabia, and was not yet known as the leader of the international terrorist organization al-Qaeda. Therefore, these fatāwā received relatively little attention until after the August 1998 United States embassy bombings, for which bin Laden was indicted. The indictment mentions the first fatwā, and claims that Khalid al-Fawwaz, of bin Laden's Advice and Reformation Committee in London, participated in its communication to the press.George Burdi
George Burdi, also known as George Eric Hawthorne (born 1970), is a Canadian musician and white supremacist who became known for his role in white nationalist organizations. He led the Canadian branch of the World Church of the Creator, which formed an alliance with the now-defunct white nationalist organization Heritage Front. In addition, Burdi performed with the white power band RaHoWa.Burdi was convicted of assault causing bodily harm, and was sentenced to one year in prison. Upon his release from prison, Burdi claimed to have renounced racism, but years later revealed that he actually was and still is a racist.German declaration of war against the United States
On 11 December 1941, four days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States declaration of war against the Japanese Empire, Nazi Germany declared war against the United States, in response to what was claimed to be a series of provocations by the United States government when the US was still officially neutral during World War II. The decision to declare war was made by Adolf Hitler, apparently offhand, almost without consultation. Later that day, the United States declared war on Germany.Grand Declaration of War
Grand Declaration of War is the second full-length studio album by the Norwegian black metal band Mayhem, released by Season of Mist and Necropolis Records on June 6, 2000.The album's title and some of the lyrics are taken from the writings of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, particularly his books Twilight of the Idols and The Antichrist. Nietzsche called Twilight of the Idols "a grand declaration of war" („eine grosse Kriegserklärung“).Infamy Speech
The Infamy Speech was a speech delivered by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt to a Joint Session of the US Congress on December 8, 1941, one day after the Empire of Japan's attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and the Japanese declaration of war on the United States and the British Empire. The name derives from the first line of the speech: Roosevelt describing the previous day as "a date which will live in infamy". The speech is also commonly referred to as the "Pearl Harbor Speech".Within an hour of the speech, Congress passed a formal declaration of war against Japan and officially brought the U.S. into World War II. The address is one of the most famous of all American political speeches.Japanese declaration of war on the United States and the British Empire
The declaration of war by the Empire of Japan on the United States and the British Empire was published on December 8, 1941 (Japan time; December 7 in the United States), after Japanese forces had executed an attack on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor and attacks on British forces in Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong. The declaration of war was printed on the front page of all Japanese newspapers' evening editions on December 8. The document was subsequently printed again on the eighth day of each month throughout the war (until Japan surrendered in 1945), to re-affirm the resolve for the war.Military history of South Africa during World War II
During World War II, many South Africans saw military service. The Union of South Africa participated with other British Commonwealth forces in battles in North Africa against Erwin Rommel and his Afrika Korps, and many South African pilots joined the Royal Air Force and fought against the Axis powers in the European theatre.Treaty of Ried
The Treaty of Ried of 8 October 1813 was a treaty that was signed between the Kingdom of Bavaria and Austrian Empire. By this treaty, Bavaria left the Confederation of the Rhine which was allied with Napoleon, and agreed to join the Sixth Coalition against Napoleon in exchange for a guarantee of her continued sovereign and independent status. On 14 October, Bavaria made a formal declaration of war against Napoleonic France. The treaty was passionately backed by the Crown Prince Louis and by Marshal von Wrede.Tripartite Pact
The Tripartite Pact, also known as the Berlin Pact, was an agreement between Germany, Italy and Japan signed in Berlin on 27 September 1940 by, respectively, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Galeazzo Ciano and Saburō Kurusu. It was a defensive military alliance that was eventually joined by Hungary (20 November 1940), Romania (23 November 1940), Bulgaria (1 March 1941) and Yugoslavia (25 March 1941), as well as by the German client state of Slovakia (24 November 1940). Yugoslavia's accession provoked a coup d'état in Belgrade two days later, and Germany, Italy and Hungary responded by invading Yugoslavia (with Bulgarian and Romanian assistance) and partitioning the country. The resulting Italo-German client state known as the Independent State of Croatia joined the pact on 15 June 1941.
The Tripartite Pact was directed primarily at the United States. Its practical effects were limited, since the Italo-German and Japanese operational theatres were on opposite sides of the world and the high contracting powers had disparate strategic interests. Some technical cooperation was carried out, and the Japanese declaration of war on the United States propelled, although it did not require, a similar declaration of war from all the other signatories of the Tripartite Pact.Undeclared war
An undeclared war is a military conflict between two or more nations without either side issuing a formal declaration of war. The term is sometimes used to include any disagreement or conflict fought about without an official declaration. Since the United Nations' police action in Korea followed the example set by the United Kingdom during the so-called Malayan Emergency, a number of democratic governments have pursued disciplinary actions and limited warfare by characterizing them as something else such as a military action or armed response.
While some have claimed the United States has not formally declared war since World War II and/or most notably, the United States never officially declared war during its more than decade-long involvement in Vietnam; the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution authorized the escalation of the Vietnam War without a declaration of war.There is no specific format required under United States or international law for the way an official war declaration will be structured or delivered. Instead, the United States Constitution says: "The Congress shall have Power [...] To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water".United States declaration of war on Germany (1917)
On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson asked a special joint session of the United States Congress for a declaration of war against the German Empire. Congress responded with the declaration on April 6.United States declaration of war on Japan
On December 8, 1941, the United States Congress declared war (Pub.L. 77–328, 55 Stat. 795) on the Empire of Japan in response to that country's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor the prior day. It was formulated an hour after the Infamy Speech of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Japan had sent a message to the United States embassy in Washington earlier, but because of problems at the embassy in decoding the very long message – the high-security level assigned to the declaration meant that only personnel with very high clearances could decode it, which slowed down the process – it was not delivered to the U.S. Secretary of State until after the Pearl Harbor attack. Following the U.S. declaration, Japan's allies, Germany and Italy, declared war on the United States, bringing the United States fully into World War II.United States declaration of war upon Germany (1941)
On December 11, 1941, the United States Congress declared war upon Germany (Pub.L. 77–331, Sess. 1, ch. 564, 55 Stat. 796), hours after Germany declared war on the United States after the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan. The vote was 88–0 in the Senate and 393–0 in the House.