Aug. 29, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Stevenson: Overseeing the New Ways of War

If the circumstances are that dire, I suppose most Americans would support such an action. But the way to limit abuses, and be sure that there is careful consideration beforehand and accountability afterward, is for the President himself to make the final decision and for a designated group in Congress to be notified as soon as possible.

If Congress ever resolves its disagreements over domestic cybersecurity and passes some kind of law, I hope it also would include a provision requiring congressional notification and oversight if the President ever chooses to use special authorities to compel compliance with security directives.

Do drone and cyber-operations have to be reported to Congress every time? Will a reporting requirement prevent timely action?

The concerns are overblown because the experience with CIA covert operations has worked in practice, despite occasional complaints.

And the frequency issue can easily be solved by a simple rule: if the President has to decide under the executive branch’s own rules, then the matter is important enough that the Congress should be notified.

As technology provides new ways of fighting and killing, we need to modify our rules and processes to guarantee accountability and oversight. These are political questions, not legal ones, and they should be settled by the two political branches.

Charles A. Stevenson is the author of America’s Foreign Policy Toolkit: Key Institutions and Processes (CQ Press, 2012). He teaches at Johns Hopkins’ Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.

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