Pentagon Claims Near-Limitless Power to Conduct Unauthorized Strikes

Officials argue 'collective self-defense' can be broadly interpreted

Senators, notably Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), are pushing for clarification from the Pentagon about their interpretation of the concept of “collective self-defense,” under which the US military claims near-limitless power to conduct unilateral strikes on enemies not authorized by Congress.

The expansion of the notion that military forces have a right to self-defense if they are attacked was expanded to a collective right, which allows the US to intervene when anyone the Pentagon identifies as a “partner” is either under attack or faces a conceivable threat from someone else.

The Pentagon has affirmed in recent correspondence with Sen. Kaine that this is how they view things, and that moreover it is “not typically limited to particular groups or individuals committing the hostile act or demonstrating the hostile intent.” This means, in effect, they can attack targets Congress never authorized them to target so long as they select some “partner” that could benefit from the attack.

Sen. Kaine noted that this is a problem, because the Pentagon is flat out saying they don’t need to be authorized to go after the “hostile” actor, and also does not provide Congress with a list of who the “partners” they have are, meaning this whole calculation on who the Pentagon is allowed to attack can happen entirely behind the scenes, and to the extent the public, or Congress, are ever given a justification, it can be long after the fact.

This is how the Pentagon has been behaving as well, with actions like targeting Shi’ite militias or Russian mercenaries in Syria, neither of whom Congress authorized, on the grounds that they were engaged in hostile actions against rebel factions that the US, at least for the purposes of the attacks, were labeled “partners” at the time.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.