Texas GOP voters want limits on National Guard deployments

Similar measures have been introduced in over 30 other states across the country.
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Over 80% of Texas Republican voters approved a non-binding ballot measure known as Proposition 6 during the state’s primary election on Tuesday. The measure, which has no force of law, read: “The Texas Legislature should prohibit the deployment of the Texas National Guard to a foreign conflict unless Congress first formally declares war.” (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy/Released)

Republican voters in Texas overwhelmingly want to stop the state’s National Guard from deploying to foreign conflicts without a formal declaration of war from Congress.

Over 80% of Texas Republican voters approved a non-binding ballot measure known as Proposition 6 during the state’s primary election on Tuesday. The measure, which has no force of law, read: “The Texas Legislature should prohibit the deployment of the Texas National Guard to a foreign conflict unless Congress first formally declares war.”

The measure was backed by Bring Our Troops Home, an organization dedicated to ending American involvement in “endless wars” in the Middle East. 

The group aims to “return to a constitutional foreign policy of a limited-government republic by bringing our troops home, ending our endless wars, and only using military force when required to protect the lives, liberty, and property of Americans,” according to the organization’s website for the legislation.

Similar propositions have been introduced in more than thirty states over the 2024 legislative season, according to the organization. In the last two months, different bill versions have passed New Hampshire’s House of Representatives, Arizona’s Senate and Idaho’s Senate. None of those initiatives appear so far to have become laws.

The Texas vote was not for a legal change but to gauge support among voters in the GOP primary for a policy.

“It’s a way to register discontent”, according to Robert Leider, assistant professor of law at George Mason University. But even if the resolution were turned into a bill in a state legislature, it would be overridden by the federal laws that govern the Guard and all U.S. military policy, he added.

“In terms of legal power to do it, I think it’s doomed,” he said. “They can only do it if Congress lets them do it.”

Mike Linick, a senior international and defense policy researcher for the RAND Corporation, said that rules governing how and when the Guard can be sent to war date back over a century to 1903 under the Dick Act. Each year in the national defense policy bill, Linick said, there are one or more clauses that redefine, clarify or change the relationship between the Department of Defense and the National Guard. 

“This issue of whether the guard could be sent overseas, absent a declaration of war, is no different than any of the traditional tension between the executive branch and the legislative branch about under what conditions can the President put the military in harm’s way or initiate combat actions,” Linick said.

The state has default control over the National Guard unless they’re doing federal training or missions. There are two ways that National Guard troops can be “federalized” – as a militia, to enforce laws, suppress insurrections and repel invasions, or as part of the Army reserve.

When National Guard troops are sent to fight abroad, they are operating as federal troops under Pentagon control, not in their capacity as members of their home state’s National Guard.

“This vote by millions of Texas Republicans is a strong and encouraging sign that the decades of illegal wars are coming to an end. Inch by painful inch—and with occasional leaps and bounds like in Texas—Americans are reclaiming our sovereign authority and rescinding federal overreach,” said Dan McKnight, chairman of Bring Our Troops Home. “They are demanding an end to undeclared wars and a return to adherence of the U.S. Constitution.”

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McKnight is a thirteen-year veteran of the military, and served in the Marine Corps Reserves, Army, and Idaho Army National Guard, including an 18-month combat deployment to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007. 

The group said that Defend the Guard Act has been endorsed by Republican members of Congress, including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Thomas Massie and Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar.

Declaring war

The Texas vote reflects a long-standing criticism among many veterans and lawmakers that post-9/11 wars were never formally declared by Congress. The last time the U.S. Congress actually declared war — which is set out in the Constitution as a Congressional duty — was in 1942 when the U.S. entered WWII. Since 9/11, the U.S. has relied on two Authorized Use of Military Force to carry out combat operations abroad — conflicts which have routinely involved mobilized National Guard troops.

The 2001 AUMF has allowed every president over the past two decades to wage war without congressional approval by providing the legal justification to conduct military operations against, “those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons” – which has been repeatedly interpreted to include any terrorist group that is even loosely connected to Al Qaeda.

It’s been used by subsequent Republican and Democratic presidents to authorize US military actions not only in Afghanistan, but Iraq, Georgia, the Philippines, Yemen, Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia.

The 2002 Authorized Use of Military Force allowed then-President George W. Bush to order the invasion of Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein. The AUMF is vaguely worded to give presidents the authority to “defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.”

State vs Federal

Texas Governor Greg Abbott launched Operation Lone Star in 2021 which activated guardsmen to address a state-declared “disaster” of an influx of migrants crossing over the state’s border with Mexico. Critics say much of the Operation Lonestar oversteps a state’s authority to use its Guard.

But state and federal battles over the Guard are not new.

During the War of 1812, several governors argued that their state militias were only for homeland defense and shouldn’t be used to invade Canada. Then in the 1980s, Democratic governors also raised issues with guard members being deployed to Central America for training missions under the direction of former President Ronald Reagan.

“It does seem to be that more governors are choosing to raise questions about guard utilization than we have seen,” Linik said. He added that governors in the South mobilized the guard under state authority to enforce segregation and then Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and then John F. Kennedy federalized those guards to enforce desegregation. 

“You see this where governors and national political leaders have different political outcomes and the guard can be a tool for either – it’s gonna get politicized,” he said.

Former President Donald Trump has even pledged to deploy troops to handle different crises throughout the U.S. if he’s elected for a second term.

If this movement gains traction and governors and guardsmen want to “fundamentally change that bargain” between state and federal authorities, “Congress is gonna have to decide what they want the new bargain to look like,” Linick said.

The Army Guard makes up roughly 40% of the Army’s combat capability, meaning that prevention of guard deployments to fight in a conflict could hamstring the military’s combat power, Leider said.

“Since the founding of the country, we’ve been reliant on citizen soldiers who will temporarily take up arms and then return to their day jobs and that’s true today,” Leider said. “If you want to fight major wars, you have to expand the regular forces and we go to various reserve units to do that.”

At the height of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, over 25,000 guard members were cycling through different places every year, Christopher Swadener, the associate director of air operations at the Air National Guard Readiness Center said in 2016.

“Regular troops are expensive, it’s been one of the lessons throughout history,” Leider said. “The Defense Department sometimes jokes that they run a health care agency that also happens to fight wars.”

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