Legality of the Vietnam War

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The legality of the Vietnam War refers to the lawfulness of the 1965-1975 U.S. military activity that occurred in Vietnam.

Legality under national and international law[edit]

U.S. law[edit]

The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed in 1964, authorized U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson to use military force in Southeast Asia. The Resolution was repealed in 1971, however, and President Richard M. Nixon cited his power as commander-in-chief of U.S. forces under Article Two of the United States Constitution as legal authority for operations in Vietnam. No formal declaration of war was ever made.

International law[edit]

Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter prohibits war that is not to maintain or restore international peace (Article 42) or undertaken in self-defense (Article 51). According to Richard Falk, "If the US Government had abided by international law, the dreadful experience of the Vietnam War would not have occurred."[1] However, according to Benjamin B. Ferencz:[2]

The legal right of any lawful government to defend itself against violent overthrow can hardly be questioned. The right of any government to join in the defense of its allies or friends to protect their or its own vital interests is an ancient and well established practice. It is, however, also part of the American heritage that the people, feeling themselves aggrieved by a foreign power or a tyrannical regime, have the legal right and "it is their duty to throw off such government." The United States has the legal right to assist in the defense of the government of South Vietnam.

Legal action[edit]

In United States v. Sisson, a federal judge dismissed a challenge to the Vietnam War’s constitutionality because it involved “just the sort of evidence, policy considerations, and constitutional principles which elude the normal processes of the judiciary and which are far more suitable for determination by coordinate branches of the government.”

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Abandonment of International Law After 9/11, Richard Falk, Sept. 21, 2005.
  2. ^ War Crimes Law And The Vietnam War, Benjamin B. Ferencz, The American University Law Review, Volume 17, Number 3, June 1968.