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Police action in military/security studies and international relations is a euphemism for a military action undertaken without a formal declaration of war.

Since World War II, formal declarations of war have increasingly become a rarity. Instead, nations involved in military conflict (especially the major-power nations) often attempt to justify their conduct by fighting the war under the auspices of a "police action".

The term was first used by United Statesmarker President Harry S. Truman to describe the Korean War . It is frequently used to imply a formal claim of sovereignty by colonial powers, such as in the military actions of the Netherlandsmarker, United Kingdommarker, and other allies during the Indonesian National Revolution (1945-1949) and the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960).

Examples of police actions

The 1948 Indianmarker invasion of the Hyderabad State, codenamed Operation Polo, was referred to as a police action by the government.

The Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Kargil War were undeclared wars and hence are sometimes described as police actions.

The Soviet war in Afghanistan was an undeclared war and hence also could be described as a police action, especially since the initial troop deployments into Afghanistanmarker were at the request of the Afghan government.

The United Statesmarker has launched all of its major armed conflicts since World War II as police actions. In these events, Congress had not made a formal declaration of war, yet the President, as the commander-in-chief, has claimed authority to send in the armed forces when he deemed necessary. The legal legitimacy of each of these police actions was based upon decisions such as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Authorization for of Use of Force by Congress and various United Nations resolutions. Nonetheless, limited Congressional control has been asserted, in terms of funding appropriations.

Legal justification for police actions

Under international law

See the United Nations Charter.

Under U.S. law

In the U.S., the legal legitimacy of each of its police actions since WWII was based upon decisions such as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Authorization for of Use of Force by Congress, and various UN resolutions. These effectively granted the President the legal ability to deploy troops overseas without Congress ever formally declaring war.

Appropriate use of the term

Use of the term does not appear to have gained currency outside of the limited arena of justification of military action: for example, the U.S. Navy refers to the Korean conflict as a war, and when they refer to police action, they surround the term in scare quotes.

Similarly, a plaque at the Vietnam Veterans Memorialmarker refers to the Vietnam conflict as a war, not a police action.

Use of the term police action is intended to imply either a claim of formal sovereignty or of authority to intervene militarily at a nation's own discretion.

Veterans often display a high degree of disdain for the term "police action," as it somehow implies that their sacrifices were not legitimate and perhaps also that they are not even veterans of a true "war".

See also


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