Once Congress declares war and the president assumes the role of Commander in Chief, who decides how the war ends?

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The duties of commander-in-chief of the "Army and Navy of the United States" (Section 2, Clause 1, US Constitution) are continuously vested in the president, whether during war or peace. This point was clarified by the Surrogate Court of Duchess County, New York in the matter of the disposition of...

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The duties of commander-in-chief of the "Army and Navy of the United States" (Section 2, Clause 1, US Constitution) are continuously vested in the president, whether during war or peace. This point was clarified by the Surrogate Court of Duchess County, New York in the matter of the disposition of the estate of Franklin Roosevelt, when it ruled that

the President’s duties as Commander in Chief represent only a part of duties ex officio as Chief Executive and that the latter’s office is a civil office.

In other words, unlike the ancient Roman Republic in which one of the Consuls would be elevated to the office of "Dictator" at the onset of a war or emergency, the President retains supremacy as commander-in-chief of the armed forces at all times and can initiate military action independent of Congress when expediency is required, such as that imagined by the Caroline Doctrine in international law.

War, once declared, can be ended legally or practically.

War, in practice, is ended by the decision of the President and the military officers commissioned by him, to terminate its prosecution through the cessation of active military operations. A state of war is legally ended by a new resolution of Congress declaring the war over, or more commonly, the ratification of a peace treaty incorporating similar language. Further, with its power of the purse, Congress can force the actual termination of military operations by suspending funding for that purpose.

The practical and legal end of a war may be separated by many days, months, or years. A case in point is the US declaration of war against Austria-Hungary during World War I. In that instance, the President terminated active military measures against the successor states of Austria-Hungary in 1918. However, it was not until a series of peace treaties were signed and ratified by the United States in 1921 that the war formally concluded.

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In Article 2, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States, it discusses the role of the president as Commander in Chief of the U.S. military forces. The current president, even after he assumes the role of president and takes office, does not actually assume control of the military until "called into service" by the Congress.  According to Article 1, Section 8, only Congress can decide to declare war on another country.  Until such time as they call on the president, he actually has no active role in the military proceedings of the country.  However, many presidents have historically sent troops to war without actually formally declaring war.  Therefore, presidents have often ignored or bypassed the rules intended by the authors of the Constitution.

This angered many legislators, so under the War Powers Resolution of 1973, it was decided that presidents could only send troops to battle in the case of "a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces." The resolution also specified that the president must withdraw troops sixty to ninety days after beginning combat in a foreign territory, unless Congress authorized the continuation of troops there. The legislature does not fully address how conflicts will be ended, however. 

Legal experts and constitutional scholars agree that although the Constitution originally handed Congress the power to make and end wars, it only intended for the president to hold the power to wage war effectively, under whatever circumstances war was declared. While Congress was intended to have the sole power to formally end a war, once the commander in chief is authorized to take control of the troops, they must actively work together to make an end to war happen. This contributes to the balance of power that is necessary to both check the power of the president as well as the power of Congress.

Congress may set limits for troop withdrawal, as in the case of the deployment of troops in 1983 to Lebanon on a peacekeeping mission.  That power was never tested, as they withdrew the troops early after a suicide bombing occurred in the area. To this day, U.S. presidents have loosely acknowledged the agreed upon time limits for troop withdrawal, but not in all cases. In fact, the president may refuse to withdraw troops if he does not agree with the limit imposed, and Congress may only stop him from doing so by passing a law that commands him to do so—a law that is subject to presidential veto.  He or she would only need 34 senators to back him, and as most presidents can achieve this easily, he would ultimately hold the power in deciding when the war is officially over.  

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