Gulf of Tonkin
Events Leading to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was a response to the Gulf of Tonkin incident. In the Gulf of Tonkin incident, also called the USS Maddox Incident, there were two separate confrontations between the North Vietnamese and the United States. On August 2, 1964, the USS Maddox engaged in a sea battle with Vietnamese communist forces in the Gulf of Tonkin. Three Vietnamese torpedo boats were damaged, one American air craft was damaged, but there were no American casualties. The National Security Agency claimed that there was a second sea battle, but some theories hold that the actual events was fire sent toward radar ghosts instead of actual Vietnamese boats.
Gulf of Tonkin Resolution Legislation
The Gulf of Tonkin resolution is only six paragraphs long, half of which describes the events as they were presented to Congress. The resolution gave the President at that time unprecedented power to commit military forces until the peace and security of the area is assured, as well as permission to assist southeast Asian allies.
The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, also called the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, was sent to Lyndon Johnson on August 4, 1964. He signed it on the 5th, where it was sent to Congress. The Tonkin Revolution was passed by Congress on August 7, 1964. It passed the House 418-0 while it passed the Senate 98-2. Wayne Morse and Earnest Gruening were the objections in the Senate vote. It was formally enacted August 10, 1964.
What the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution Allowed
The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution authorized military action in Southeast Asia. It was the justification for President Johnson to send troops into Southeast Asia, and it was used by Nixon to continue the Vietnam War. It can be seen as the start of the eight year Vietnam War, a military action never formally declared a war but approved by Congress.
The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution is noteworthy because it allowed the use of conventional military forces without specifically declaring war. (Declaring war is one of the powers the Constitution grants only to Congress, though the President as Commander in Chief to respond to invasions and military threats before Congress can react to it.) The Vietnam War is seen as the event that made it possible for the first Gulf war, second Gulf war, Afghanistan conflict and many military actions where subsequent Presidents did not seek Congressional approval first. (Congress did approve the first and second Gulf wars, the first in the early 1990s, the second in the 2000s.)
Repeal of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was repealed when President Nixon signed the Foreign Military Sales Act.
Impact of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
The immediate result of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution was the Vietnam War, with around 50,000 American deaths, 150,000 American wounded and around a million Vietnamese killed. The Vietnam War did not result in expulsion of Communists from North Vietnam. When the U.S. was close to driving out the Communists and American forces approached the Chinese border, China became involved and eventually led to a complete Communist takeover of Vietnam.
The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution led to the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which limited the president’s ability to involve the military without Congress’ formal declaration of war. Nixon vetoed the War Powers Resolution, but it is one of the few acts of legislation where Congress was able to override a Presidential veto. The War Powers Resolution states that the President can only send armed forces into action abroad by declaration of war, statutory authorization or a national emergency created when the U.S. is attacked either on its territory or by a strike against its armed forces. The War Powers Act requires Congressional notification within 48 hours of committing armed forces and military action for more than 60 days without Congressional approval.