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Wholly apart from the questions of whether and under what circumstances major coercion is permissible under international law and whether minor coercion, including threats, is lawful, there is a broad and deep national consensus that the United States should continuously develop a military capacity sufficient for a range of contingencies and maintain it in a state of readiness. The consensus has been far less certain with regard to who will decide, and how, to initiate and use this capacity, at varying intensities. The original terms of the Constitution have been invoked by partisans of opposing views, but debate in those terms has proved inconclusive. Behind the legal bickering, a complex, but unstated, operational code has developed, allocating competence to initiate, direct and terminate different types of coercion among the branches. Parts of the operational code are clear and relatively stable over time. Other parts are less certain and can be projected only with qualifications, reservations or contingencies.

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