Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War

Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War

by Robert A. Pape

Analyzing the results of over thirty air campaigns, including a detailed reconstruction of the Gulf War, he argues that the key to success is attacking the enemy's military strategy, not its economy, people, or leaders.

Coercive air power can succeed, but not as cheaply as air enthusiasts would like to believe.Pape examines the air raids on Germany, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq as well as those of Israel versus Egypt, providing details of bombing and governmental decision making.

His detailed narratives of the strategic effectiveness of bombing range from the classical cases of World War II to an extraordinary reconstruction of airpower use in the Gulf War, based on recently declassified documents.

In this now-classic work of the theory and practice of airpower and its political effects, Robert A.

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Papes Bombing to Win is not an argument for strategic bombing, but is a book that looks at airpower in the context of denial threat to military failure, vs. While I found myself disagreeing with a few of Papes premises (that the geopolitical interests in the Vietnamese theater did not change over time (5); coercion is harder than deterrence (6); successful nuclear coercion rests on threats to civilians rather than against military vulnerabilities (11)), I was still very much persuaded by Papes conclusions regarding the efficacy of strategic bombing. Im also persuaded by Papes conclusions regarding the impact of PGMs on strategy that they only serve to make combined arms more effective (theater airpower), rather than enhance the coercive strength of strategic bombing: Punishment, risk, and decapitation strategies had little merit before PGMs, and they have little merit now.

This book contains a good education in several theories of the application of airpower: denial, particularly theater level interdiction; the risk-level display of ratcheting up the effects of bombing based on Thomas Schelling; and civilian or economic punishment attacks as favored by Giulio Douhet.

He mostly assumes you know the basic history and doesn't waste much time giving background info before examining the cases and analyzing air coercion.

Bombing to decapitate the enemy regime (as attempted against Iraq in 1991) doesn't work because it requires detailed intelligence that is never really available. He covers every historical instance of using strategic bombing to force the enemy to give up before he was defeated in the field, and he goes through five major such campaigns in detail: Vietnam: Rolling Thunder (1960s) failed because it was an attempt at interdiction of supplies, and the war at that time was in a guerrilla stage that required little logistical support from the North. (Pape allows nuclear threats to be a different situation.) Germany (1942-45): Germany kept fighting long after military defeat was inevitable to allow the maximum number of Germans to escape the Russians and surrender to the western allies. Pape dismisses the argument that the strategic bombing campaign forced the Luftwaffe into a war of attrition that severely weakened it by the time of the Normandy landings.

Pape divides bombing campaigns into four main categories: "Punishment" is targeted on cities, civilians, and key economic nodes. The "risk" category is based on Thomas Schelling's work, "Arms and Influence." This idea is similar to Punishment, but because of nuclear threats, seeks to gradually ramp up civilian damage to coerce enemies, similar to the American approach in the Rolling Thunder campaigns of Vietnam. The final, and most recent, category is called "Decapitation," and is based on the ideas of John Warden, which were incorporated into the Gulf War. Pape analyzes both fronts of World War Two, Korea, Vietnam, and the first Iraq war and eventually concludes that denial, as seen in Tactical air strikes against military forces, is the only consistently effective air strategy. This is the only real weakness of the work, which some might consider to cold, detached, or mathematical to be applied to complex, delicate, and emotional issues raised by bombing.

Coercion is applying force to an enemy nation's populace, using punishment to compel the people to cease support of the war effort. Denial is the use of bombing over the battlefield to limit or destroy an enemy army's ability to fight. For the dedicated, interested reader, the hardship is worth it, as Pape does provide a rigorous and methodical examination of the theory and practice of air power.

However, the fact is that in the case studies used by Pape, air power was never used as the only strategy, it was part of a multifaceted military approach to the achievement of political goals. Accordingly, the in none of the case studies was the concept of air power's war winning potential truly tested.

Again, this goes back to my general thrust that Pape almost redefines everything of value in having a good discussion about coercion. To make up for this sloppiness, I'd highly recommend Daniel Byman, Matthew Waxman, and Eric Larson's "Air Power as a Coercive Instrument." This report/book takes all of the brilliance of Pape and places them back into the terms and ideas long accepted in discussions of coercion.