Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Bombing to Win

Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War

Robert A. Pape
Copyright Date: 1996
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Bombing to Win
    Book Description:

    From Iraq to Bosnia to North Korea, the first question in American foreign policy debates is increasingly: Can air power alone do the job? Robert A. Pape provides a systematic answer. 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. Pape helps military strategists and policy makers judge the purpose of various air strategies, and helps general readers understand the policy debates.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7151-3
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
    R. A. P.
  4. 1 Why Study Military Coercion?
    (pp. 1-11)

    This book analyzes the dynamics of military coercion. It asks why some states decide to change their behavior when threatened with military consequences and other states do not. Why, for example, did the Japanese in 1945 and the Chinese in 1953 concede, whereas the British in 1940 and the North Vietnamese from 1965 to 1968 did not? This book seeks to determine the conditions under which coercion has succeeded and failed in the past in order to predict when it is likely to succeed and fail in the future.

    The accepted wisdom is that successful coercion, whether nuclear or conventional,...

  5. 2 Explaining Military Coercion
    (pp. 12-54)

    Coercion, like deterrence, seeks to affect the behavior of an opponent by manipulating costs and benefits. Deterrence, however, tries to persuade a state not to initiate a specific action because the perceived benefits do not justify the estimated costs and risks; coercion involves persuading an opponent to stop an ongoing action or to start a new course of action by changing its calculations of costs and benefits. Accordingly, coercion occurs whenever a state must choose between making concessions or suffering the consequences of continuing its present course of action. As a result, the universe of coercion includes nearly all attempts...

  6. 3 Coercive Air Power
    (pp. 55-86)

    The most important instrument of modem military coercion, and the most useful for investigating the causes of coercive success and failure, is air power. This instrument has been used to execute concrete coercive strategies that correspond to the conceptual categories of punishment, risk, and denial. A fourth strategy which pursues both punishment and denial effects simultaneously is decapitation. This chapter explains how to identify coercive air strategies from the coercer’s concrete military actions, how to measure their success, and how the major strategies were developed, and it evaluates the historical effectiveness of each strategy.

    Coercive air strategies can be identified...

  7. 4 Japan, 1944–1945
    (pp. 87-136)

    The end of World War II in the Pacific provides the most successful case of modem military coercion. On 15 August 1945 Japan unconditionally surrendered to the United States, although it still possessed a two-million-man army in the home islands, prepared and willing to meet any American invasion, as well as other forces overseas. Indeed, Japan’s surrender represents a rare instance in which a great power surrendered its entire national territory to an opponent that had not captured any significant portion of it. This coercive success saved the lives of tens of thousands of Allied soldiers and many times more...

  8. 5 Korea, 1950–1953
    (pp. 137-173)

    The end of the Korean War represents a mixture of conventional and nuclear coercion. After the seesaw battles of 1950 and 1951 demonstrated that neither the United Nations nor the Communist forces could drive the other from Korea, the UN set out to compel the Communists to accept a territorial division of Korea as well as a permanent UN military presence to guarantee the security of the South. This effort succeeded, leading to the signing of an armistice on 27 July 1953.

    The debate over the causes of this success has never been resolved. Some attribute it to the risk...

  9. 6 Vietnam, 1965–1972
    (pp. 174-210)

    The American bombing of Vietnam is a classic example of conventional coercion. Unable or unwilling to commit the ground forces necessary to win decisively in the South, the United States attempted to compel Hanoi to alter its behavior by using powerful air forces to bypass the battlefield and strike directly at North Vietnam. The aim was to force Hanoi to cease supporting the insurgency in the South and to enter serious negotiations for peace between North and South Vietnam. The United States conducted two major series of bombing campaigns against North Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson’s Rolling Thunder from 1965 to 1968,...

  10. 7 Iraq, 1991
    (pp. 211-253)

    People’s views on the future of coercive air power are likely to be determined by their interpretation of the Persian Gulf War. The many televised films of modern precision-guided weapons making deadly accurate strikes on all types of targets have fed a perception that a technological revolution has made it possible to win wars with air power alone.

    This chapter examines air power in the Gulf War to determine whether this perception is true. The key question is not whether air power has become extremely powerful but whether it has become so powerful that it can decide international disputes, not...

  11. 8 Germany, 1942–1945
    (pp. 254-313)

    The end of World War II in Europe is perhaps the most important coercive failure to study, for it is not predicted by the parsimonious version of the denial theory. Although the Allies successfully undermined its military strategy, Germany still did not surrender. Why did this nation, under continuous attack on all fronts by enormously superior enemy forces and suffering intense air bombardment, continue to fight until its forces were incapable of coherent operations and the country was completely occupied? In contrast to 1918, when the German government sought an armistice rather than continue fighting under hopeless conditions, the Nazi...

  12. 9 Beyond Strategic Bombing
    (pp. 314-331)

    The most important reason to study the determinants of coercive success and failure is to draw lessons for future policy debates. Coercion, and strategic bombing, will not go away. Air power is becoming increasingly important to American grand strategy. It projects force more rapidly and with less risk of life than land power and more formidably than naval power. These are valuable attributes for unpredictable crises that occur in places where the American public is unwilling to shed much blood. Thus, from Iraq to Bosnia to North Korea, increasingly the first question in debates over American intervention is becoming, Can...

  13. Appendix: Coding Cases of Coercive Air Power
    (pp. 332-358)
  14. Index
    (pp. 359-366)