628/13                      THE POST COLD WAR AIR POWER DEBATES II: Coercive Airpower (Dec 13)

“Bombing to Win” – Robert Pape

'Standard Bibliography':


Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War

Robert A. Pape. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press-1996), ISBN-13:978-0-8014-8311-0 (pbk.: alk. Paper)

About the Author':

Robert Anthony Pape, Jr. (born 1960), is an American political scientist known for his work on international security affairs, especially the coercive strategies of air power and the rationale of suicide terrorism. He is currently a professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago and founder of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism (CPOST). In early October 2010, the University of Chicago press will release Pape's third book, co-authored with James K. Feldman, Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It.

Pape graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Pittsburgh in 1982 where he was a Harry S Truman Scholar from the state of Pennsylvania, majoring in political science, and earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1988 in the same field. During his doctoral program he was a teaching assistant for a class taught by the high-profile realist international relations scholar John Mearsheimer. He taught international relations at Dartmouth College from 1994 to 1999 and air power strategy at the United States Air Force's School of Advanced Airpower Studies from 1991 to 1994. Since 1999, he has taught at the University of Chicago, where he is now tenured.  In the past he has done significant work on coercive air power and economic sanctions. He defines the focus of his current work as "the causes of suicide terrorism and the politics of unipolarity."  In addition to his research and teaching duties, Pape has been the director of the graduate studies department of political science as well as the chair of the Committee on International Relations at the University of Chicago. Since 1999 he has co-directed the Program on International Security Policy with Mearsheimer, and since 2004 he has directed CPOST.Pape is a political scientist and a Professor at the University of Chicago. He has written books and articles on similar themes ‘Dying to Win’ (a book on suicide terrorism; postulating that the aim is to get the military to vacate territories that the terrorists consider their home land); ‘Why Economic Sanctions Don’t Work’ & ‘… Still Don’t Work’ (a set of articles whose themes support the central argument of this book; that coercion is the process of affecting the behavior of a state by manipulating costs and benefits) {source: wikipedia}. Pape was also an instructor at SAASS from 1991-1994.

Pape’s book provides the reader with a theory about military coercion. In his own words, “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.” {Pg.1}. In the first part of the book Pape provides a background, the rationale and justifies the method of presenting his theory. The second part of the book validates his theory with various case studies. Pape chooses the lens of air power to postulate and validate his theory.

            Pape identifies the importance of military coercion (the use of military instruments to change an opponent’s behavior) stating that although states often use economic, diplomatic, or other forms of non-military coercion military coercion is the form of coercion used most often when very important interests are at stake. By his own admission, while he uses the term ‘coercion’ he intends it to signify Shelling’s definition of ‘compellence’ {‘threat of, or use of force to alter behavior,’ note6, pg.4}

Pape suggests that coercion succeeds when the cost of surrender is lower than the cost of resistance {18}. He represents his theory mathematically, by the formula R = B p(B) – C p(C); where R=value of resistance; B=potential benefits of resistance; p(B)= probability of attaining benefits; C= potential costs of resistance & p(C) = probability of suffering costs. Concessions occur when R <0 {16}. He also suggests that most times the coercer can only affect the aspect of costs of resistance and not manipulate the benefit side of the equation.

 Based on this he limits strategy to three options, Punishment strategies: attempt to raise the costs of continued resistance; Risk strategies: to raise the probability of suffering costs; Denial strategies: to reduce the probability that resistance will yield benefits. He further postulates that, it is the threat of military failure or denial, and not threats to civilians or punishment, which provides the critical leverage in conventional coercion. Success is achieved when the coercer undermines the target state’s confidence in its own military strategy and may constitute the following; stopping an opponent from either gaining or holding territory, stopping or preventing a threatening assailant’s attack; or forcing territorial concessions.

He also says that, “strategies that depend on surprise for their effectiveness have no coercive value because they cannot be used to threaten the target with defeat,” and “Surrender long before complete military defeat should be regarded an outstanding coercive success. By contrast, surrender only shortly before defeat should be considered a minor success.”  

Amongst the instruments of military coercion, Pape’s natural choice is airpower as it can be used more selectively vis-à-vis land or sea power for either punishment or denial strategies. He also highlights that two major types of coercive airpower are strategic bombing and interdiction. He then introduces four coercive strategies of air power, Punishment, Risk, Decapitation and Denial. He defines decapitation as a combination of punishment and denial {80}.

Having built a foundation and laid out his theory, Pape shifts to the next part of his book, identifying coercive air strategies. He classifies theorists/organizations by using their target sets as a means to identify their strategy {table4; pg. 57}. By his classification the target sets of; Douhet, Trenchard and the ACTS (USAF) identify their strategy as Punishment; Schelling as Risk; Luftwaffe, Committee of Operational Analysts, and Enemy Objectives Unit as Denial; and Warden as Decapitation.

 Pape then examines the success and failures of coercive air-strategies in various case studies (see table5 reproduced below; Pg. 86).




                                                                                    Strategic          ground

 Cases                 Punishment              Risk                  interdiction     threat            Decapitation

 Japan 1944-45       failure                   uncertain*             failure              success               --

 Korea, 1950-51      failure                        --                           --                     success               --

 Korea, 1952-53      failure                     success*                 --                     failure                 --

 Vietnam, 1965-68 failure                     failure                     --                      failure                --

 Vietnam, 1972          --                           failure                     --                     success               --

 Iraq, 1991                  --                              --                           --                     success           failure

 Germany, 1942-45 failure                       --                         failure              failure                 --          .

* Instances of nuclear coercion

As noted from the table, Pape's central conclusion is that strategic air power was not decisive in any of the case studies to coerce the enemy. On the contrary he questions the effectiveness of strategic bombing even when it focused on relatively precise military or industrial targets {Pg 316; and it is probably this aspect that causes the maximum consternation for SAASS grads/ proponents of air power}.

In arriving at this judgment, Pape does not dismiss the utility of air forces in  bringing wars  to  a  successful  conclusion,  rather that air power is almost always most effective in theater  operations, that is Interdiction (or Denial). His basic premise behind this assertion  is  that  the  decision  making  in wartime is influenced by the capacity of opposing armed forces to  continue  to  offer a coherent  military challenge  to their adversaries on the battlefield.

However, he rules out Punishment strategies as ‘they do not work;  Modem nation states have extremely  high pain thresholds when important interests are at stake, which conventional munitions cannot overcome. Low to moderate levels of punishment inspire more anger than fear; heavy bombardment produces apathy, not rebellion {316};’ Risk strategies as they are, ‘merely a weaker form of punishment. Although they depend on credibility, their credibility is often lower because they have usually been employed by governments that were domestically constrained from unleashing full-scale punishment. Nuclear coercion is the exception; the prospect of nuclear devastation is so horrible that even threats with low credibility can coerce {316};’ and Decapitation strategies as they are, ‘not feasible because individual leaders are hard to kill, governments are harder to overthrow, and even if the target government can be overthrown, the coercer can rarely guarantee that its replacement will be more forthcoming. Military decapitation is ineffective because air power cannot isolate national leaders from control over battlefield forces for long, and short disruptions do not matter unless other instruments are poised to exploit them immediately {316}.’

In other words, Economic dislocations as a consequence of strategic bombing may be adjusted for; civilian discontent may be dealt with and arms production can be creatively maintained even under a hail of bombs.

Pape’s theory makes the reader question the effectiveness of military strategies and their link to successful coercion. The perspective Pape offers is convincing and the book is well written, organized, and researched. A flaw, if there is one is that he disregards the effects of strategic bombing altogether. The reader may therefore get an impression that air power is not very effective except when employed in the interdiction role; prompting another question as a counter to his viewpoint, “What would it have cost to achieve victory in the absence of air power?”

Comps Perspectives

1.         Pape’s theory is linked on Clausewitz’s statement that “War is a continuation of policy by other means”; essentially highlighting that since war is a result of politics, the strategy employed must be linked to the political victory (objectives). How does one coerce the enemy?

2.         His formula ties in with Clausewitz’s statement that ‘when the cost of military actions exceed the value of the benefit then war must cease.’ (On War; Pg92, paraphrased) The coercive message sent must make the adversary believe in an adverse cost benefit outcome.

3.         His statement that “Surrender long before complete military defeat should be regarded an outstanding coercive success. By contrast, surrender only shortly before defeat should be considered a minor success,”{Pg. 15} ties in to Sun Tzu’s “Winning without fighting is the acme of skill”

4.         His concept of denial may be thought of as an alternative to Warden’s 5 ring theory; while Warden advocated for striking the inner-most circle; Pape argues for the outer most.

5.         Another way to visualize Warden’s rings may be to see them as a pyramid with the base (and largest) tier as fielded military forces, in contrast Pape’s model would consist an inverse of Wardens rings. Visualizing the rings as tiers stacked one on top another (helps to depict volume) and thus is indicative of the amount of effort (sortie generation rates/ bombs on tgts) required against each tier or respective Centers of Gravity as per these two theorists.

Ad blocker interference detected!

Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.