Combat Air Power and Political Effect

Authored by: Michael Clarke

Routledge Handbook of Air Power

Print publication date:  February  2018
Online publication date:  February  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138632608
eBook ISBN: 9781315208138
Adobe ISBN:


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The author opens this chapter by stating that ‘warfare is inherently political and the use of air power in any military conflict, in whatever way it is applied, carries more political overtones and sensitivities than most other military instruments’. He assesses the political and military outcomes of twenty-five air campaigns over the last thirty years, concluding that the record of success is entirely context specific. He argues that Western leaders have at times reached for air power too casually as ‘the weapon of first political choice’; they must use air power more carefully than has been the case in the recent past. Moreover, the margins for political error will be much smaller in the future. The author offers four principles for national leaders. The first is the need to recognise the operational limitations of air power when it is deployed in the absence of a country’s own troops operating on the ground. Second is the vital importance of considering the longer term and wider consequences of deploying air power, even when it proves operationally successful. Next comes the need for more shared political understanding within coalition operations of the implications of using air power. Finally, leaders should have a sensitive and up-to-date understanding of the way public opinion reacts to the consequences of using air power.

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