The Limits of Air Power: The American Bombing of North Vietnam

By Mark Clodfelter | Go to book overview

VIII

Epilogue

Asymmetric is the current buzzword used to describe a type of warfare that has been with us much longer than the newfangled term. In its purest sense, asymmetric warfare is about ends, ways, or means— fighting for ends that do not match an opponent's objectives, fighting in ways that differ from an opponents approach to war, or fighting with means different from an opponents resources. In the Quadrennial Defense Review Report of 2001, however, the term most often describes a weaker powers use of an unanticipated means of striking at the vulnerability of a stronger power—in this case, the United States.1 Any type of military force can be applied asymmetrically, including air power, as al Qaedas terrorists demonstrated in devastating fashion on 11 September 2001. Yet, how might air power best be used against an asymmetric foe? The answer is not so different from the response to the fundamental question regarding any application of air power against any enemy—that is, how can it be used as an effective instrument of war?

Gauging air powers effectiveness is not an easy task. One reason for that difficulty is that no universal agreement exists on die meaning of effectiveness. Clausewitz offers perhaps the best means of measurement— how much does the military instrument help towards achieving the ultimate aim of winning the war? The author of On War equates "winning" to achieving the nation s political objectives, and that criterion guides the following framework for evaluating air powers effectiveness.2 Like all true frameworks, though, this one does not provide a set of standard answers. Nor does it predict the future or offer a universal guide for success or failure. Instead, it offers a consistent approach for determining the value of air power in any circumstance. This approach includes a distinctive terminology that categorizes various air power applications, and those categories are used in ascertaining how effectively an application supports a political goal. Yet, determining air powers political effectiveness is not a straightforward proposition because political goals are not always straightforward. As the discussion of the framework makes

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The Limits of Air Power: The American Bombing of North Vietnam
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Preface and Acknowledgments xiii
  • I - From Unconditional Surrender to Flexible Response 1
  • II - The Genesis of Graduated Thunder 39
  • III - An Extended Application of Force 73
  • IV - Restraints and Results, 1965–68 117
  • V - Nixon Turns to Air Power 147
  • VI - Persuading Enemy and Ally: the Christmas Bombings 177
  • VII - Assessment 203
  • VIII - Epilogue 211
  • Notes 225
  • Bibliography 277
  • Index 299
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