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Airpower and Gradual Escalation

This study reexamines the concept of gradualism. Written off as an unworkable concept after the Vietnam War, gradualism worked in NATO's recently completed Operation Allied Force. Since it is reasonable to believe that national decision makers and military commanders may have to conduct another graduated air operation in the future, this study examines what conditions must be fulfilled or avoided to maximize the chances for a successful graduated air campaign. Since most contemporary strategists do not fully understand the components of gradualism, the study begins by deriving from the writings of Thomas C. Schelling, perhaps the best-known theorist of gradualism, a definition and theoretical propositions for gradualism. The conclusion from this is that bargaining and communication between the two adversaries, a well-coordinated effort between the military and diplomatic instruments of power, and an intensive and extensive understanding of one's adversary are all key facets of gradualism. Following the theory is a theoretical critique of gradualism, comparing it to the principles of Clausewitz, to the ideas of several airpower theorists, including John Boyd and John Warden's theories of strategic paralysis, and to the theoretical and empirical lessons of the psychological impact of air attack. This suggests that the key tenets of gradualism are explicitly contrary to the theoretical underpinnings of the way western nations conduct warfare. The second part of the critique analyzes the application of graduated airpower during Operation Rolling Thunder, 1965-68, as well as exploring two other graduated campaigns: the Egyptian-Israeli War of Attrition, 1969-70 and NATO's Operation Deny Flight/Deliberate Force, 1992-95.
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