Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts The Meaning and Future of Air Power

The Meaning and Future of Air Power

For a brief time, in the wake of the Persian Gulf war of 1991, it looked as though air power would become the weapon of choice of American policy makers in dealing with an unruly world. So it was that they sprinkled a few air strikes on Serb gun emplacements around Sarajevo in hopes of curbing Serb artillerists and knocked out some buildings in Baghdad in hopes of taming an Iraqi leadership still defiant after four years of war and blockade. Air power-in the form of the helicopter transports and gunships of the U.S. Army special forces-also tempted U.S. forces in Somalia into operations designed to seize their wily opponent, General Mohammed Farah Aidid, then extricated those forces from the bloody ambush that ensued. Air operations enabled American forces to thwart an Iraqi menace to Kuwait in 1994, and airlifts of staggering size sped relief to countries as remote as Bangladesh and Rwanda. Air power likewise enabled the late Soviet Union to maintain a precarious hold on Afghanistan with a force of only one hundred thousand men, and has enabled the Israelis to hold their own-and more-against Arab armies many times the size of their own.

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