Published Aerospace Power Journal - Fall  2001

Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.


Precision Aerospace Power,
Discrimination, and the Future of War

Col Phillip S. Meilinger, USAF, Retired

Editorial Abstract: Over the past decade, the use of precision weapons and advances in intelligence technologies for air and space have drastically revolutionized air warfare, permitting easier differentiation between military and civilian targets and greatly reducing casualties. Colonel Meilinger predicts that the time will come when airpower alone will win wars faster and at less cost in human lives than alternate tactics.

During Operation Allied Force over Kosovo, some observers questioned the tactics of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) airmen. No less worthy an individual than Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a fighter pilot himself during Vietnam, wondered aloud as to the morality of flying and bombing above 15,000 feet. McCain and others were concerned that bombing from that "safe" altitude was inherently less accurate and therefore less humane than if the aircraft had flown lower. These critics were wrong. In the vast majority of cases, NATO airmen flew at the optimum altitude for achieving accuracy while also fulfilling NATO’s political demands to avoid risk.

This article maintains that air warfare over the past decade has significantly humanized war—if such a phenomenon is possible. Tremendous technological strides in the use of precision weapons, as well as developments in air and space intelligence-gathering tools, have made it far easier to distinguish between military and civilian targets and then effectively strike the military ones. Moreover, such effectiveness has carried with it a marked reduction in risk to the attackers. In short, modern air warfare has reduced casualties among both the attackers and the attacked, thus making it an increasingly efficient, effective, and humane tool of American foreign policy.

True, Gen Wesley Clark, the NATO commander, directed airmen to take all precautions to limit friendly losses. Clark realized that the fragility of the NATO alliance during Allied Force necessitated such risk avoidance. Enemy missiles, antiaircraft artillery, and small-arms fire can be extremely deadly at low altitude.1 As a consequence, strike aircraft were directed to stay above 15,000 feet when deploying their weapons. An important question is whether or not this requirement significantly and adversely affected accuracy. In the vast majority of cases, it did not. Before proceeding, a brief discussion of new air weapons and their characteristics would prove helpful.

Precision-guided munitions (PGM) have improved accuracy by orders of magnitude. These air-launched weapons are equipped with adjustable fins that allow them to alter course in flight and home in on their targets. PGMs have several different types of guidance systems—laser homing, inertial, optical or infrared imaging, or satellite signals from the Global Positioning System (GPS). These various guidance systems have strengths and weaknesses. For example, laser-guided bombs are highly accurate, but because lasers cannot penetrate clouds, one cannot use them when bad weather obscures the target. The most successful new PGMs employed over Kosovo used GPS guidance. These relatively inexpensive but highly accurate weapons in some cases allow a standoff capability—one can launch them several miles from the target—thereby lowering the risk to the delivery aircraft and crew. Perfect accuracy is not guaranteed—failure of the guidance system or aircraft equipment, as well as aircrew error, means that accidents still happen—but current PGMs have an accuracy usually mea-sured in feet.

Although used in Vietnam, PGMs truly came into their own during the Persian Gulf War of 1991. Television networks showed cockpit videos detailing the accuracy of these weapons so frequently that they became one of the defining images of that war: the public saw bombs going down chimneys, through doors, and into specific windows. Seemingly, "air-shaft accuracy" had become so routine that everyone expected it. When American aircraft struck Serbian targets in Bosnia in 1995 and Serbia/Kosovo in 1999, they used PGMs almost exclusively in populated areas. Once again, the accuracy of these weapons was extraordinary. Visitors to Serbia were amazed to see radio towers neatly separated from their concrete bases and toppled, while civilian buildings not more than 50 feet away remained untouched. In another instance, the bombing razed a Serbian defense facility but left buildings on either side largely unscathed.

Mistakes occurred, but their relatively small number was remarkable. Human Rights Watch cites 90 instances of attacking NATO aircraft causing civilian casualties and collateral damage during Allied Force.2 Most of these occurred in well-reported accidents in which bombs went astray or someone misidentified targets. For example, in one instance, aircrews received orders to bomb the wrong target—the Chinese Embassy—which they nevertheless precisely hit. In another case, a PGM was dropped on an airfield, but its guidance system failed, and the bomb landed in a residential area several hundred yards away. On another occasion, an aircraft attacked a bridge just as a passenger train unexpectedly came along. One must remember that these accidents occurred relatively infrequently, given the number of strikes flown (14,000) and munitions dropped (28,000). NATO solidarity depended upon such precision. Moreover, because several NATO countries had already stated their opposition to a ground assault, the absence of a precision air campaign would have eliminated the possibility of any NATO military response whatsoever to the Serbs’ ethnic-cleansing operations. Even the Serbs themselves realized the extreme accuracy and carefulness of the air campaign. Hence, Belgrade citizens wore shirts with targets painted on them and held rallies on bridges over the Danube—secure in the knowledge that the precision and discrimination of NATO air strikes meant that they would never have to pay for such foolishness. The charge that dropping these weapons from 15,000 feet was somehow inappropriate simply does not stand up to scrutiny.

Dropping a PGM in the midaltitude range—from 15,000 to 23,000 feet—achieves maximum accuracy, allowing enough time for the weapon to correct itself in flight and hit its designated target as close to a bull’s-eye as possible. Dropping it from a lower altitude gives the weapon’s steering fins less opportunity to correct the aim, decreasing its accuracy. From the pilot’s perspective, this altitude range is also the most desirable for attacks on a fixed or preplanned target. The middle altitudes allow time to identify the target at sufficient distance, "designate it" (if the weapon is laser guided), and release. In short, for PGMs used against a fixed target in an established position—true of most of the targets struck in Serbia—the optimum altitude to ensure accuracy lies at or above 15,000 feet.

Because nonguided munitions or "dumb bombs" are inherently less precise than their more intelligent brothers, their optimum drop altitude is lower than that of a PGM. Even so, acquisition remains a limiting factor—coming in too low makes acquiring the target, lining up, and putting the bomb on target nearly impossible. One can imagine the difficulty of such target acquisition for a pilot roaring in at low altitude and 500 knots. At that speed and altitude, pilots generally have their hands full just trying to avoid hitting the ground. As a result, the compromise altitude for the delivery of unguided bombs is around 5,000 feet, putting the delivery aircraft right in the thick of fire from ground defenses. Allied Force air commanders resolved this dilemma by keeping aircraft at medium altitudes but restricting the use of non-PGMs to areas where there was little or no chance of civilian casualties or collateral damage.

Difficulty arises during attacks on mobile or transitory targets. In such cases, the key factor becomes target identification. Is the column below comprised of military or civilian vehicles? If both, which is which? Aircraft at medium altitudes have difficulty making such a determination. In this situation, pilots need information from someone closer to the target if they wish to avoid misidentification. Such sources include a forward air controller (FAC), who pilots an aircraft that generally operates at lower altitudes, or an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The latter also flies at low altitude and can relay video it takes of the suspected target to an analyst, who rapidly determines its identity and sends that information either to the airborne aircraft or spotters on the ground. After one of these sources makes the determination, strike aircraft can attack from the optimum altitude.

Problems arose when aircraft at 15,000 feet saw what appeared to be military forces below but had no FAC, UAV, or ground spotters to consult. In such instances, given the strictures against both inflicting civilian casualties and taking casualties, aircrews found themselves in a quandary: they could not positively identify the target and could not go lower to do so. Usually, the pilots elected not to drop their bombs.

Exceptions did occur, however. On 14 April 1999 near Djakovica, Kosovo, NATO pilots attacked what intelligence sources had identified as (and which indeed appeared to be) a military column. But the column also contained refugees; consequently, as many as 73 civilians were killed in the air strikes.3 This is the only known instance in the 78-day air campaign in which NATO intelligence sources and aircraft at medium altitude combined to misidentify a target, thereby causing civilian casualties.

Could NATO have avoided this accident by directing the aircraft to fly lower? Probably. Indeed, NATO changed the rules after this, allowing aircraft in certain circumstances to fly lower to ensure target identification. But such instances involve a trade-off. Since flying lower places aircrews at greater risk of encountering enemy ground fire, at what point does the possibility of misidentifying a target override the danger of losing a plane and its crew? The Law of Armed Conflict states that an attacker does "everything feasible" to avoid harming civilians or nonmilitary targets. Feasible is a highly subjective term. Were friendly losses feasible if it meant shattering the alliance, a consequence that would have allowed Slobodan Milosevic to continue his atrocities unchecked?

An intelligence, communications, and geo-locating network that relies on assets positioned in space, in the air, and on the ground has tied these new weapons together, making them extremely effective. Satellites collect imaging data, relay communications, and provide precise geographic updates; airborne sensors do much the same thing from closer in—as well as provide more flexibility for short-notice operations. Personnel on the ground and in the air receive, analyze, and disseminate the information gathered, while commanders at all levels use it to lead their forces. Over Kosovo, for example, a U-2 flying over a suspected target took video and relayed it via satellite back to the United States. There, analysts determined that the objects captured on film were Serb military vehicles, fused this information with three-dimensional terrain data and satellite imagery taken earlier, and generated precise geographic coordinates. They relayed these coordinates via satellite to orbiting command and control aircraft, which directed an airborne F-15E strike aircraft to attack. The F-15E then used GPS-assisted PGMs to knock out the targets. The entire process took place in minutes. As little as one decade ago, such an operation would have been a pipe dream.

Employment of these new technologies and tactics came together over the Balkans. Allied Force’s almost total reliance on aerospace power made it unique. Although the use of ground troops—or even the threat of their use—would have been very helpful in bringing pressure to bear on Serb leaders, NATO ruled out that option early in the crisis, largely because the American public has become "casualty averse" over the past two decades. Mercifully, few Americans died in Grenada, Panama, and the Persian Gulf War, and the American public now expects such low losses. Even a few casualties are unacceptable. In October 1993, 18 American soldiers were killed and their bodies dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia. The revulsion felt by the American people and their subsequent outcry caused the government to withdraw our forces from that country.

Partly as a result of this concern over casualties, air forces bore the brunt of the NATO campaign. After 78 days of air strikes, Milosevic yielded and withdrew his military forces from Kosovo. More surprisingly perhaps, NATO suffered no casualties, and rigid procedures that governed the use of weapons, tactics, and the selection of targets minimized the Serbs’ losses. Today, what is often called "the CNN [Cable News Network] factor" complicates the issue further and places even greater pressure on the commander.

In a sense, every bomb, missile, or bullet fired by an American airman, soldier, or sailor is a political act. When a bomb goes astray and hits a residential area, when a Tomahawk missile crashes into a hotel lobby, or when a sniper’s bullet kills a pregnant woman getting water at a well, US foreign policy—not just military policy—suffers a setback. We can no longer afford to miss. More than that, even when we hit the target, we have to do so almost softly and with minimal impact.4 One is reminded of TV Westerns many years back: the good guy—the one in the white hat—never killed the bad guy; he shot the gun out of his hand and arrested him. That is our new standard.

However, one must consider another issue that airmen have not adequately addressed but is germane to the subject of discrimination in war. Cluster bombs are air-deliverable weapons that deploy a large number of baseball-sized bomblets over a fairly wide area. Some of these bombs dispense land mines, while others deploy antiarmor, antipersonnel, or simple fragmentation bomblets against structures, radar sites, or runways. Some cluster bombs are precision weapons in their own right, each "sensor fused weapon" consisting of 40 individually targeted bomblets that home in on a vehicle’s infrared signature. Others are deployed by a "wind corrected munitions dispenser" that makes the cluster-bomb canister accurate to within 30 feet. Still other cluster bombs have no precision guidance at all.

The problem is that an estimated 5 percent of cluster bomblets fail to explode on impact, essentially making them antipersonnel land mines. International agencies are already jumping on this issue, and airmen should expect these groups to push for a ban on the use of cluster bombs.5 Although total prohibition would seem extreme, airmen must address this issue head-on. How many cluster bombs have been employed over the past decade and by whom? How effective have they been against their intended targets? What is their accuracy in actual operations? What percentage are duds? How difficult is it to defuse these duds after the conflict has ended? How many noncombatants have been killed or injured by unexploded bomblets? These are questions that airmen must answer. Some people might view the use of cluster bombs as an anomaly in the drive towards the precision employment of air weapons. One could probably make a strong case for the military efficacy and legality of cluster bombs—someone will have to do so soon.

Similarly, concern has arisen over the use of depleted uranium (DU) munitions. DU is an extremely hard substance that is ideal for the warheads on artillery shells or bullets which must penetrate the heavy steel used in armored vehicles. During the Persian Gulf War, the US Army and Air Force expended nearly 1 million such munitions. In the aftermath of the war, some people expressed concern that those rounds exposed military personnel and civilians to dangerous levels of radiation. Furthermore, shell fragments left behind could cause problems for the indigenous populace. The situation recurred in Allied Force when the Air Force’s A-10 fighter-bombers expended thousands of rounds of DU-tipped 30 mm cannon shells. No one knows how much of a threat these shells present to the Serbian/Kosovar populations.6 Nevertheless, airmen must examine this situation to determine if there is a better way to kill enemy armored vehicles. If the price for destroying tanks is poisoning the battlefield, then it is too high.

Despite these two exceptions, airmen clearly have made great efforts to limit civilian casualties and collateral damage over the past decade. Yet, some still voice concerns regarding the humanity of air warfare. In one sense, the drive to limit the suffering of noncombatants and structures is highly commendable. In another sense, however, the calls for greater accuracy, discrimination, and restraint in air operations seem puzzling when one realizes that traditional forms of war are far more deadly—especially to noncombatants—than modern air war. But one hears little debate on how best to control these other forms of war.

Wars have always hurt noncombatants. Over the centuries, however, various laws, treaties, conventions, and protocols have attempted to shield them from harm. On paper, these efforts look satisfying and noble—but reality is another matter. Paradoxically, as legal activities to soften the effects of war have accelerated, the numbers of civilian noncombatants killed have increased dramatically.

Well over 100 million people died in wars during the twentieth century—the bloodiest in history. One source claims that 110 million people died in just the first seven decades of the century: 62 million perished as a result of genocide or starvation caused by blockade and siege; 24 million were killed by small arms; 18 million by artillery and naval gunfire; 3 million attributed to "demographic mixed"; 2 million more by chemicals; and just 1 million due to air attack.7 These statistics, horrible as they are, do not include several million more deaths in Cambodia, Afghanistan, the Iran-Iraq War, Angola, Rwanda, Chechnya, and the Balkans. The vast majority of the victims were noncombatants. These statistics indicate that the principle of noncombatant immunity, at best, is a goal we have striven unsuccessfully to achieve; at worst, it is a myth that hides the truth. Innocent people have always suffered the most in war, especially in the traditional forms of land and sea warfare. On the Eastern Front in World War II, an estimated 10 million Soviet civilians were killed through starvation, artillery barrage, and gunfire; air attack was a negligible factor in piling up that horrendous death count. In fact, in all the wars of the twentieth century, of the 10s of millions of noncombatants killed, perhaps only 2 percent have died as a result of air attack.

Sieges, artillery bombardments, and ground campaigns have always been deadly. One of the more celebrated sieges of the past century was that of Leningrad during World War II. Over a period of nearly three years, German forces surrounded the city, attempted to starve its citizens, and pummeled it with artillery fire. In one of the more startling incidents of the siege, the Soviet garrison commander attempted to allow civilians trapped within the fortress city to escape. He called upon the German commander, Field Marshal Wilhelm von Leeb, to cease firing while the civilians departed. Von Leeb refused, ordering his troops to fire on the defenseless civilians if they tried to escape. Many did so and were slaughtered. Tried at Nuremberg as a war criminal for this incident, von Leeb claimed that his actions were permissible under the laws of war and was acquitted.8 Over 1 million Russian civilians—allegedly protected by their noncombatant immunity—died during the siege of Leningrad.9 Sieges of the past decade at Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Grozny in Chechnya have shown once again the devastation and deadliness of such operations. Recent instances of ground operations that have resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths include the invasion of Panama and the failed effort in Somalia.

Another pervasive and indiscriminate killer is the land mine. In 1993 experts judged that as many as 100 million unexploded land mines were scattered throughout 62 countries. The US State Department estimated that land mines killed or wounded more than 150 people per week worldwide. The American Red Cross, believing that figure low, suggested that 200 people were killed each week and another 100 or so wounded.10 Both agreed that the majority of those killed and wounded were civilians.

Virtually all belligerents use land mines. In the Persian Gulf War, for example, the United States and its allies laid approximately 1 million mines along the Iraq-Kuwait border.11 Millions more have been sown in South Korea along the border with North Korea. Although the mines have a defensive purpose, these "eternal sentinels" cannot distinguish friend from foe. After a war is over, the mines often remain, posing a huge danger to the local populace. Worse, removing mines is not an easy task: besides the risk, it costs nearly $1,000 to remove a mine, which costs only a fraction of that amount to plant.12 Traditional war by sea has also proven deadly to innocents.

Clausewitz was wrong. War is not necessarily "a pulsation of violence," "fighting," or "mutual destruction," as he wrote.13 For centuries, weapons of war have included the seemingly benign operations of naval blockades and sanctions designed to induce suffering in a target country or region. One expects that cutting off trade, food, and raw materials will lower the standard of living among the populace and thus cause unrest. When the turmoil grows to a certain level, the populace, hopefully, will move against its government and leaders to force a change of policy that will end the blockade or sanctions. As Vice President Al Gore stated succinctly in the presidential debate of 3 October 2000, "The people of Serbia know that they can escape all these sanctions if this guy [Milosevic] is turned out of power."14 Unfortunately, this can be a slow, laborious, and very deadly process. For example, according to British official history, over 750,000 German civilians died as a direct result of the Allies’ starvation blockade of World War I. The Germans contend that the figure is much higher; in any event, it does not include civilians who died in Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey—German allies also under blockade.15

More recently, the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1991 and the United Nations (UN) in 1993 imposed sanctions on Haiti in the aftermath of a military coup that drove President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from office. Many believed that the use of military force to restore Aristide was too extreme an option because it would cause excessive bloodshed and suffering. The goals of the OAS and the UN in imposing sanctions instead were eminently noble: to induce the military junta to step down and restore democracy to Haiti. However, even supporters of the sanctions admit that the junta and its inner circle "not only survived but prospered" during the embargo.16 As a consequence, the Haitian population paid the price for this supposedly humane action. Unemployment soared to 70 percent, the gross domestic product plummeted, and the inflation rate climbed to 50 percent. A study conducted by the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies in 1993 found that the sanctions were killing 1,000 children per month.17

In Iraq, one finds an even worse example of how seemingly nonviolent weapons of war can be incredibly deadly. Since the end of the Persian Gulf War, several reports have detailed the severe suffering of the Iraqi populace as a result of the UN embargo. Although the Geneva conventions specifically prohibit the use of food deprivation as a weapon, the UN nevertheless imposed just such restrictions. The naval fleet enforcing the embargo turned back seed to grow crops, farm machinery, and over 4.5 million tons of food ordered by Iraq. Between 6 August 1990 and mid-March 1991, no food entered Iraq. As a consequence, the Harvard Study Group that visited Iraq in 1991 estimated that as many as 50,000 Iraqi children died from leukemia, diabetes, asthma, heart disease, and other ailments.18 Outrage in the world community over this situation was so great that the UN lifted the embargo on food and medicine and instituted the "oil for food" program, which allows Iraq to sell some of its oil to buy food, medicine, and other necessities.19 The results of this easing of the embargo have not been overly successful.

In March 1996, the World Health Organization published a report on conditions in Iraq. Comparing the levels of infant mortality rates in 1996 with those before the war, it found that the rates had doubled and that the rate for children under the age of five had increased sixfold.20 The report concluded that the shortage of food and medicine was directly attributable to "financial constraints as a result of the sanctions [which] have prevented the necessary import of food and medicine" (emphasis in original).21 These findings were confirmed three years later, when the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) visited Iraq and noted that statistics showed a steady and continual decline in mortality rates between 1960 and 1990: despite the oppressive dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi people were getting healthier as the economy grew. The war and subsequent UN embargo changed everything. The mortality rate of children under five jumped from 50 per 1,000 live births in 1980 to 117 per 1,000 by 1995. By 1999 it had climbed to 125. UNICEF concluded that if the mortality rates of the 1980s had continued through the 1990s, "there would have been half a million fewer deaths of children under five in the country as a whole during the eight year period 1991 to 1998."22

This is a staggering statistic. The UN has admitted that half a million infants have died as a direct result of its embargo on Iraq. When one compares this statistic to the total of 2,300 civilians that Iraq claims were killed during the six-week air campaign in 1991, the disconnect between perceptions of what constitutes humanity and discrimination in war becomes glaring. When we conduct military operations that cause such enormous death and suffering, we lose the moral high ground.

A great deal of ink has been spilled on the subject of whether or not sanctions and embargoes have accomplished their purpose of forcing a change in behavior of the target leadership. The results are contradictory.23 In truth, however, the question of whether or not sanctions and embargoes "work" misses the point. A more relevant question would be, Do the ends justify the means? Sanctions, embargoes, and blockades are not a "clean" option, and they do indeed cause very real levels of human suffering to the weakest members of a target society. That suffering must be factored into the costs when one evaluates different courses of action.

A wealth of empirical data gathered over the past several centuries shows that blockades, embargoes, sanctions, and sieges almost always have a percolating effect: they start killing at the bottom levels of society and slowly work their way upwards. The three-quarters of a million German civilians who died as a result of the starvation blockade in World War I were not soldiers, politicians, or factory workers—the productive members of the war society. Instead, the first to die were the old, the young, and the sick. Only eventually and very slowly did the effects begin reaching the upper levels of society. This has certainly been the case in Haiti and Iraq—for example, Saddam and his generals do not go to bed without their supper. We must remember this fact because it refutes the argument that one imposes a blockade, embargo, or sanction as a bloodless and humane way of coercing the leaders of a target country.

Many people have argued that such suffering is actually the fault of the country’s leaders who either refuse to give in to the demands of the imposer or hoard food and medicine for themselves.24 History demonstrates, however, that dictators subjected to an embargo generally react by attempting to win the war or conflict in which they are engaged. They will accept casualties to achieve their objectives, and when attacked they will attempt to protect those things most valuable to their society—the things that allow them to continue the fight. They will sacrifice—reluctantly, perhaps, but sacrifice they will—their weakest segments of society so that the strong can fight on. Nations at war for their survival (or the survival of their leader) don’t generally take a "women and children to the lifeboats first" mentality. They cannot afford to do so. We must understand this. Thus, if we know from dozens of cases over several centuries what the result of our actions will probably be when we embargo Iraq, Serbia, or Haiti, then we cannot say afterwards that we didn’t know the gun was loaded.

We have an alternative. During the past decade, the world has seen air war conducted with humanity, precision, and low risk—to both sides. It has been instrumental in achieving the political objectives of our leaders. Military force is neither a pleasant option nor one we should employ lightly. If necessary, however, we should do more than simply follow the letter of the law—we should limit as much as possible the harm to civilian noncombatants. Aerospace power, therefore, should be our weapon of choice because it is the most discriminate, prudent, and risk-free weapon in our arsenal.


1. Over 700 surface-to-air missiles were launched at NATO aircraft, as well as 10s of thousands of antiaircraft artillery shells. Two NATO aircraft were shot down, but the pilots were recovered.

2. Civilian Deaths in the NATO Air Campaign (New York: Human Rights Watch, 7 February 2000), 5, on-line, Internet, 24 May 2001, available from nato. The agency’s investigators actually visited only 42 of the 90 sites of the alleged civilian casualties.

3. Ibid., 12–13.

4. During Operation Northern Watch over Iraq, US aircraft sometimes dropped bombs with concrete warheads to limit the amount of damage caused in sensitive areas.

5. 2001 Review Conference of the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (Geneva, Switzerland: International Committee of the Red Cross, 14 December 2000), 1–2, on-line, Internet, 24 May 2001, available from icrceng.nsf/c1256212004ce24e4125621200524882/6593a3660091df9ec12569b90033ed5d?OpenDocument.

6. Bill Mesler, "Pentagon Poison: The Great Radioactive Ammo Cover-Up," The Nation, 5 May 1997, on-line, Internet, 14 June 2001, available from 970526/0526mesl.htm; and Scott Peterson, "Aftershocks from Anti-Tank Shells," Christian Science Monitor, 9 January 2001, 1.

7. Gil Elliot, Twentieth Century Book of the Dead (New York: Scribner’s, 1972), 147, 154, and 161. In another such estimate in Civilizations, Empires, and Wars: A Quantitative History of War (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1992), 273, William Eckhardt states that between 1900 and 1989, approximately 111 million deaths occurred due to war; he does not break down the cause of death, as does Elliot. The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression by Stéphane Courtois et al., trans. Jonathan Murphy and Mark Kramer (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999) states that fully 95 million people died at the hands of communist regimes in China, the Soviet Union, Vietnam, North Korea, and so forth during the past century. This incredible statistic excludes people killed in those countries during interstate wars.

8. Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations (New York: Basic Books, 1977), 166–67. One can find the actual judgment of the court in Trials of War Criminals before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals under Control Council Law No. 10, Nuernberg, October 1946–April 1949, vol. 11 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1950), 563. Of note, the current US Army field manual (FM) on the law of war confirms the legality of this practice: "Thus, if a commander of a besieged place expels the noncombatants in order to lessen the logistical burden he has to bear, it is lawful, though an extreme measure, to drive them back, so as to hasten the surrender." FM 27-10, The Law of Land Warfare, July 1956 (change 1, July 1976), 20.

9. Harrison E. Salisbury, The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad (New York: Harper & Row, 1969), 514–16.

10. Landmines: A Deadly Legacy (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1993), 3–4.

11. UNICEF, The State of the World’s Children (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 26.

12. Since the Mine Ban Treaty was signed in 1997, things have improved, but thousands of casualties still occur worldwide each year. See Landmine Monitor Report (New York: Human Rights Watch, September 2000). Of note, the three largest producers of land mines—Russia, China, and the United States—have not ratified the treaty.

13. Carl von Clausewitz, On War, ed. and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1976), 87, 127, 236.

14. Transcript of presidential debate, 3 October 2000, on-line, Internet, 14 June 2001, available from

15. A. C. Bell, A History of the Blockade of Germany, 1914–1918 (London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1937), 672. The eminent British naval historian Adm Sir Herbert Richmond was unequivocally blunt regarding the purpose of the blockade: "What we have to do is to starve & cripple Germany, to destroy Germany. That is our prime object" (emphasis in original). Arthur J. Marder, Portrait of an Admiral: The Life and Papers of Sir Herbert Richmond (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1952), 219–20.

16. David Weekman, "Sanctions: The Invisible Hand of Statecraft," Strategic Review 26 (Winter 1998): 41.

17. Ibid., 40.

18. Eric Hoskins, "Pity the Children of Iraq," Middle East International, 24 January 1992, 16–17. Dr. Hoskins was the medical coordinator of the Harvard Study Group that visited Iraq in 1991. See also Alberto Ascherio, "Effect of the Gulf War on Infant and Child Mortality in Iraq," New England Journal of Medicine 327 (24 September 1992): 931–36.

19. Even with the easing of the sanctions, one notes some bizarre aspects: syringes were initially prohibited, as were plastic bags for transfusions, chlorine for water treatment, and even chemical fertilizer because they could be used for military purposes. John Mueller and Karl Mueller, "Sanctions of Mass Destruction," Foreign Affairs 78 (May/June 1999): 43–50.

20. Health Conditions of the Population in Iraq since the Gulf Crisis (Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, March 1996), 6, on-line, Internet, 24 May 2001, available from http:// "" .

21. Ibid., 16.

22. UNICEF, "Child Mortality: Iraq, Current Estimates," 27 August 1999, on-line, Internet, 24 May 2001, available from http://

23. For a good overview of when and how sanctions do or do not work, including a review of the literature on the subject, see T. Clifton Morgan and Valerie L. Schwebach, "Fools Suffer Gladly: The Use of Economic Sanctions in International Crises," International Studies Quarterly 41 (March 1997): 27–50. This article notes that, in some cases, sanctions are imposed for purely domestic political reasons—the need to show a restive populace that something is being done.

24. Claudette Antoine Werleigh, "Haiti and the Halfhearted," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November 1993, 20–23; and Jesse Helms, "What Sanctions Epidemic?" Foreign Affairs 78 (January/February 1999): 2–8.


Col Phillip S. Meilinger, USAF, retired (BS, USAFA; MA, University of Colorado; PhD, University of Michigan), is deputy director of AEROSPACENTER at Science Applications International Corporation. A retired Air Force colonel, he served as a command pilot; dean of the School of Advanced Airpower Studies at Maxwell AFB, Alabama; Air Staff officer at the Pentagon; C-130 and HC-130 pilot; and professor of strategy at the US Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island. He is the author of Hoyt S. Vandenberg: The Life of a General (1989) and 10 Propositions Regarding Airpower (1995) and the editor of The Paths of Heaven: The Evolution of Airpower Theory (1997).


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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