International Relations

James Patton Rogers

Despite the failures of precision during the Second World War, the ambition continued to drive early American nuclear strategy. H.H Arnold rose to become the first head of a new independent US Air Force and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Despite President Truman’s attempts at international control of atomic energy, Arnold used his power to push for American nuclear strategy to be based on the long-held ambition for precision. To make this ambition a realistic possibility, he invested in technical and strategic research to make it an achievable and deployable concept.

in Precision
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The legacies of precision
James Patton Rogers

Thanks, in part, to RAND, the Kennedy administration, Albert Wohlstetter, and advances in new weapons technologies, the ambition to achieve ‘pinpoint’ precision returned to the forefront of American warfare. From Desert Storm to Kosovo, the War on Terror to modern drone warfare, the Epilogue explains how the century-long pursuit for precision continues to impact warfare today. Yet there is a warning. As Albert Wohlstetter argued in 1988 – ‘high-tech is not an American monopoly’ – and precision technologies are now spreading around the world to a record number of hostile state and non-state actors. What can the history of precision teach us about the global proliferation of precision technologies and the future of precision threats?

in Precision
James Patton Rogers

After years of development and testing during the 1920s and 1930s, the time to implement precision bombing came with the advent of the Second World War. But despite the best attempts of people like Arnold, Spaatz, and Hansell to evolve and amend precision strategies to meet the demands of the conflict, in the cold hard realities of war precision was an illusory and at times counterproductive ambition. It would end with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

in Precision
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James Patton Rogers

Chapter 1 takes readers back to the brutality of the First World War. It is revealed how public and political demands to avoid the horrors of trench warfare, and the vast cost to life, led early American airpower thinkers to seek alternative practices of war. Colonel Edgar S. Gorrell and Brigadier-General William ‘Billy’ Mitchell were two ‘precision pioneers’ who devised the novel ambition to achieve precision in the bombardment of the enemy while reducing the risk to American and civilian life. This idea would come to dominate American military airpower during the inter-war years and would be handed down to a new generation of American airpower thinkers – such as H.H. Arnold, Carl Spaatz, and Hayward Hansell – who would implement the ambition during the Second World War.

in Precision
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A history of American warfare

War historian and drone expert, James Patton Rogers, takes readers on a journey through the past, present, and future of American warfare. By highlighting the innovative thinkers of the First World War, the experimental technologies of the Second World War, and the surprising Cold War nuclear strategies that drove the ambition for precision airpower, this book explains how precision strategies and weapons (such as drones and precision-guided missiles) became the dominant feature of war that they are today.

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The pursuit of precision
James Patton Rogers

Why attempt to achieve precision in warfare? The Prologue explains what precision is and why it has been ardently pursued by a select group of US military thinkers and defence intellectuals for well over a hundred years. Yet where are the gaps in this history? And what can the history of precision tell us about the rise of precision weapons and drone warfare today?

in Precision
James Patton Rogers

From 1950 onwards, American nuclear strategy took a turn from the long-held ambition to achieve precision bombardment and adopted General Curtis LeMay’s destroy everything mantra. Targeting lists and proposed bomb deployment numbers quickly increased from the tens to the hundreds and into the thousands. Subsequently, by 1960/61 and the acceptance of Single Integrated Operational Plan 62 (SIOP-62) the American military was left in a situation where, if war was to break out (or was to be perceived to be breaking out), the United States would be on a default footing to launch a pre-emptive atomic strike which would destroy the Soviet Union and devastate its satellite states many times over.

in Precision
James Patton Rogers

Despite being a decade in the making, the LeMay bombardment ethos did not dominate American nuclear strategy through the 1960s. Instead, due to the changing security context of the period – and a change in presidents from Eisenhower to Kennedy – by August 1962 a shift towards a more discriminate nuclear bombardment strategy had taken place and the precision ethos had been resurrected. Prior to H.H. Arnold’s retirement and premature death in 1950, he set up a think tank dedicated, in part, to research on precision technologies and strategies. This was the RAND Corporation, and it was here that a small group of thinkers – such as Bernard Brodie, William Kaufmann, Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter – would ensure that the ambition to be precise in American nuclear and conventional bombardment would return to the forefront of American strategy.

in Precision
James Patton Rogers

As Arnold entered retirement, and Cold War tensions rose, the passion for precision faded from the frontline of American strategic thought. Communism, Korea, and the detonation of the USSR’s first atomic weapon combined to create a climate of fear and anxiety. According to a conflicting group of thinkers, such as General Curtis LeMay, there was no longer time to focus on technologically unachievable ambitions to achieve precision in war. Instead, in order to destroy something, you had to bomb everything.

in Precision
Humanitarian Disruption in Conflict Settings
Maelle L’Homme

In March 2022, intercommunal fighting forced Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to suspend its activities after nearly fourteen years of operating in Agok, a small town located in the disputed Abyei Special Administrative Area (ASAA) on the border between Sudan and South Sudan. After the shock of having to close a 185-bed hospital unexpectedly came questions about the unintentional consequences of MSF’s presence. With the benefit of hindsight, the organisation deemed it important to examine the potentially destabilising influence it might have had on the local environment. This article builds on an internal capitalisation exercise conducted with the aim of documenting MSF’s experience and critically reflecting on the potential of aid being a factor in disrupting local balances, or worse, a factor in fuelling violence. By exploring the premises that MSF was an anchor factor for the population and that the economic fallouts made Agok a place worth fighting for, the author investigates the long-term, unintended impact of MSF’s presence on the local political economy of conflict, as well as the organisation’s possible share of responsibility for aggravating intercommunal grievances. Based on the observation that aid inevitably benefits some more than others, the author also asks to what extent MSF was aware of the adverse consequences of its presence and whether more awareness would have led to different operational choices and mitigating measures. This questioning does not detract in any way from the project’s achievements in terms of providing high-quality secondary healthcare in a context where there was none, in one of the poorest countries in the world.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs