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Sanctions and Strategic Bombing



Sanctions and Strategic Bombing
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In the aftermath of the First World War, military theorists across the West were desperate to fashion a path around the next war’s trenches. Tactical and engineer tacticians spent the war working on machines that could be used to escape attrition. The gas shell, U-boat and armored tanks were just a few examples of these machines. They were all found lacking. It was not anticipated that the aeroplane would have the same impact. The first world war’s flying contraptions were feather-like. They were too small to carry heavy ordinance and too light to store bulky fuel. These biplanes and triplanes were unable to penetrate the enemy’s lines. None of these aircraft could make a significant impact on the nearby trenches. The First World War’s incipient air force was primarily used to reconnoiter static defense works of enemy forces or to shoot down enemy reconnoiterers. The airmen who died in Europe’s grey skies dreamed of more.

Two developments allowed these dreams to take flight. Two developments allowed these dreams to become a reality. First, aeronautics and engine strength improvements led to longer-ranged, heavier planes that could carry much more payloads at higher altitudes. Concurrently, independent air arms were created. This allowed airmen to get away from the most important tasks that army officers wanted planes to perform–reconnaissance as well as close air support. The airman wanted the air. What good was it to win the air? Why should politicians or general staffs let them choose to destroy an enemy air force rather than an enemy army? Is there any reason to believe that the institution independence of the airborne was necessary?

The answer to these questions was “strategic bombing.”

The most important technology of the First World War was not the machine gun but the railroad: only the constant clacking of railcars loaded down with ammunition kept the perpetual conflict machine going. There were many factories that supplied the railroads with millions of workers. Behind them was a complex consortium of bureaucrats and merchants who pulled strings and passed memos to make sure all cogs were being paid on schedule. The men in trenches were just the edge of a nation mobilize in a fight for their lives. The airmen were sent to the front lines in order to grab the delicate inner gears and jump over the cutting edge.

With the power to leapfrog the tanks and the trenches, attrition would be relegated to the wars of the past. The fight for the future would be a quick, intense contest for the skies. The winner of this bout would then focus their attention on the cities of enemy, unleashing an avalanche of fire that would cause panic among civilians and force the enemy government into surrender. I described these visions last year in an essay for Palladium:

The strategists… proposed that civilians unused to military discipline would meet the destruction of their cities with “panic on such a scale [that] their governments would have to abandon the war.” British strategist J.F.C. Fuller described their visions of future warfare vividly: “if a fleet of 500 aeroplanes” came to London, he wrote, it would “throw the whole city into a panic within half an hour of their arrival.” For several days, London would become “one vast raving Bedlam,” where “the hospitals will be stormed, traffic will cease, [and] the homeless will shriek for help.” As for the government, “it will be swept away by an avalanche of terror. Then will the enemy dictate his terms, which will be grasped at like a straw by a drowning man. ” For elites, the disastrous element of this hypothetical panic would be the loss of political control over the masses.

This belief was soon entrenched in militaries across the world–at least those militaries that had no firsthand experience as a target of enemy bombing. Great Britain’s Marshal of the Royal Air Force channeled the new airpower consensus when he argued in 1937 that the Royal Air Force must reorient itself around air defense. There was no other defense against the potential “panic [caused] by indiscriminate attacks on London.” If Britain could not defeat enemy bombers before they released their payloads, he wrote, “we might possibly be defeated in a fortnight or less.” Similar beliefs drove the RAF’s offensive thinking. The purpose of the British bombing campaign of German cities and civilian targets, commanding officer Arthur Harris wrote in a 1943 memo to his subordinates at Bomber Command, was “the breakdown of morale at home and on the battlefront by fear.”

Just under a million Chinese, Japanese, British, and German civilians were killed when these theories were operationalized in the Second World War. In their book The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy, Lawrence Freedman and Jeffrey Michaels describes the appeal of targeting civilian populations as bound up in with the belief–shared by both the airmen of both the Axis and the Allied powers–that a sharp distinction could be drawn between the “masses” and the “elites” of the enemy, and that fault for the war lay with the latter. To quote Freedman and Michaels:

On both sides during World War II there were assertions that the enemy elite in crucial ways was alienated from the masses, committed to the war for its own purposes but able to use the state apparatus to mobilize the masses to follow its lead. There was an obvious propaganda element in such assertions. At the same time, they reflected a widely held assumption that the government hold over the population was tenuous. In this sense the mass was the elites ‘Achilles heel’– a soft target that was also the foundation of the national effort. Aerial bombardment would jolt the populace into an awareness of the risks they were running for the government’s war policy. The relationship between the mass and elite would be disrupted: either the people would cease to do the bidding of the government through a generally lackluster approach to war projects or else, preferably, they would demand of the government that it sued for peace.

The bombers’ theory of victory was premised on flawed psychology. Panic is a myth. Human societies do not respond to sudden disasters with disorder, disintegration or terror. Instead, they react with acts of sacrifice, a spirit stoicism and a strong sense of solidarity that only comes from shared suffering. Nationalism and the mass ideologies liberalism and fascism played a powerful role in ordinary people’s lives. These civilians were not forced to sacrifice for these causes, especially in the beginning stages of conflict. Contrary to what the air theorists expected, the war unites mass and elite more often that it divides them. In each nation, class alienation was subsumed in the shared struggle against an outside threat.

The air theorists’ faulty psychology reflected the general biases of their class: as a rule modernist intellectuals represented the masses as an easily manipulated and mercurial mob. This was not the only problem for the theorists. Freedman and Michaels identify several conceptual flaws in their theory of victory that would pose problems for the belligerents even if enemy masses had acted as mob-like as the strategic bombers had hoped:

  1. There was nothing stopping manipulative elites from using attacks on civilians to redirect anger away from themselves and towards a hated enemy.
  2. There was no reason to believe that “a change in attitude [among the civilian population] would automatically result in a change in behavior–and that this would take the form of activism rather than apathy.”
  3. There was no reason to believe that “the means would be available for mass activism to transform the government conduct of the war”–especially if said government was as coercive as its enemies portrayed it.

These failures to think through the sticky points of strategy mattered. Strategic bombing was not able to achieve its intended purpose due to the flawed psychology that governed the enterprise. While bombs were dropped, governments didn’t fall. The war went on, and cities were burned to the ground. Slowly, the goal of strategic bombardment changed from pain to shock. Problem was, by the time that strategic bombing started in earnest the pain was already something that the countries of World War II had become accustomed to. These nations were capable of absorbing a lot of pain. Japan and Germany were not forced to negotiate by the firebombings of their cities. This was possible only with the singularly destructive power the atom bomb.

Later defenses of the air theorists would argue that the Allied strategic bombing campaigns contributed to the economic exhaustion of the Axis powers, and with that their eventual defeat–but this was a modest gain in light of the theorists’ original aims. Strategic bombing was not a means of eliminating war by attrition, but merely another tool of attrition.


No one argues for old style strategic bombing anymore. The U.S. military was unable to realize the limits of strategic bombardment for many decades, including a futile campaign against North Vietnam. However, the lessons learned are now clear. However, the strategies of early air theorists aren’t dead. Two more successful descendants have kept them alive. Men like John Warden and John Boyd would reimagine the structure and purpose of the air campaign in the 1980s, arguing that the collapse imagined by the early air theorists of the ’30s was possible if the indiscriminate carpet bombing of World War II were replaced by surgical, precision strikes on enemy fuel depots, transportation nodes, communications hubs, command and control headquarters, intelligence centers, and surveillance assets. This bombing campaign did not aim to cause pain, but paralysis. The 1991 Gulf War is the classic demonstration of this sort of successful shock campaign.

The second child of strategic bombing is nuclear strategy. Military theorists know that nuclear weapons have been primarily about the threat to pain since Hiroshima, Nagasaki. Once, nuclear forces were able to provide an escape route between attrition or surrender. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were not caused by the United States’ atomic monopoly. This advantage was temporary. By the mid ’50s the situation had changed entirely–and both sides of the Cold War recognized that the amount of pain a nuclear stockpile could unleash loomed too large for practical use. Over the past 60 years, nuclear strategy has not been about causing pain to the enemy but rather on the deterrence position and bargaining strategies that can be used to prevent a nuclear enemy causing you pain.

Today the closest analogue to the logic of the strategic bomber lies in the world of economics. I am referring to sanctions. There are many parallels. Precision instruments are not trade embargos or financial sanctions that target entire banking systems. Attacks on foreign economies are just as difficult on vulnerable civilians as those used to bomb civilian targets during World War II. The pain experienced by these civilians will be translated into political change, either a change of regime or in the behavior of the regime. But as was the case with strategic bombing, the mechanism by which civilian suffering leads to change is not made clear.

This is most clear in our recent sanctions campaign against the Russians. The entire scheme, like strategic bombing is built on exploiting a social and psychological divide between rulers and ruled. We have difficulty accepting the idea that an ordinary citizen under an authoritarian regime may be willing to sacrifice their life and standard of living for abstract, nationalist ideas. We deny the guilt of these civilians in World War II and devise tactics to make them our first targets.

Our campaign against the Russian economy even follows the traditional arc of the strategic bombing campaign: early hopes that the shock of sudden economic assault might upturn the Russian regime or war effort have faded. We now tweet about the need for maximum economic pain to “pressure” Putin. We will eventually have a material impact on the front, but only in an indirect and attritional manner. Japanese fighting capabilities were degraded over time by firebombing Japanese cities.

There are many plausible reasons one might inflict economic harm on an opposing country: pain might be used to try and compel a foreign power to change its behavior. Some restrictions might be used as bargaining chips in the eventual war settlement negotiations. They might be used to slow down the Russian military’s ability to modernize in the future. It may be about credible deterrence. The threat of sanctions can only deter hostile countries from taking action if we believe that we are willing to pay the cost of economic weapons. To make these threats credible in the future, we must act immediately.

I am not sure which of these reasons, if any, motivates our current sanctions regime. This question is ignored by the mainstream media. New York Magazine asks “Are the Sanctions Against Russia Working? ” without ever stating what work the sanctions should be doing (see also Michael McFaul’s argument that “sanctions are working, but need to work better” ). The Washington Post describes “why sanctions can be so effective” without telling us what they are effective at achieving. The New York Times reports a list of every sanction the United States has levied to “pressure” Russia without writing a line on what this pressure aims to accomplish.

Biden officials are usually no better–take Janet Yellen’s explanation for the most recent round of sanctions:

Today we are further constricting Russia’s economy and access to services and technology it needs to conduct this unprovoked invasion,” said Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen. “Preventing Russia access to the valuable services of the United States increases the pressure on Russia and reduces its ability to evade the sanctions imposed upon it by the United States. We also target Putin’s ability generate revenue that allows him to be aggressive, and entities and leaders who support his destructive acts.

With the exception of the line about Russian government revenue, all Yellen tells us is that the sanctions will “increase pressure on the Kremlin,” and more effectively target “entities and leaders” who support Putin. It is unclear how this pressure and targeting will lead to better outcomes for Ukraine or the United States. It is still unclear what the aims of our sanctions regime are.

The aims matter. It is important to distinguish between a sanction campaign that aims to destroy an enemy’s industrial complex and a campaign that aims to persuade an enemy to change their aggressive behavior. In security parlance, that second sort of campaign is labeled coercive diplomacy. “Escalation is the currency of coercive diplomacy,” writes Richard Nephew in The Art of Sanctions. If your aim is “to inflict some measure of pain in order to change [the] policy” of an enemy state, then “opponents must believe that you are not only prepared to go further, but that doing so is inevitable without resolution of the underlying problem.” The goal of the sanctioning state is to offer a choice: “you can stop this now or suffer worse.”

But in order to offer this choice, the sanction setters must also “define [the] minimum necessary remedial steps that the target state must take for pain to be removed.” Have we done this? Are we clear about the steps that the Russians must take to make the West less painful? Can we, on the other hand? Are we willing to increase the pain we inflict if Moscow doesn’t change its course? Or are we repeating the mistake of the sanction’s regime against Iraq that was so difficult to implement that the U.N. couldn’t negotiate easily or threaten more?

One could contrast the slap-dashery of the sanctions campaign with the carefully calibrated military and political response to Russia’s invasion. NATO will soon include Sweden, Finland, and other allies. Intelligence assets have been mobilized to provide the Ukrainians with the information they need to win the battlefield. A rotation of politicians, statesmen, and diplomats has made their way to Kiev. All this without any escalation. Today, we are less likely than in February to get sucked into a war with Russia. These achievements should be credited to the Biden team. Except for Biden’s off-the-cuff speculation about the need to remove Putin, the Biden team hit all the right diplomatic notes during this crisis. They have taken substantive actions, but they were also well-planned, measured, proportional and carefully planned. Their actions on the security side were clearly and convincingly stated. They have a coherence that is lacking in our sanctions regime against Russia.

Here is my hypothesis for this discrepancy: Washington has a stronger memory of Cold War style conflict bargaining. We are familiar with the effects of nuclear brinkmanship and we have long thought about how to deal with it. We are familiar with military coercion and have written many books about the type of response required. Diplomacy and hardpower have simplified the linking of ends, means, and methods to a formula. When it comes to economic coercion, this is not the case.

Earlier I quoted from Lawrence Friedman and Jeffrey Michael’s The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy. The book is a compendium of the debates theorists and practitioners have had about the nature of nuclear forces and nuclear posturing from 1945 to the present day. It is 804 pages long. There are hundreds of references. A similar compendium of sanctions strategy–perhaps it would be titled The Evolution of Economic Coercion–could not be written. It is simply not possible to find a similar source of theory and practice.

The irony here is that sanctions–including banking sanctions–are actually older than nuclear weaponry. W.N. Mendlicott’s two volume The Economic Blockade, Nicholas Mulder’s The Economic Weapon, Nicholas Lambert’s Planning Armageddon, Edward Miller’s Bankrupting the Enemy, and Michael Barnhart’s Japan Prepares for Total War lay out the origins of modern economic coercion in the first decades of the 20th century. Our record for the following decades is less clear.

A small amount of academic literature is available that assesses the statistical correlation between successful compellence and sanctions. There is also literature that estimates the economic impact that these or other sanctions have had. They aren’t large. A new literature on “weaponized dependence” has emerged recently, which presents positive accounts of newer forms of financial coercion. Juan Zarate’s memoir narrates his role inventing and implementing some of these new tools of financial coercion. To my knowledge, Richard Nephew’s The Art of Sanctions: A View From the Field is the only attempt to provide a prescriptive, user-oriented theory of economic coercion that we have.

There is so much that still needs to be done. There is no systemic account of financial and economic coercion that occurred between the Second World War (and the War on Terror). We don’t have detailed histories of economic coercion during Bush and Obama when the new financial tools that the Treasury Department used to punish America’s enemies were created (the world cries for a biography about Stuart Levy, who is easily the most important figure this century that no-one recognizes!). We lack the Thomas Schelling or John Warden of economic deceit. Schelling and Warden were not only positive, socio-scientific descriptions of strategic decision-making, but also provided tools for action. It is necessary to have theorists that can explain the methods and results of a successful campaign of sanctions. Theorists must be able to explain the principles of strategic interaction in the coercive economy domain.

This might happen in time. Richard Nephew’s book may be the first to contain practical knowledge of economic warfare. Rising scholars like Nicholas Mulder, Erik Sand, Edourdo Saravalle, and Moana Ali might be up for the challenge of integrating their accounts with larger historical experience. We are still looking at the future, just like the strategic bombers. Because we lack the theory to prevent mass suffering, we are like them.

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FIFA 23 lets you turn off commentary pointing out how bad you are




FIFA 23 lets you turn off commentary pointing out how bad you are
A player shouldering the ball

(Image credit: EA)

FIFA 23 might be the best game soccer game yet for terrible sports fans, as it lets you turn off commentary that criticizes your bad playing.

Now that the early access FIFA 23 release time has passed, EA Play and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers can hop into the game ahead of its full release. But as Eurogamer (opens in new tab) spotted, they’ll find a peculiar option waiting for them.

FIFA 23 includes a toggle to turn off ‘Critical Commentary’. The setting lets you silence all negative in-match comments made about your technique, so you can protect your precious ego even when you miss an open goal or commit an obvious foul. The more positive commentary won’t be affected. 

Spare your feelings

A player dribbling the ball in FIFA 23

(Image credit: EA)

The feature looks tailored toward children and new players, who don’t want to have their confidence wrecked within mere minutes of picking up the controller. But even experienced players who just so happen to be terrible at the game might benefit.

It’s not perfect, though. According to Eurogamer, the feature didn’t seem to work during a FIFA Ultimate Team Division Rivals match, with critical comments slipping through the filter. Still, who hasn’t benefited from a light grilling every now and then?

Polite commentary isn’t the only new addition in FIFA 23. It’s the first game in the series to include women’s club football teams, and fancy overhauled animations that take advantage of the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S’s new-gen hardware. EA will be hoping to end on a high, as FIFA 23 will be the last of its soccer games to release with the official FIFA licence.

If disabling critical commentary doesn’t improve your soccer skills, maybe building a squad of Marvel superheroes will. Although you might not do much better with Ted Lasso wandering the pitch.

FIFA 23 is set to fully release this Friday, September 30.

Callum is TechRadar Gaming’s News Writer. You’ll find him whipping up stories about all the latest happenings in the gaming world, as well as penning the odd feature and review. Before coming to TechRadar, he wrote freelance for various sites, including Clash, The Telegraph, and, and worked as a Staff Writer at Wargamer. Strategy games and RPGs are his bread and butter, but he’ll eat anything that spins a captivating narrative. He also loves tabletop games, and will happily chew your ear off about TTRPGs and board games. 

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Google Pixel 7 price leak suggests Google is totally out of touch




Google Pixel 7 price leak suggests Google is totally out of touch
The backs of the Pixel 7 and the Pixel 7 Pro

(Image credit: Google)

We’re starting to hear more and more Google Pixel 7 leaks, with the launch of the phone just a week away, but tech fans might be getting a lot of déjà vu, with the leaks all listing near-identical specs to what we heard about the Pixel 6 a year ago.

It sounds like the new phones – a successor to the Pixel 6 Pro is also expected – could be very similar to their 2021 predecessors. And a new price leak has suggested that the phones’ costs could be the same too, as a Twitter user spotted the Pixel 7 briefly listed on Amazon (before being promptly taken down, of course).

Google pixel 7 on Amazon US. $599.99.It is still showing up in search cache but the listing gives an error if you click on it. We have the B0 number to keep track of though!#teampixel 27, 2022

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According to these listings, the Pixel 7 will cost $599 while the Pixel 7 Pro will cost $899, both of which are identical to the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro starting prices. The leak doesn’t include any other region prices, but in the UK the current models cost £599 and £849, while in Australia they went for AU$999 and AU$1,299.

So it sounds like Google is planning on retaining the same prices for its new phones as it sold the old ones for, a move which doesn’t make much sense.

Analysis: same price, new world

Google’s choice to keep the same price points is a little curious when you consider that the specs leaks suggest these phones are virtually unchanged from their predecessors. You’re buying year-old tech for the same price as before.

Do bear in mind that the price of tech generally lowers over time, so you can readily pick up a cheaper Pixel 6 or 6 Pro right now, and after the launch of the new ones, the older models will very likely get even cheaper.

But there’s another key factor to consider in the price: $599 might be the same number in 2022 as it was in 2021, but with the changing global climate, like wars and flailing currencies and cost of living crises, it’s a very different amount of money.

Some people just won’t be willing to shell out the amount this year, that they may have been able to last year. But this speaks to a wider issue in consumer tech.

Google isn’t the only tech company to completely neglect the challenging global climate when pricing its gadgets: Samsung is still releasing super-pricey folding phones, and the iPhone 14 is, for some incomprehensible reason, even pricier than the iPhone 13 in some regions. 

Too few brands are actually catering to the tough economic times many are facing right now, with companies increasing the price of their premium offerings to counter rising costs, instead of just designing more affordable alternatives to flagships.

These high and rising prices suggest that companies are totally out of touch with their buyers, and don’t understand the economic hardship troubling many.

We’ll have to reach a breaking point sooner or later, either with brands finally clueing into the fact that they need to release cheaper phones, or with customers voting with their wallets by sticking to second-hand or refurbished devices. But until then, you can buy the best cheap phones to show that cost is important to you.

Tom’s role in the TechRadar team is to specialize in phones and tablets, but he also takes on other tech like electric scooters, smartwatches, fitness, mobile gaming and more. He is based in London, UK.

He graduated in American Literature and Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. Prior to working in TechRadar freelanced in tech, gaming and entertainment, and also spent many years working as a mixologist. Outside of TechRadar he works in film as a screenwriter, director and producer.

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DisplayMate awards the “Best Smartphone Display” title to the iPhone 14 Pro Max




DisplayMate awards the “Best Smartphone Display” title to the iPhone 14 Pro Max

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