Intervention with Conventional Air-Strikes

Intervention with conventional air-strikes doesn’t require troops in the target country, so it carries little domestic political risk. 

It contravenes international law if it is not authorised by the UN, but it is still carried out occasionally:

●  A BBC report, Israel’s air-strike on Iraq’s Osirak reactor, 1981: Israel bombs Baghdad nuclear reactor, recorded that the destruction of the Osirak reactor was claimed to be pre-emptive self-defence:

“The Israelis have bombed a French-built nuclear plant near Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, saying they believed it was designed to make nuclear weapons to destroy Israel.”

●  Donald Trump authorised a missile strike against Syria in April 2017, allegedly to punish President Assad for the use of chemical weapons.  Raúl Ilargi Meijer’s article, Symbols of Strength, offered another interpretation:

“..why was the attack launched at the very moment that Xi Jinping was sitting down for dinner at Mar-a-Lago? Trump had reason to show the world that he’s willing to use his strength. You can question the whole thing, but it makes sense, from a military point of view, in more than one way.”

Sometimes an intervention with conventional air-strikes has wider consequences.  NATO’s controversial bombing campaign in Serbia in 1999, on behalf of Kosovo, was billed as a humanitarian intervention to prevent ethnic cleansing – but it merely delayed it.  A BBC article, How the West justifies action, reported that the UN had passed a resolution which emphasised “the need to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo” but noted that such resolutions “do not authorise Nato or anyone else to take military action”.  NATO explained its action: NATO’s role in relation to the conflict in Kosovo.

●  Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State at the time of the Kosovo intervention, argued strongly for it on moral grounds.  She described the circumstances and arguments which led to the decision in her book The Mighty & the Almighty (pp. 59-60).

●  The bombing eventually caused President Milosevic to withdraw from Kosovo, but Serb terror then intensified – as predicted.  Noam Chomsky wrote A Review of NATO’s War over Kosovo, in which he noted: “As the bombing campaign began, U.S.-NATO Commanding General Wesley Clark informed the press that it was “entirely predictable” that Serb terror would intensify as a result.”

A more general problem that applies to an intervention with conventional air strikes is that there are several political side-effects, as described below (



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/7322.htm.