Economic Warfare in Twentieth-Century History and Strategy

47 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2020

See all articles by Mark Harrison

Mark Harrison

University of Warwick; University of Birmingham

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: April 20, 2020


In two world wars, both sides committed substantial resources to economic warfare. Before the event, influential thinkers believed that the threat of blockade (and later of bombing) would deter aggression. When war broke out, they hoped that economic action might bring the war to a close without the need for a conclusive military struggle. Why were they disappointed, and what was the true relationship between economic warfare and combat between military forces? The answer to this question depends on the effects of economic warfare, which can be understood only after considering the adversary’s adaptation. When the full range of adaptations is considered, it becomes clear that economic warfare and combat were usually strategic complements; they acted together and did not substitute for each other. The paper examines this question both in breadth and more narrowly, focusing on the Allied air campaign against Germany in World War II. There are implications for history and policy.

Keywords: blockade, economic sanctions, economic warfare, strategy, substitution, war of attrition, World War I, World War II

JEL Classification: H56, N44

Suggested Citation

Harrison, Mark, Economic Warfare in Twentieth-Century History and Strategy (April 20, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Mark Harrison (Contact Author)

University of Warwick ( email )

Department of Economics
University of Warwick
Coventry, CV4 7AL
United Kingdom


University of Birmingham ( email )

Birmingham, B15 2TT
United Kingdom

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