What is a "no-fly zone" and why has NATO rejected requests for one in Ukraine?

The U.S. and NATO allies repeatedly stated that a no fly zone over Ukraine could lead to a conflict with Russia. One expert stated that it is a combat mission.

What is a "no-fly zone" and why has NATO rejected requests for one in Ukraine?

WASHINGTON -- The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zeleskyy called for NATO to establish a no fly zone above Ukraine in order to reduce attacks by Russian warplanes - a request that the West strongly rejects, even as the destruction and death mounts.

NATO's 30 member nations have ruled out the idea, stating that imposing a no fly zone over Ukraine's key areas could lead to the alliance being drawn into Russia’s war against its neighbor. Experts said they are unlikely to compromise on the issue because a no fly zone would require NATO to assume control of the current air war against Russian attacks in Ukraine.

On Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken reaffirmed NATO's position. He stated on NBC News' Meet the Press that President Joe Biden had been "very clear about one fact all along, which is that we're not going put the United States into direct conflict with Russia."

What is a "no-fly zone" and how would it be enforced?

While no-fly zones do not prevent a country using warplanes against military targets or civilians on ground, declaring airspace out of bounds is not sufficient.

NATO will be responsible for the security of civilians in the area once it is declared.

In an interview, Mark Cancian, senior advisor to the Washington-based thinktank Center for Strategic and International Studies said that there was "a tremendous reluctance on the part of both the Pentagon and the political elite." NATO and President Trump have been extremely clear about the fact that this is a combat mission.

Cancian stated that "we'd fly dozens, maybe hundreds, of aircraft over Ukraine, and shoot at the Russians and they'd fire at us."

"It would be war!" Michael O'Hanlon (director of foreign policy research at left-leaning think-tank the Brookings Institution) stated in an email statement that NATO could use force to make sure its planes are safe. This would allow them to patrol and enforce.

O'Hanlon stated that one would have to inflictuate the enemy's air defense network. This includes not only planes, but also radars and communications sites. It will also require bombs that will kill people, unless you can jam all of them.

The NATO alliance does not include Ukraine. However, NATO member countries have sent weapons to Kyiv and imposed harsh economic sanctions on Russia. But they have refused to engage in any actions that could lead them into conflict with Russia.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated last week that although the Russian invasion was "horrific," NATO had to protect its member countries.

To establish a no fly zone, NATO planes must be sent to Ukraine, where they can then take down Russian aircraft. "And our assessment is that, we understand the desperation," Stoltenberg stated during a news conference. We also believe that we could end up with a full-fledged European war, which would involve many more countries and cause much more suffering.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, warned over the weekend that any attempt to establish a no fly zone above Ukraine will be considered "participation in the conflict."

Putin stated, "That very moment, we will regard them as participants in the military conflict and it would not matter who they are,"

For and against

Although most Americans are against a no fly zone, some lawmakers have stated that they would be open to it.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) tweeted late last month, "The fate #Ukraine tonight is being decided, but also that of the west. Declare a #NoFlyZone against Ukraine at their invitation.

Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) stated on Sunday's "Meet the Press” that he would not take a no-fly area off the table.

Zelenskyy made an emotional speech last week in which he criticized NATO's rejection of his pleas for no-fly zones. He claimed that the decision gave Russia permission to continue bombing Ukraine.

Ilan Berman, senior vice president of the conservative-leaning, Washington-based think tank the American Foreign Policy Council, said as long as Russia continues to impede the ability of civilians to safely flee conflict zones, calls for a no-fly zone are unlikely to cease.

Berman stated that "You can do it if you're kind of piercing sovereignty to protect innocence." "So, the dynamic I see here is that the Russians will continue to violate cease-fires and don't allow humanitarian corridors - all of which strengthens the case for a no fly zone."

Jim Townsend is a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security's transatlantic Security Program. He said that Zelenskyy is "desperate for any thing that he can get his hand on, and we're desperate for it to him."

Townsend stated, "But a No-Fly Zone -- It would be an Air Campaign, and as soon we started that campaign, we'd have at war with Russia and I'm certain that would escalate to places that we don't want it be."

In what year has a no fly zone been established?

To protect civilians in Iraq after the Gulf War, in Bosnia and Herzegovina during Balkans conflict, and in Libya during NATO-led intervention in 2011's civil war, no-fly zones were established.

Operation Provide Comfort was launched by the United States, United Kingdom, and France in 1991. It established and enforced a no fly zone over northern Iraq to protect the Kurds against Saddam Hussein’s air force. A second no-fly zone, was established later to protect the south Shiite Muslims.

The no-fly zones remained in effect until the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

From April 1993 to December 1995, NATO established a no fly zone in Bosnia.

In 2011, the United Nations Security Council approved a no fly zone over Libya, which was enforced by NATO in order to "protect civilians under attack in that country."


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