No-fly will not fly
Thanks to the folks at NPR for keeping us awake on a recent long drive. NPR does some things very well: like interviewing reporters, for the best example. Over the weekend, host Adrian Florido interviewed Congressman Jim Himes from Connecticut, and some of the thoughts that came up during the show were better than caffeine at keeping us alert and fired up. And a little scared.
Apparently, the Ukrainian president held a conference call with over 280 US lawmakers late last week. (Two hundred and eighty!) Predictably, President Volodymyr Zelensky requested military aid to fight the Russian invasion. He asked for help to secure his sky. And he asked for a no-fly zone over his country, provided by NATO.
Now no-fly zones have been in place before, notably over Iraq after the first Gulf War as Saddam Hussein tried to use his second wind (given to him when he had not been sent back after his disaster in Kuwait) to kill Kurds. No-fly zones help level the battlefield so that a smaller force can defend against a larger, likely government force. Without helicopters and planes raining down death from above, it is easier for guerrilla action to gain ground.
But, and this evidence must be recalled later, the no-fly zones must be reinforced. The Americans have shot down Iraqi helicopters time and time again. Today the President of Ukraine asks NATO to shoot down Russian planes.
It means war. Between NATO and Russia.
Congressman Himes said President Zelenskyy knew that request was probably a step too far. He therefore requested, on a subsidiary basis, planes so that his country could defend its own skies.
NPR: “Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska said he interpreted the Ukrainian president’s message as, in quotes, ‘shut down the skies or give us planes.’ Was that your takeaway, too?”
Congressman Himes: “That’s exactly how he phrased it. And, you know, obviously, he would like a no-fly zone, but he also recognizes what I’m hoping for – as it becomes more and more a topic of conversation in Washington, recognizing us, that is, a no-fly zone is the US military or NATO going to war with Russia, so he recognized in the way he made the request it was a very, very big step, but he was very clear about his need for planes and for the world to stop buying Russian energy.”
NPR: “Are you in favor of establishing a no-fly zone? And is there a way to establish one that doesn’t amount to NATO forces basically fighting troops Russians?”
Himes: “There isn’t. And whether one ultimately becomes necessary or not will very much depend on how bad the situation is. And that’s just kind of a cynical calculation. But what some people don’t understand, because they think of the no-fly zones in Iraq in particular, we don’t establish a no-fly zone without eliminating all threats to the pilots who would enforce it. people have to remember that the first thing we would do to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine would be to send the US military to attack military units inside Russia – anti-aircraft batteries there, anti-aircraft artillery. US Air Force planes would kill thousands of Russian servicemen inside Russia.”
And now what? Russia would not accept it, as Saddam Hussein had to.
Congressman Himes also mentioned our own reaction to such a no-fly zone, and by “our” we mean “NATO”. So far, NATO has been remarkably united in the face of this Russian aggression. And a united NATO is a rare thing. But France, Germany, the United Kingdom and all the countries of the alliance seem on board: Help the Ukrainians with weapons and sanctions against the government of Vladimir Putin. But ask them all to put the world in danger for a no-fly zone? Nations would begin to break away from this united front almost immediately.
The best way to help the Ukrainians does not seem to be to start another world war, this time between nuclear powers. It seems to be, and Jim Himes mentioned it, to help the Ukrainians by draining the Russian economy with these severe sanctions that the West has already imposed on Russia. And to squeeze those billionaires around Putin who support his regime. And, yes, to continue to send weapons to the forces in Kiev.
The West is doing all it can. Emphasis on “may”. Because a no-fly zone will not fly. Not without risking a global catastrophe.