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To Be Clear, a "No Fly Zone" over Ukraine Means War with Russia
It's not "a limitation," it's an act of war.
Recent polling has shown the majority of Americans — as high as 74% — support the United States and//or NATO imposing a “No-Fly Zone” over Ukraine. The cavalier terminology (and the irresponsible nature of the media’s reporting) is leading Americans to think a No-Fly Zone is a low-cost, high-reward action NATO can take to stop Russia from bombing civilians. Unfortunately, the reality of imposing aerial restrictions is much more significant, as it would essentially bring the U.S. and other NATO countries into the war against a nuclear Russia.
In practice, imposing a No-Fly Zone means shooting down any airborne craft over the territorial boundaries of Ukraine. To accomplish this, U.S. warplanes, anti-aircraft guns, and surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), as well as the pilots and troops to use them, must be placed either in Ukraine or in neighboring countries (though American pilots will have to fly into Ukraine to combat Russian aircraft). To be blunt: restricting Ukrainian airspace means entering the war, which both Biden and NATO have ruled out.
This gets even riskier considering the disputed Crimean Peninsula, which Russia “annexed” in 2014. Ukraine, and the majority of the world, condemned the annexation as illegal and still consider Crimea a part of Ukraine. Imposing a No-Fly Zone “over” Ukraine would surely lead to American F-16s engaged in aerial combat over the peninsula, which Putin would claim is an invasion of Russian airspace. I shudder to think how he’d respond, as nuclear-armed dictators seldom “take the high road.”
I don’t blame the 74% of Americans who said they supported a No-Fly Zone. To a naive ear, the term invokes something more akin to “grounding flights out of Laguardia” than an act of war against a nuclear country. Coupled with the heartbreaking images coming out of Ukraine, it’s perfectly natural to want to aid the Ukrainian struggle against a belligerent foreign invader. (If you’d like to help, I suggest donating to Doctors Without Borders.)
But like I wrote before, American intervention — whether that be arming unaccountable fascist militias or shooting down Russian planes — has a precedent of worsening the situation and further immiserating the very people we aim to aid.
Who I do blame is the media, which has casually tossed around the term “No-Fly Zone” and trumpeted “support” for it without really explaining what such a move would entail.
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