NATO Says 'Nyet' to President Zelensky's Plea for a NATO No-Fly Zone

NATO Says 'Nyet' to President Zelensky's Plea for a NATO No-Fly Zone
(AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, File)

On Friday, a meeting of NATO foreign ministers declined to establish the no-fly zone over Ukraine requested by Urkaine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky. This should come as a surprise to no one who is paying attention. The idea of a NATO enforce no-fly zone over Ukraine is one of the worst ideas possible. I’ve mentioned why the idea is bad briefly in Adam Kinzinger Takes Time out From Pimping for a War With Russia to Punk Himself With an Internet Meme, and in more detail in Transfer of NATO Aircraft to Ukraine Falls Through as Zelensky Resumes His Campaign for a No-Fly Zone.

“Allies agree we should not have NATO planes operating over Ukrainian airspace or NATO troops operating in Ukrainian territory,” Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general, said at a news conference after a meeting of foreign ministers.

Ukrainian officials have called for a no-fly zone over Ukraine’s airspace, but NATO is resisting for fear that it could draw member states into a war with Russia.

“We understand the desperation, but if we did that, we would end up with something that could lead to a full-fledged war in Europe involving much more countries and much more suffering,” Mr. Stoltenberg said. “We will provide support, but we will not be part of the conflict.”

The Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, pleaded for help from the foreign ministers of the 30 nations of the alliance, plus those of Sweden and Finland.

“Our country is ready to fight. We continue to battle the Russian invasion, but we need immediate help in repelling Russian attacks in the air,” he told the meeting, according to the online news site Ukrayinska Pravda. “If you do not do this, you will have to share the responsibility for the lives and suffering of the civilian population of Ukraine who are being killed by rocket attacks from Russian planes.”

I understand why President Zelensky wants a no-fly zone. Ukraine is in desperate straits, and if he could neutralize Russian aircraft flying over Ukraine while using the real-time intelligence the US is providing his army, things would be a lot more interesting for the Russians.

(Relatedly, I haven’t had a chance to explore the information in the tweet below yet.)

For those joining late, this is why a no-fly zone over Ukraine is not a winning idea.

A no-fly zone is enforced by your fighters, denying access to a defined piece of airspace to most or all aircraft.

The enforcement is by directing unauthorized aircraft to exit or shoot them down if they don’t.

The easiest way of countering a no-fly zone is with surface-to-air missiles. This means your fighters have to stay alert for missile threats while patrolling.

Surface-to-air missiles present a problem for the force imposing the no-fly zone. You can leave them alone knowing that eventually, they will shoot down one of your aircraft? Do you attack them?

The top-of-the-line Russian surface-to-air missile system has a theoretical range of over 200 miles. This means missile batteries located inside Russia can cover most of Ukraine’s airspace. So if one of them becomes hostile, do you attack it, even though it is in Russia, or leave it alone?

Of course, once you down the first Russian aircraft or destroy the first Russian SAM battery, you then have a direct NATO-vs-Russia punch-up that may not be contained to Ukraine. Will Russian ships in the Black Sea shoot at NATO ships? Will Russian SAMs target NATO reconnaissance aircraft on station?

So while the no-fly zone is useful to President Zelensky, there is scant evidence that it is useful to NATO. That’s fine because President Zelensky is supposed to advocate for his country’s interests, and if he can get NATO involved, he has done what he should.

The best that NATO can do is what is being done. This week about 1,000 Stinger Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) have arrived in Ukraine. One of the flights was accompanied by a rotund fellow fairly effervescing with ‘white rage.’

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