The no-fly zone has been in the news in recent days in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Here’s everything you need to know about this concept, what it is, how it benefits the country and why NATO is not in favour of it.
What is a no-fly zone?
A no-fly zone is a concept that means cordoning off a geographic location in which aircrafts cannot fly. This is particularly employed when tensions escalate and the military might use warplanes to attack civilians on the ground. By establishing an air exclusion zone, civilians are safe as there is no threat from enemy warplanes.
What is NATO?
In the case of the Russia Ukraine conflict, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been appealing to NATO for the no-fly zone, which essentially means that NATO aircrafts would patrol the skies and watch out for enemy planes, even firing at them if the need arises.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created in 1949 at the time of the start of the Cold War. This group of 30 North American and European nations works with the purpose that "is to guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means."
Originally created with the aim of protecting the West from the threat of the Soviet Union, the alliance has now expanded with many Soviet nations themselves joining in. Being a member nation of NATO means partaking in strategic discussions pertaining to threats to the member countries and how they can be protected not simply by military operations on the ground but also cyber warfare, etc.
The principle on which the alliance works is that "an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies." Ukraine has been proposing becoming a member of the alliance.
While the no-fly zone has become a frequently heard term in the recent few months, this isn’t the first time it is being evoked. We run through the history of the air exclusion zone and the conditions that made it necessary.
What is the history of the no-fly zone?
In the Gulf War of 1991, no-fly zones were invoked in Iraq by the United States and Coalition nations in order to prevent Saddam Hussein from targeting the Kurdish and Shia Muslim communities.
In the 1992 Balkans conflict, a resolution was passed by the United Nations that banned unauthorised military flights in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In the 2011 military intervention that took place in Libya, the United Nations Security Council approved a no-fly zone to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country.
Why can’t the same be done for Russia?
When air exclusion zones were imposed in the past, there were no nuclear states involved. However, the same cannot be said for this conflict as Russia has its own nuclear weapons.
Thus imposing a no-fly zone this time would mean that NATO jets would be engaging in direct combat with the Russian military and airplanes. NATO’s decision to not impose the no-fly zone has raised questions about whether the alliance values the lives of Ukrainians.
Mark Cancian, senior adviser to the Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies said to NBC News that “There’s tremendous reluctance on the part of the Pentagon and the political establishment. The president and NATO have been very emphatic, and the reason is that it’s a combat mission. We'd be flying dozens of aircraft, maybe hundreds of aircraft, over Ukraine and shooting at the Russians, and they’d be shooting at us.”
This was further given background by Michael O’Hanlon, the director of foreign policy research at the Brookings Institution, as he said that this would directly translate to war. “One would need to incapacitate the adversary’s air defence network, meaning not just planes but radars and communications sites — all the people manning them — and unless you can do it all by jamming, that requires bombs that will, in turn, kill people.”
A no-fly zone: the precursor to war?
According to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, while imposing a no-fly zone would be in the best interests of Ukraine, it would be synonymous with declaring a full-fledged war in Europe.
In response to NATO’s decision, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a televised address that "Today, there was a NATO summit, a weak summit, a confused summit, a summit where it was clear that not everyone considers the battle for Europe's freedom to be the number one goal.”