Once Again: Risking Direct Military Combat Between the U.S. and Russia Is Not Acceptable

A "limited no-fly zone" sounds a lot like a small "no-fly zone." Meaning it involves shooting down Russian planes.

Reports that a Russian airstrike hit a maternity hospital in the southern city of Mariupol have served to confirm, once and for all, that Vladimir Putin has embarked on a world-historical atrocity in Ukraine. There's massive concern he is turning to the same strategy he used in Idlib, Syria in 2019 and in Grozny, Chechnya when he first rose to power: flattening cities, including civilian areas, in a scorched-earth campaign that will likely feature a series of war crimes.

There is an understandable groundswell in the Western public for the United States and NATO to do more to limit the suffering of the Ukrainians, particularly the refugees fleeing through humanitarian corridors that Putin has agreed to respect but in all likelihood will not. The question when evaluating moves for the U.S. and NATO is always whether they will ultimately do more harm than good. We are already handing out a lot of weapons over there, and few have objected to that, even if it's gone sideways in other contexts. (Once you give away the guns, that's the last decision you'll make with respect to control of those guns.) There's a new row over the abandoned plan to get Ukraine some more warplanes, and above all, there are the intermittent calls for the Western alliance to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

As others have said already, advocates of this policy should be clear about what they mean: U.S. forces shooting down Russian warplanes. Declaring a no-fly zone is the same as declaring a no-troop zone in some area. The way to enforce the zone is to use military force against the troops or planes that enter the zone. The Biden administration and most people in Congress have dismissed the no-fly zone proposals out of hand, so we're hearing new variations. On MSNBC Wednesday night, longtime diplomat and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst advocated for "a limited no-fly zone" and explained the difference.

Russia is committing atrocities in Ukraine. That doesn’t mean it will help for the U.S. to get more directly involved.

"The idea that we're proposing is to establish not necessarily a no-fly zone, but an area where Russian planes will not be able to bomb civilians."

"When you said a limited or contained no-fly zone, what would that look like over the country?" asked host Ali Velshi. "Who determines to what it is limited?"

"We the U.S. government with our NATO allies would make a determination," Herbst said in part. "We would not, unlike a regular [no-]fly zone, initiate any action against Russian or any other forces. We would be there to make sure action is not taken against innocent civilians."

So, in summary: it's not a no-fly zone, it's just an area where U.S. and NATO forces will prevent Russian planes from bombing civilians. Who determines the area? The U.S. and NATO. How would it be enforced? Well, it wouldn't involve the U.S. "initiating any action" against Russian planes, but is that the same as saying the U.S. won't shoot down any Russian planes? Would we only shoot down Russian planes if they make the first move? Herbst went on to explain that the U.S. response has so far communicated "timidity" and "fear" that have emboldened Putin, who only understands force and the threat thereof. Would he be deterred by a "limited no-fly zone" where the U.S. has declared in advance they won't shoot down Russian planes? Or is Herbst really saying, without saying it, that we should put in place a smaller no-fly zone where we shoot down Russian planes?

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There is a chance that this would work—that Putin would fear direct conflict with the U.S. enough to steer clear of the not-no-fly-zones, a great win in what Herbst said has otherwise been "a very sad week in American statesmanship." Or maybe something could go even slightly wrong, the U.S. could shoot down a Russian plane or vice versa, and suddenly we'd be on the brink of war with another nuclear power. How many times has the United States intervened in other countries and their conflicts over the last two decades and seen things go to plan? Again, just handing out guns in Syria went sideways, and we're already doing that in Ukraine. We are all watching the Russian air assault on Ukraine with horror. (Well, those of us not suddenly obsessed with "biological research facilities.") But the desire to do the right thing and prevent suffering is not the only criterion when you're considering getting involved in the biggest land war in Europe since 1945. I, for one, am glad to see an instinct towards restraint from American leaders, a group that thankfully does not currently include The Windmill Guy.

From: Esquire US

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Jack Holmes
Senior Staff Writer
Jack Holmes is a Senior Staff Writer at Esquire, where he covers politics and sports. He also hosts Useful Context, a video series.
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