Biden: NO to no-fly zone
What do the American military think of Biden’s policy?
On Wednesday, former Democratic Presidential candidate and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, General Wesley Clark was interviewed by the New York Post about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and America’s response. When asked about a no-fly zone:
Q: You advocate a no-fly zone?
A: Absolutely. The airspace belongs to Ukraine. If they ask for help, why can’t we fly airplanes in there? Say, oh, it’s because of the Russians, they might come up and contest it. That’s the Russians’ problem. They’re going to get shot down. Okay, then what? Putin says he’s going to use a nuclear weapon. If we back away from that challenge, if we don’t confront it, this is like a two-pair poker bluff, for incredibly high stakes.
Q: Would Putin use a nuclear weapon?
A: If he was losing, I think he might. And if we think there’s a chance a guy would use a nuclear weapon against us, I guess we just need to give up on the concept of extended deterrence. Why would we want to defend Estonia if Putin might want to use a nuclear weapon? Is Estonia worth it? You say it’s NATO, but the cold, hard reality is Putin can move into Estonia and take control before we can make up our mind what to do..The United States has to recalibrate its understanding, leadership and processes to work in this new area or we will lose the rules-based international system, which we’re proud to have established after World War II and which we established by using the concept of extended deterrence.
A no-fly zone means the U.S. and/or NATO military would be required to shoot down any Russian plane flying in a designated protected airspace over Ukraine. President Biden has been firm that there will be no no-fly zone over Ukraine and Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed as much in a press conference on Thursday. This policy is in line with what the President said during the State of the Union and prior - no American boots on the ground. The White House is committed to coordinating with Allies to offer support to Ukrainian defense efforts that do not necessitate direct American military intervention. This policy is also consistent with how President Obama approached a no-fly zone during the Syrian civil war. Miltary.com wrote in regards to a no-fly zone, “The Obama administration rejected proposals for a no-fly zone in Syria over concerns it could take tens of thousands of troops to enforce and risk a confrontation with Russia, which has forces in Syria supporting the regime.”
A no-fly zone is a threat to Russia and would have to be upheld if America truly intends to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine. If the United States shoots down any Russian airplane over Ukraine, is Putin more or less likely to escalate violence in the region? Those advocating a no-fly zone such as General Wesley Clark believe authoritarian regimes respond to strength. If you back down now, the domino effect is surely to follow with Russia pushing into other nations and nations like China to follow suit in Taiwan and elsewhere if it so wishes. A key difference between Ukraine and Estonia of course is America’s alliance with Estonia via NATO dictates we would come to their military aid. Ukraine, on the other hand, is an American ally and providing U.S. military force would, in a manner of speaking, vindicate Putin at home because he told the Russian people in his televised address - the West is moving its military machine to our border regardless of international laws.
Heather Penney, a former F-16 pilot and senior resident fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, told Defense News “the debate over a no-fly zone is what happens when neither side in a conflict achieves air superiority in a conflict, or displays ‘credible combat airpower’ — though she said she fears Russia will do just that in the coming days.”
She goes on in that interview to draw an important distinction between Ukraine today and Iraq decades ago. At the time, the “Iraqi no-fly zone came after that nation’s air force, defenses and command and control were all but wiped out — a situation that doesn’t exist in Ukraine. A no-fly zone there would require a significant suppression of enemy air defense, or SEAD, effort to take out Russian defenses.” Beyond requiring extensive military preparation, the U.S. and/or NATO will have extreme difficulties in establishing air superiority over Russia, who according to her had chosen not to use aircraft at the start of the invasion but would dominate Ukrainian skies even if U.S. and/or NATO implemented a no-fly zone.
Some leaders would be tempted to brandish at least the threat of a no-fly zone to puff out their proverbial chest and seem tough. Yet this administration is leading the West to take a more pragmatic approach and to not further escalate tensions militarily in Ukraine beyond anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons and supplies. If Russia invades a NATO nation, the White House will likely change its tune and global security will be on the precipice again. For now, staying calm and resolved could save many, many lives..
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