Opinion | Redefine No Fly to mean All Military Aircraft

Opinion | Redefine No Fly to mean All Military Aircraft

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine has repeatedly requested a “No Fly Zone” over his country. U.S. Department of Defense and Biden Administration spokespeople say the imposition of a No Fly Zone would mean sending American or NATO planes and pilots to take out ground based anti-aircraft installations and do battle directly with Russian aircraft, which would be escalatory.

That's a narrow definition. Why not get creative?

Whatever the fate of Ukraine as it exists, it benefits nobody for this conflict to ultimately resolve with Russian and NATO troops facing each other along the Polish border (or anywhere else) with no buffer between. It's doubtful whether Russia could hold the Western Ukraine in the face of a prolonged counterinsurgency anyway, even were they to occupy it. If Russia has the capability to shoot down aircraft from ground positions within Russia or Belarus, NATO presumably has similar capabilities over at least part of Ukraine. Before we attempt to impose anything, let's try for an agreement.

A “No Fly Zone” could mean no military aircraft, or no aircraft at all. If both sides can bring down aircraft with ground-based anti-aircraft fire, then both sides have the capability to impose restrictions without the need to fly into the airspace themselves. While one would want corridors by which Ukrainian military aircraft and ground forces can safely retreat, for anyone to operate military aircraft from an airfield within the No Fly Zone is contrary to the concept. No Fly means no takeoff with armaments from within the zone.

The Biden Administration policy of wanting deconfliction, not escalation, makes sense. So does Zelenskyy's request, get those Russian planes out of our sky. Before we “impose” anything we should ask nicely, and we should limit ourselves, initially, to what we could and are willing to impose if necessary. As an additional incentive, we could offer to fulfill Zelenskyy's other request, provide Ukraine with fighter planes should Russia say no, making that conditional on whether Vladimir Putin's agrees to minimal, bottom-line deconfliction measures.

We have an ambassador to Russia: John Sullivan, a holdover from the Trump Administration.  If the possibility exists of reducing the level of violence by establishing some mutually agreeable bright lines, we should do that.