You either have a no-fly zone, or you don't

Twenty-seven former ambassadors, Department of Defense officials, and other foreign-policy thinkers are calling upon President Biden and America’s NATO allies to enforce “a limited No-Fly Zone over Ukraine.” (I guess we could call it, a “some-fly zone.”)

At first glance, the proposal looks spectacularly unworkable, or at least extremely likely to lead to NATO forces and Russian forces firing at each other. The proposal would “start with protection for humanitarian corridors.” Of course, this presupposes that the Ukrainians, NATO, and Russia all agree about the boundaries of those humanitarian corridors. Human-rights groups accused Russia of firing upon civilians in humanitarian corridors in Syria, and they are accused of the same war crime in Crimea. It is far from clear whether Russia intends to keep its promises when it comes to ceasefires and humanitarian corridors, or whether every Russian troop gets timely orders to not fire into particular areas.

The “some-fly zone” also calls for NATO forces “to avert and deter Russian bombardment that would result in massive loss of Ukrainian lives.” This means shooting down Russian planes and likely targeting Russian artillery and long-range rockets.

The proposal also calls for NATO to provide “A-10 and MIG-29 aircraft to help Ukrainians defend themselves.” First, it is not clear that Ukrainian pilots trained on Soviet-made MiG-29s and three types of Sukhoi jets will be able to effectively fly A-10s. Or, those pilots may well be able to fly them, but not necessarily well enough to want to go on combat missions over contested airspace in them. Second, Poland, Slovakia, and Bulgaria are the only NATO members with MiG-29s, and they have indicated they don’t want to lend them (and likely lose them, eventually) without the U.S. providing replacements. Third, there’s the question of how Poland, Slovakia, and Bulgaria would get those jets to Ukraine. The moment they enter Ukrainian airspace, Russia would see them as legitimate targets.

During World War II, because of the U.S. Neutrality Act, planes going to Canada from the U.S.A. to help with the war effort could not be flown across the border. This prompted the planes to be flown to the Houlton Air Base on the Maine-Canadian border and then pulled across the border.

We can have a no-fly zone, or we can avoid having NATO forces and Russian forces shooting at each other. But we cannot have both. A “limited no-fly zone” is like being a little bit pregnant; either you are, or you aren’t.

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