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A No-Fly Zone in Ukraine: A Really Dumb Idea is Back

No-Fly Zone F-35
F-35 JSF. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Would a No-Fly Zone Drag NATO in Ukraine Conflict?: Just days after a “likely” Ukrainian attack on the Russian-built Kerch Strait Bridge that links Russia with the occupied Crimean peninsula, the Kremlin targeted multiple Ukrainian cities with cruise and ballistic missiles.

(Note: Watch Harry Kazianis, Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, discuss the Ukraine War on Fox Business.) 

In addition to strikes on energy infrastructure, Russia hit multiple civilian targets and even zeroed in on the three-year-old pedestrian Glass Bridge in a Kyiv park – perhaps to make a statement.

The reprisals struck the capital city of Kyiv for the first time in months, and during rush hour, in what Ukraine’s National Police have described as the largest missile assault on the country in its history.

The No-Fly Zone Idea Is Back

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged NATO to enact a no-fly zone over Ukraine – something that is unlikely to be instituted as it could literally require U.S./NATO aircraft to engage Russia militarily. However, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander James Stavridis suggested the recent attacks could actually force the west to impose a no-fly zone over the country.

The retired four-star U.S. Navy admiral also called for Washington to send Ukraine more advanced aircraft to counter Russia. On social media, Stavridis (@stavridisj) posted, “As Putin’s options narrow, he’ll turn to what has worked for him in the past. That includes simply destroying the country as he did in Syria. Time to get high-performance jets in the hands of Ukrainians so they can close their skies.”

Stavridis added, “Putin will try to turn Ukrainian cities into destroyed wastelands. He will try to create Aleppo on the Dnieper river. Ukraine needs the best air defenses we can provide, including military aircraft,” and the former NATO chief stated, “If Putin continues this terror campaign of strikes, NATO may have to consider a no-fly zone. That would be a significant and dangerous escalation. We should communicate that risk to Putin.”

No-Fly Zone a No Go

Though the idea of imposing a no-fly zone was discussed by western officials in the early stages of the conflict, it is largely seen as a non-starter.

Though it would seem that such no-fly zones have been commonly used in the past, such isn’t actually the case. In fact, no-fly zones have only been utilized three times in history – including in parts, but not all of Iraq following the 1991 Gulf War, in Bosnia in 1992, and in Libya in 2011. It is important to note that in all of those situations, the U.S. and NATO used their superior air power to stymie authoritarian rulers of less powerful countries from brutally suppressing rebellions and terrorizing civilian populations.

The first such instance was used to stop Iraq’s Saddam Hussein from pursuing a well-developed campaign of murder and brutalization. Hussein had been utterly crushed in the Gulf War and was in no shape to contest the skies in the first place. Yet, in the case of Iraq – it was shown how a no-fly zone could be sustained at little cost and for long periods. It actually lasted nearly a dozen years – morphing into Operation Northern Watch and Operation Southern Watch. It enabled the west to contain Hussein, maintain surveillance, and provide a means to punish Iraq when it was deemed necessary!

Even while it was effective in Iraq, in 2015 the decision was made not to institute one in Syria! The rationale was that U.S. warplanes could be targeted by Syrian air defenses, and even be confronted by Russian aircraft.

Successful or Not?

The effectiveness of no-fly zones is another issue. It did largely work against Iraq, and Operation Deny Flight over Bosnia – from April 12, 1993, to Dec 20, 1995 – effectively prevented the warring parties from using Bosnian air space and made a key contribution to the peace process. 

Yet, in 1995, U.S. Air Force Capt. Scott O’Grady’s F-16 was hit by a surface-to-air missile over Bosnia. Grady was forced to eject and parachute into Serbian-held territory. He successfully used his survival training, but still spent six harrowing days evading Bosnian Serb pursuers.

Enforcing the Libyan no-fly zone over an extended period also presented a major challenge for NATO, since Libya covers 680,000 square miles (1,761,191 square kilometers). In addition, even where its anti-aircraft defenses were largely destroyed, NATO aircraft still faced a threat from shoulder-fired missiles. Ukraine would be significantly larger to patrol, while NATO pilots would be vulnerable to attack not just from Russian ground forces and aircraft within Ukraine, as well as from  S-400 “Triumf” surface-to-air missiles launched from inside Russia.

Finally, a no-fly zone doesn’t end a war. Saddam Hussein still carried out atrocities on the ground, and the fighting continued in Libya. In addition, the Bosnian no-fly zone failed to keep the pro-Serb forces from laying siege to Srebrenica and massacring 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys there in 1995.

A no-fly zone certainly wouldn’t stop the fighting in Ukraine. 

No-Fly Zone Ukraine

F-35 Stealth Fighter. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Russia

Russian Air Force Tu-22M3M. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

F-35

US Air Force F-35 Stealth Fighter.

It could simply draw NATO into the war. A cynic would tell you that’s perhaps what Ukraine’s leaders actually want – to draw NATO into a conflict with Russia. And as President Joe Biden painfully explained last week, such an event would just move us deadly close to nuclear Armageddon.

A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Tamerlane

    October 12, 2022 at 6:47 pm

    If you want WWIII, a no-fly zone (a declaration of open war against Russia) is a great way to get us there more speedily. If the goal is to help end the war, this is one of the worst possible ideas.

  2. David

    October 12, 2022 at 6:58 pm

    I respectfully disagree with your analysis. Putin has shown no signs of being a rational decision-maker–something attacking a foot bridge in Kyiv (a target with zero tactical, operational or strategic value) should pretty much demonstrate all by itself. And Putin apparently has the will and more than enough nuclear weapons to start Armageddon on any pretext he wants–even if the West never sent a single nuke his way. The West has proven it can not predict his next move confidently. So the best course of action is to make it impossible for him to physically achieve his aims through force. The Scott O’Grady fiasco aside, a no fly zone would definitely help accomplish that.

  3. Sunset for Russia

    October 12, 2022 at 7:19 pm

    Tamerlane,

    You overestimate the ability of a failing Russian army and the realization that the war is lost. They are getting their asses kicked by Ukraine. What do you suppose NATO would do to Vlad’s ego?

    How long before Vlad checks the hardness of concrete? Will Vlad wet himself when the long-range missiles arrive?

  4. Friend

    October 12, 2022 at 8:36 pm

    The most retarded piece of Russian propaganda ever written.

  5. Arash P

    October 12, 2022 at 10:57 pm

    Just wanted to remind all that both world wars started in this cursed land of Eastern Europe!

  6. BakedFritos

    October 13, 2022 at 1:00 am

    I don’t understand why all these cowards are non stop clamoring for weapons, vehicles, and aircraft but are too scared to do it themselves or throw their hands up and go:

    “OHH NO THAT WOULD BE WORLD WAR 3!!!”

    Yeah and you’re fire and dandy as long as you are ignorantly confident that anything that doesn’t involve United States pilots blowing Russia to pieces directly means you’re A-Ok to keep idiotically clamoring for weapons and aircraft to Ukraine

    Talking real big but back down when the suggestion of going to war with Russia directly comes up

    Why escalate a war with advanced weapons systems used to kill Russian Soldiers if its something you’re too scared to do yourself unless you’re just admitting you’re a coward

    Or if you won’t admit you’re a coward then on the other end, admit you don’t care about Ukraine and you’re using it as a proxy to gain capital benefit and military dominance weakening Russia while not caring how many Ukrainians die when you could help them but want to gamble on hiding behind the polish border like a coward and spending your citizens tax money flooding weapons in a prolonged conflict instead of getting involved if it means that much to you?

    Geez I’ve never heard so much warriors who specialize in recommending orders of weapons deliveries in my life

    “We gotta get Ukraine some of this, We gotta get Ukraine some ABC123 to close their sky, We need to make sure we step up the pace and rapidly deliver Ukraine some XYZ” how cringe and cowardly can you be?

    Either recognize this war isn’t your war to fight or stop being cowards and go to war with Russia and intervene directly.

    I don’t get it? According to the United States and all other NATO Armies, the general consensus is that Russia is just such some huge joke of a army that NATO would absolutely destroy in a week or two max and just demolish them, so if that’s really the case why not do it then? Let me guess? “Nukes” ?

    But isn’t the new narrative that if nukes are used then NATO will enter the war with full conventional force and even possibly nuclear retaliation against Russia even though the entire reason NATO claimed they didn’t intervene to defeat RuSsIaS joke of a army to begin with was because:

    “We would normally join the war and crush Putin in days but he has nukes and he would use them on us if we join the war”

    Yet now the narrative is completely flipped and you’re willing to take the risk of intervening for the ONE thing you said you weren’t willing to intervene for???

    This is getting pathetic. It’s like a young scared child hugging onto the legs of their mother hiding behind them when they get scared, except it’s the polish border and the mother is Ukraine

    It’s so cringe.

    Every Time the slightest mention of directly joining the war comes up Jens Stoltenberg pops out of nowhere:

    “Woahhwoahhhwoahhhh THiS iSnT oUr wAr! This is between Ukraine and Russia only and it’s our responsibility to not escalate it beyond that!”

    *Also that same coward*

    “We must step up major support and air defenses for Ukraine now! More more more! More weapons! Flood em with more artillery more armor more more! This isn’t our war tho! Ukraine needs Leopard 2’s, NASAMS, MiG’s, get them more! MORE MORE MORE MORE!!!”

    “DID YOU JUST SUGGEST A NO FLY ZONE!? Why would you do that!? Haven’t I made it obvious that this isn’t our war!?!”

    *Zelensky applies for NATO membership*

    “Now isn’t the time to consider Ukraines bid for NATO membership, it’s important we get Ukraine back on the battlefield and get her some more weapons systems, tanks, and air defenses ironically all coming from the massive support of exclusively NATO nations that are treating it the same as when Article 5 was invoked on Afghanistan, the vast majority just sent weapons as their contribution”

    (which that in its self is technically doing article 5 already, Article 5 doesn’t require you to send troops)

  7. Friend

    October 13, 2022 at 8:02 am

    Well the Russian transponders are off.
    That means that Finnish and American transponders are off too.
    Now you’re gonna get fucked you up orthodox gipsy

  8. Friend

    October 13, 2022 at 8:11 am

    why you even publishing an orthodox Cigane.
    Ceaucescu was an orthodox gipsy. There’s even more Cigane in Romania than Turks, which is hard to beat. Cigane don’t have a home much less a country.They are always Russia property

  9. Jim

    October 13, 2022 at 10:59 am

    The present author stated:

    “A cynic would tell you that’s perhaps what Ukraine’s leaders actually want – to draw NATO into a conflict with Russia.”

    It doesn’t take a cynic… Zelensky is constantly attempting to draw NATO into the war, one way or another.

    David stated above, “So the best course of action is to make it impossible for him to physically achieve his aims through force.”

    David is a stupid warmonger who wants general European war, NATO vs. Russia, mano a mano… You warmongers go bonkers when you are cornered… I thought it was Russia that was cornered?

    Your policy has failed… and the American People are going to corner you… you don’t want to see it.

    You’re finally going to be held squarely held accountable for your reckless and warmongering policy.

    You U. S. foreign policy blob toadies… you should be ashamed of yourselves.

    So many stupid toadies, warmongers… without a rational brain.

    We need a Peace Conference.

    Talk of a no fly zone is an exercise in mental masturbation hoping for a wet dream in the middle of the night.

    Go ahead, come out for a no fly zone… identify yourself, so the American People can politically brand you and send you off to the beach to relax and get out of politics… where you belong for the safety of America.

    You have revealed yourselves… you have sowed the wind, now you reap the whirlwind.

  10. pagar

    October 13, 2022 at 11:22 am

    A NFZ is just the right kick in the nuts to get Putin to finally or at last punch his number id into the Russian nuclear control keypad.

    Now, over to Biden,Austin and stoltenberg for delivering the very much needed kick.

    Zelenskiyy, his days are surely numbered. One kick, or one NFZ, and his time is over.

  11. Dr. Scooter Van Neuter

    October 13, 2022 at 12:35 pm

    Who are these clueless idiots clamoring for an all-out war between Russia and NATO? Are these people really so stupid as to not understand that NATO conventional assets – ground, air, and sea – would overwhelm Russia, FORCING them to play their nuclear card?
    To think that Russia will allow itself to get mauled without using everything at its disposal to survive militarily is beyond delusional. Let’s see how hawkish you are when it’s your family starving after a nuclear or EMT exchange. Fools.

  12. YS

    October 13, 2022 at 1:21 pm

    What NFZ? Are you suggesting NATO jet fighters patrolling whole country? That wasn’t possible even in Afghanistan – any boy with Stinger (circa 1967) can stop that. That’s a crazy idea born in a desperate drug addict’s mind.

  13. Jim

    October 13, 2022 at 1:38 pm

    Van Neuter,

    You are making an assumption, which in my opinion is a mistake.

    You assume the full weight of NATO would crush Russia.

    But don’t be too sure of that, NATO, theoretically, is a defensive military alliance (yes, I know in recent years, it has been more than that). Going into Ukraine in full force would result in interdiction efforts by Russia that frankly we have not seen to date.

    And military attack on staging areas in NATO countries, proper.

    The big secret nobody wants to talk about is that the NATO military is a shadow of what it was in the 1980’s before the fall of the Soviet Union.

    Nobody knows how effective it would be now against Russia.

    I don’t want to find out NATO is a paper tiger.

    Also, it is the United States black ops (CIA) that I worry will unleash a tactical nuke as a false flag. The U. S. foreign policy blob simply can’t handle the thought of public failure (and, perhaps, more important, public ridicule) of their Ukraine Project; after Iraq and Afghanistan, and to some extent Syria, they can’t be publicly called out for failure, again.

    That is one reason among many that I worry Odessa is a bridge too far for Russia (with the prospect of complete victory on the horizon) because the Collective West is likely to have a complete utter meltdown… and like a cornered animal would be tempted to do anything to survive in the court of public opinion in the United States.

    The blob knows they are losing by their own metrics.

    That is why I support a Peace Conference.

    A bloody stump for Russia (or would it turnout as a bloody stump for the Collective West) is not in Europe’s or America’s best interest.

    This conflict… Ukraine is not a vital national security interest of the American People.

    It was a scheme of the U. S. foreign policy blob going back many years starting in the ’90s, first put into print in The Grand Chessboard, by Brzezinski, in 1997.

    They never told the American People about their scheme, as they don’t respect the sovereignty of the American People, and think foreign policy is the province of the elite, as in old British imperialism where the King controlled foreign policy with the advice of a ‘privy council.’

    The Eastern establishment and particularly Atlanticists feel this way because they take Britain’s old imperialism as their model (Parliament controlled domestic policy, the Crown controlled foreign policy — why… because the Crown was sovereign, the people where subjects).

  14. TheWoodsman

    October 13, 2022 at 2:19 pm

    Give the Ukrainians what the need to create their own no-fly zone. They have capable pilots and maintainers. They just need the fighters and AA defenses to pull it off themselves. If retired US/NATO pilots and maintainers want to jump in and assist, let ’em (like they did during the Battle of Britain).

  15. Scottfs

    October 13, 2022 at 3:58 pm

    Ukraine should be supplied with modern fighters and bombers. That’s what Russia did in Vietnam. Everyone forgets how many Americans died at the hands of Russian missiles, Russian fighters, Rissiam weapons, and, yes, Russian troops.

    NATO must not get directly involved, are you kidding? unless Putin crosses the red line of using nuclear weapons.

    Of course we all remember what happened when Obama drew a red line in the sand in Syria re: chemical weapons. Nothing.

  16. Andrew P

    October 13, 2022 at 6:37 pm

    Russia is going to use its nuclear weapons soon, because it has no other choice besides complete retreat. Putting NATO right in the middle of it is a bad idea. But Putin can’t make effective use of his micro-nuke artillery without a sufficient force of cannon fodder to move in and occupy the territory. So, the massive nuclear barrage isn’t likely to happen for months, unless the Russian Army is being mauled so badly that they are forced to retreat from Kherson. In that case, the nukes will come out a lot sooner, just to salvage their position.

  17. Tamerlane

    October 13, 2022 at 11:48 pm

    You Ukrainian trolls must be trembling with the polling out today in the United States that shows a plurality—and almost a majority, opposing further expenditure of treasure and weaponry in Ukraine in Biden’s crusade for WWIII. You warmongering neoconservatives never learn…

  18. Bertram

    October 14, 2022 at 3:18 pm

    There is no need to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
    Give them all the missiles they need, more than they need, and the airspace over all of Ukraine (including occupied Crimea) becomes a defacto no-fly zone for Russian aircraft.
    When Russian aircraft stop returning, they will stop sending them.

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