Republicans Supporting a No-Fly Zone Are Putting Us at Risk of Nuclear War

As Vladimir Putin’s wretched war against Ukraine grinds on with no definitive end in sight, Republicans have found a way to once again be disruptive and destructive at the worst possible juncture. After voting against $13.6 billion in assistance for Ukraine last week, dozens of GOP senators have demanded the U.S. send more weapons.

“‘We should send more lethal aid to Ukraine which I voted against last week’ is making my brain melt,” tweeted Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz.

Among the more belligerent Republicans — and more than a few Democrats who should damn well know better by now — the idea of establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine has become a rallying cry.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy set the stage for this with an impassioned plea for such help to Congress on Wednesday.

As Noam Chomsky explained in Truthout last week, a no-fly zone is not simply a rule or guideline: “A no-fly zone means that the U.S. Air Force would not only be attacking Russian planes but would also be bombing Russian ground installations that provide anti-aircraft support for Russian forces, with whatever ‘collateral damage’ ensues. Is it really difficult to comprehend what follows?”

Noah Y. Kim of Mother Jones breaks it down:

A no-fly zone is essentially a commitment to ensure that no enemy aircraft can enter a designated area. In order to make good on this pledge, the U.S. and NATO would have to patrol the skies above Ukraine with thousands of flights and shoot down any Russian planes that violated the banned airspace. Given that Putin has already ignored America’s warnings not to invade Ukraine and not to target Ukrainian civilians, it’s exceptionally unlikely that he would suddenly heed threats to stop sending planes into Ukraine. And destroying Russian aircraft would trigger all-out war between Russia and the West.

Plus, a no-fly zone could end up provoking a war even before American planes entered Ukrainian airspace. According to the Atlantic Council’s Damir Marusic, America would most likely build up to a no-fly zone by destroying the Russian military’s substantial anti-aircraft batteries in Belarus and Russia so that American pilots could fly without the constant threat of being shot down. Violating Russia’s sovereignty and bombing Russian military bases outside of Ukraine would also result in direct conflict.

To boil it down, implementing a no-fly zone would amount to a declaration of war with Russia. There’s virtually no other way to slice it.

Of course, this simple fact won’t preclude Republican wreckers from trying to shove President Biden into a shooting war to make him look weak in an election year, just as hundreds of thousands of deaths did not preclude them from deranging COVID policy to score points with their benighted base.

One might ask, what’s the big deal? Much media coverage has depicted Russia’s vaunted military might as turning out to be a lot of shadows and noise. Russian forces are bogging down all over Ukraine, losing vital supply lines, and its troops — a great many of whom are young conscripts — are beginning to cotton to the notion that something is out of joint. In short, this mighty power is looking awfully shaky out where the metal meets the meat. Let’s go kick Putin’s ass, right? ‘MURICA-STYLE BABY!

Reality, as ever, intrudes. Most of the damage being done by Russia to Ukraine’s civilian population has come by way of artillery barrages fired from within Russian and Belarusian territory. To be “successful,” U.S. warplanes would not only have to attack two sovereign countries within their borders in order to disable the batteries, but would also have to take out any and all surface-to-air missile defense emplacements in order to keep the skies safe for their jets. There is nothing “limited” about any aspect of this scenario.

…and the problem with no limits is where you might find yourself without them. I give you, for your edification, Anthony Faiola of The Washington Post and the most terrifying paragraph I have read in years:

The advent of tactical nuclear weapons — a term generally applied to lower-yield devices designed for battlefield use, which can have a fraction of the strength of the Hiroshima bomb — reduced their lethality, limiting the extent of absolute destruction and deadly radiation fields. That’s also made their use less unthinkable, raising the specter that the Russians could opt to use a smaller device without leveling an entire city. Detonate a one kiloton weapon on one side of Kyiv’s Zhuliany airport, for instance, and Russian President Vladimir Putin sends a next-level message with a fireball, shock waves and deadly radiation. But the blast radius wouldn’t reach the end of the runway.

Leaving aside the potential doomsday scenario emerging from a U.S./Russia shooting war, there is the fact that a no-fly zone or other aggressive NATO action would play directly into Putin’s hands. He knows his war is not going as planned. This propaganda coup would help him consolidate support back home as he intensifies his misleading cries of victimhood.

Of course, watching Putin’s monstrous attacks on civilians makes most folks want to do something, by God, and soon. However, responding with support for escalating military action would pivot this conflict into a cascading confrontation between nuclear powers that could easily spin out of control. Responding, instead, with support for the courageous antiwar activists who are organizing against Russia’s invasion from within Russia, Ukraine and across the globe, is a far better course of action.