Tuesday, March 8, 2022

The Dangerous Allure of the No-Fly Zone (VIDEO)

From Mike Pietrucha and Mike Benitez, at War on the Rocks:

A press conference with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson captivated the world when Daria Kaleniuk, a Ukrainian activist, implored him and other Western leaders to set up a no-fly zone over Ukraine to shelter its people from Russian aircraft. The tragedy of the current situation, the sincerity and sadness of the activist, and prime minister’s delicately worded but practical response — in which he told her that there would not be a no-fly zone due to the risk of a NATO-Russian war — made footage of the press conference go viral.

The internet has since buzzed with the question: Why hasn’t a coalition established a no-fly zone?

Contrary to what so many in the commentariat seem to believe, a no-fly zone is not a military half-measure. It is a combat operation designed to deprive the enemy of its airpower, and it involves direct and sustained fighting. The fact is, a general European war has not started, and we must do everything we can to ensure it does not. That means that a no-fly zone should be off the table. Part of the reason that no-fly zones keep being brought up as solutions is that the nature of airpower is so poorly understood. Advocates have trumpeted airpower as a strategic and tactical shortcut for nearly a century — the way to win battles and even wars without the messy complications inherent in the operations of other military arms.

After the rise of airpower in World War II, it was invigorated by the lopsided victory in 1991’s Operation Desert Storm and propagated through repeated limited military air-centric actions. These conflicts reinforced the notion that airpower is the solution to all military challenges overseas. The problem with this view is that it is not supported by a century of evidence. Although airpower can prove decisive and has even been used as the primary method of settling conflicts, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Air campaigns, just like naval and ground campaigns, must be carefully tailored to political and military objectives, the adversary, the environment, and the prevailing conditions. Unfortunately, a byproduct of a generation of low-intensity operations has only reinforced this evolving political infatuation with two pillars of what we term political airpower: airstrikes and no-fly zones. While each can be effective, neither is a shortcut around a need for a comprehensive strategy — both are merely elements of one...