Ukraine needs a no-fly zone. Benefits and risks for NATO

The Russian aggression against Ukraine has increasingly profound consequences — political, economic, social, legal, and humanitarian even beyond Eastern Europe. In this context, it is worth revisiting Ukraine’s earliest and most urgent plea for direct military support from the West. Shortly after the onset of Russia’s full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022, Kyiv initiated an international campaign to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

NATO and its member countries swiftly and decisively rejected Kyiv’s request as too risky a step. Even its partial implementation, such as declaring parts of Western Ukraine a no-fly zone, was seen as incompatible with the national interests of the North Atlantic Alliance countries. This simplified argument was already met with doubts in 2022. In 2023, it became even more questionable.

The active military intervention by Western states (and other interested parties) in the western territories of Ukraine, utilizing fighter jets and anti-aircraft weapons, would not only be a fitting response to Kyiv’s cry for help but also a reflection of the fundamental interests of many countries beyond Eastern Europe. These interests align with Ukraine’s national interests in at least four aspects, demanding direct actions from those outside of Ukraine.

Global order

Firstly, Ukraine’s continued ability to produce and export food, especially grains, is closely tied to more than just alarming humanitarian issues. It’s also a prerequisite for global stability and order. Shortages of essential food products like flour and bread, coupled with rising prices, will have serious transcontinental social and political repercussions. These could manifest as unstable governments, armed uprisings, migration flows, increased xenophobia, and even civil or interstate wars.

Therefore, the use of air and anti-aircraft military forces to aid Ukraine in ensuring food production and export is not just a matter of empathy or goodwill towards Ukrainians. Such direct application of military force by NATO (as well as non-alliance countries) would be quite justified by the necessity to minimize the overall risk to international security. Preventing hunger and its detrimental impact on the global order inherently provides sufficient grounds for considering the establishment of no-fly zones over and around Ukraine, even without mentioning Ukraine’s plea, by appealing solely to transnational interests.

See also: Ukraine is not Israel. Is it possible to open the Ukrainian sky until the end of the war?

Radioactive materials security

Secondly, Ukrainian nuclear power plants, including the non-operational Chornobyl NPP, have repeatedly become targets and instruments of Russian military activity since the beginning of the large-scale invasion. The cross-border health risks affect not only millions of Ukrainians but are also evident for citizens of NATO member countries. When Kyiv requested a no-fly zone in 2022, it was puzzling that vital national interests of various European countries regarding the safety of Ukrainian radioactive materials went unnoticed.

It is time for NATO and the governments of member countries to directly participate in protecting their citizens from a repeat of the 1986 Chornobyl catastrophe. Just as in the case of ensuring stable Ukrainian food production and transportation, Ukraine’s own interest in safeguarding its nuclear power plants might even be considered secondary. Once again, Kyiv’s request for creating a no-fly zone should not serve as justification for NATO’s and other allies’ military presence in Ukrainian airspace.

Security of representatives from third countries

Thirdly, since October 2022, Kyiv has become a favored target for Russian missile and drone attacks. Deliberately or not, Russian missiles have repeatedly struck civilian infrastructure and killed non-combatants. Buildings are being destroyed, and Kyiv residents are being wounded by the fragments of downed Russian missiles and drones, as well as by Ukrainian anti-aircraft projectiles.

In Kyiv, dozens of foreign embassies and consulates, as well as the offices of many governmental and non-governmental organizations, are located. Oddly enough, the security of hundreds, if not thousands, of citizens from NATO countries (and non-NATO members) in Kyiv is entirely dependent on the Ukrainian “iron dome” over the capital. Many diplomats and other officials who are permanently or temporarily based in the city represent countries with advanced air and anti-aircraft military forces. However, these visiting officials, like other foreign taxpayers, currently cannot rely on the protection of their countries’ capable armed forces. And this is despite the clear request from the Ukrainian government.

Infrastructure security

Finally, Ukraine is embarking on a campaign of reconstruction, modernization, and Europeanization. This entails attracting an increasing amount of foreign investment across the country. Billions of euros and dollars from taxpayers will be spent on demining, repairs, and rebuilding Ukraine. This will heighten the national interest of many Western and some non-Western countries in Ukraine’s foundational security.

If the Russian campaign of terror in Ukraine using long-range missiles and drones continues, the question of protecting civilian infrastructure financed from international sources against attacks will become increasingly crucial. Western governments and citizens might begin to wonder about the fate of various projects they are funding. Will these projects have a lasting impact, or perhaps, sooner or later, be neutralized by Russian terrorist attacks?

Despite the complex issues of insurance, direct private investments are viewed by many Western officials as a key factor shaping Ukraine’s future economic recovery. Especially in the case of large office or factory buildings constructed or renovated by foreign companies or with their assistance, the question of safeguarding them against Russian airstrikes will arise. Governments of countries hosting companies investing in Ukraine and their insurance companies will be under pressure to assist the Ukrainian government in securing these investments.

Balance between gains and losses

Many observers believe that the introduction of Western-backed no-fly zones even over specific areas of Ukraine is a direct path to the Third World War. However, it’s doubtful that such an escalation will actually occur until Western forces are engaged in combat on the front lines.

Russia does not use any piloted fighter jets to breach Ukrainian airspace in the rear. Russian terrorist attacks on cities and smaller settlements in Ukrainian hinterlands are carried out solely with missiles and drones. If Western fighter jets and anti-aircraft missiles were to strike them, they wouldn’t be killing Russian soldiers.

In this context, it’s worth recalling that in 2015, Turkish Air Force shot down a Russian fighter jet over Syria, resulting in the pilot’s death. Russia responded to this action by a NATO member country with temporary economic sanctions against Turkey. Soon after, Putin restored full and quite amicable relations with Ankara, as if nothing had happened.

New international diplomatic, military, parliamentary, and public media discussions are needed regarding Ukraine’s former request for a no-fly zone. These multilateral debates should weigh the costs, benefits, and risks associated with implementing various variations of Kyiv’s initial idea. It is crucial to identify Ukrainian assets and territories of significance to NATO or EU member countries as well as other nations. A comprehensive and rational assessment of the new situation in 2023 should clarify the key national interests of third countries at stake and what will be gained or lost through the establishment of no-fly zones.

Given this, organizations like the UN, NATO, or the EU should either take action, or a coalition of volunteers should step in.

Originally posted by Andreas Umland and John Berg on Translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website

See also: Why is the “Israeli model,” which the USA proposes for Ukraine, impossible?

Avatar photo


An independent media focused on Ukraine.
Follow us on social media:

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Share This

Share this post with your friends!