The Stanford Daily recently published an open letter to President Biden calling for the United States to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine. The author mentions tragic incidents of the Russian military shelling Ukrainian kindergartens and says, “we can, so we should” is enough to justify the necessity of a no-fly zone.
The United States should not enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine. What initially may seem like an appealing response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, if implemented, would be to the detriment of the United States and the world at large. Putin has threatened nuclear retaliation to any countries that become involved in the war; thus, the risks of escalation created by enacting a no-fly zone are far too immense.
In early December, President Biden said that there would be no boots on the ground in Ukraine. While this option still does not appear to be under consideration by the United States, implementing a no-fly zone would be a terrible misstep for the United States.
To enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine, the United States would be forced to commit an immense amount of military personnel and put American lives on the line. A no-fly zone enforced against one of the largest air forces in the world would require many more planes, guns, and surface-to-air missile systems than the no-fly zones the United States has implemented in the past. Enforcement of a no-fly zone means bombing Russian-held airfields, shooting Russian planes out of the skies, and potentially taking Russian lives.
Putin has already said that Western sanctions on Russia have been “akin to acts of war”; he added that implementing a no-fly zone would lead to “catastrophic consequences” for the rest of the world. The implications of nuclear fallout trump the Russian bombing of Ukrainian civilians, as tragic as that may be. Russia has the largest collection of nuclear warheads and does not seem hesitant to use them. Nuclear war is a zero-sum game that we should not play. Should nuclear war commence, there will be no winners — only endless retaliation, unnecessary death, and irreparable destruction.
The idea presented by the author that “The moral argument is obvious. We can, so we should” is a poor line of reasoning to justify a war with Russia. Just because we have the capacity to enforce a no-fly zone (or use nuclear weapons), does not mean that we should. The last time there was a conflict of this magnitude between the United States and Russia, we had the capacity and opportunity to utilize nuclear warheads, as did Russia. The Cold War teaches us that just because we can, does not necessarily mean we should.
While the Russian invasion of sovereign Ukraine is horrific and wrong, if the United States were to go to war with Russia, the world would suffer an incomprehensible amount of turmoil. In a world where the US enacts a no-fly zone, not only would the United States be at war with Russia, but so would America's allies. This raises even more questions concerning the role of China in this new world order and how the global economy would function in a divided world. These are questions that I think we could all do without; instead, we must say no to a no-fly zone.