The story so far: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated that the organisation would not designate the Ukranian airspace as a ‘No Fly Zone’ which he said would lead to a full-fledged war in Europe, involving many more countries and resulting in greater human suffering. In response, Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the move amounted to giving a “green light” for further bombing of Ukranian cities and villages.
Associated Press reported on Saturday that Russian President Vladimir Putin said any third-party declaration of a non-fly zone over Ukraine would be seen as “participation in the armed conflict”.
What is a No-Fly Zone?
In simple terms, a No-Fly Zone refers to a particular airspace wherein aircrafts, excluding those permitted by an enforcement agency, are barred from flying.
Articles under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter dealing with ‘Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression’ are invoked to authorise a potential no-fly zone. Article 39 dictates the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to determine the probable existence of any threat to peace or an act of aggression. It suggests further measures, if required, are to be carried out in accordance to Article 41 and 42 to restore international peace and security.
No fly zones have been implemented without UN mandate too. In 1991 after the first Gulf War, U.S. and its coalition partners imposed two no fly zones over Iraq to prevent Saddam Hussain from attacking ethnic groups. In non-combat situations, No fly zones can be imposed permanently and temporarily over sensitive installations or for high profile events like Olympics.
What is the feasibility of ‘No fly zone’ over Ukraine?
The Foreign Policy magazine states that no-fly zone declarations are essentially a compromise in situations demanding a response to ongoing violence, but full military intervention is politically untenable.
NATO has previously imposed No-Fly Zones in non-member states like Libya and Bosnia. With Russia it fears a full-fledged war in Europe. It has been demanding that NATO scale back to the pre-1997 arrangements. Both Russia and Ukraine are not members of NATO.
Due to this, the idea of imposing a ‘no fly zone’ over Ukraine has been rejected outright. In addition, a ‘No fly zone’ needs to be implemented meaning NATO deploying aircraft and assets which would result in a direct confrontation with Russia as it may require NATO shooting down Russian fighters or taking down its air defence systems. While Russia has an overall superiority over Ukraine air space, it has not demonstrated that so far in its offensive in Ukraine.
Mr. Stoltenberg had earlier said, “...the only way to implement a no-fly zone is to send NATO planes, fighter planes into the Ukranian airspace, and then impose that no-fly zone by shooting down Russian planes”. The General Secretary added that NATO would continue to provide significant support to Ukraine and impose heavy sanctions but not involve NATO forces directly or indirectly in the Ukranian conflict, neither on ground or in space.
This was also reiterated by U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week during a visit to Poland when he said that “unfortunately the implication of that (no fly zone) is the U.K. would be engaged in shooting down Russian planes, would be engaged in direct combat with Russia — that’s not something we can do”.
In addition, a ‘No fly zone’ would achieve very little as majority of the Russian attacks on Ukraine are coming from ground attacks rather than air strikes.
Taking a similar line, the U.K. Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, said that “no fly zone would not help”. “Most of the shelling is coming from artillery, most of the destruction is coming from artillery, it’s not coming from Russian aircraft,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme.
What are the broad contours in a No-Fly Zone?
The UNSC had banned all flights in the Libyan airspace post adoption of Resolution 1973 in 2011 in response to the Libyan Civil War. Member states were asked to deny permission to any Libyan registered aircraft to use the territory without requisite approval. Further, the member states could bar any entity from flying if they found reasonable grounds to believe the aircraft is ferrying lethal or non-lethal military equipment.
Member states were permitted to allow flights whose sole purpose was humanitarian, such as delivery of medical supplies and food, chauffer humanitarian workers and related assistance, or evacuating foreign nationals from the territory.
A U.S. Congressional Research Service Report, published in 2013, draws up important implications concerning authorisation, legality and legitimacy of a No-Fly Zone operation.
The report prepared for members and committees of the Congress seeks consideration on how the nature, extent and conduct of the international authorisation (to the no-flying zone operation) is likely to shape the perceived legitimacy of the operation and support from the international community.
With inputs from Dinakar Peri