What is a No-Fly Zone?

Three U.S. Boeing F-15 Strike Eagle aircraft conduct combat air maneuvers in the vicinity of Los Llanos air base on February 22, 2022, in Albacete, Castilla-La Mancha, Spain. The maneuvers are conducted during one of the NATO Tactical Leadership Program (TLP) courses, better known as NATO Pilot School. Currently, the TLP organization is made up of ten NATO countries: Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, England, Italy, Spain and the United States, although other nations also participate by contracting their assistance. The pilots take advantage of these practices to prepare themselves for a possible war in Ukraine.

What sounds like a humanitarian measure is also an act of war

As Vladimir Putin’s army closes in on Kyiv, and Russian rockets fall on Ukrainian cities, America and its allies are being asked to step in. On February 28th Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, repeated his earlier request for the West to “impose a no-fly zone over significant parts of Ukraine”. Some influential people agree. “Are we going to sit and watch while a world power invades and destroys and subjugates a sovereign nation?” asked Philip Breedlove, a former American general who commanded NATO forces until 2016, in an interview with Foreign Policy, a magazine.

The idea of declaring airspace off-limits is an old one: after the first world war Germany was prohibited from any sort of military aviation at all, under the Versailles treaty. But the modern no-fly zone dates to the 1990s after Sadam Hussein, Iraq’s then dictator, attacked Kurds in the north of his country and Shias in the south. America, Britain and France declared no-fly zones in the northern tip of Iraq and over the bottom half of the country. To enforce it, they flew around 225,000 sorties between 1991 and 2003 (France pulled out in 1996). Similar no-fly zones were enforced by NATO over Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1993 and 1995, and over Libya in 2011, as part of a war that eventually toppled Muammar Gaddafi, the country’s leader.