An explanation of why NATO cannot enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine

Originally published at: An explanation of why NATO cannot enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine | Boing Boing


No-one outside Russia is really happy about these constraints on the ability to take action. It’s also perfectly understandable why Zelensky keeps asking for a no-fly zone. The reality is that we have to avoid escalation of this into a general war on the Continent (something it’s likely even Putin doesn’t want).


there is really not much you can say after that.


Agreed. Putin is a thug, but he’s not stupid. He’s not Trump. He fully understands what “mutually assured destruction” is.


If, as I think he is, he’s following the Dugin outline I don’t think he’s particularly interested in being forced into taking over and occupying Germany either.


That seems like a long-winded way to say “Because nukes”.

You could also make the argument that the reason why Russia keeps rolling tanks into its neighbors is because the US and Europe always have shied away from a direct conflict. The Russians have learned over the years that so long as they go “Careful now, I’ve got nukes, I might use them,” they can do whatever they want.

Is it a good idea to call their bluff? I don’t know. But Russia under its various leaders seems never to have had any hesitation in calling ours, and it’s worked every time so far. Don’t think that they haven’t learned a lesson from that. As long as Putin knows that the West will do anything to avoid a war, he has a much wider range of options than we do.

So our strategy seems to be to funnel arms to the Ukrainians in quantity and hope that they win. About the only thing we can say with certainty is that if they do win, it will come at tremendous cost to them – their people slaughtered, their cities flattened, their land poisoned.

What we don’t know is how Putin will react to a defeat. We’d like to believe that if the Ukrainians drive back his invasion force, he’ll meekly accept defeat, go home with his tail between his legs and never trouble us again. That seems optimistic to me. The idea that if his invasion fails, his rule will collapse – which is what we’d all like to see happen – seems even more optimistic. A foreign enemy and a permanent state of emergency is just gravy to a tyrant. It might not be a stable situation long-term, but in the short term it allows him to consolidate even more power, to mobilize the people against the evil oppressor and blame everything that goes wrong on The Enemy.

And if he wins? He’s just added Ukraine and all its mineral and agricultural wealth, to say nothing of its strategic position, to his empire, at the cost of a bunch of war machinery and the lives of, say, 30,000 soldiers (and even more Ukrainians, but he’s definitely not counting them). Plus he gets an external Enemy to help shore up his rule. That’s a gigantic win for him, and the lesson he’s going to learn is “It worked.” And so he’s going to do it again, in Georgia and Moldova. He might stop there. He might not. But eventually he’s going to try it with a NATO member and then we’ve got that shooting war we’ve been trying so strenuously to avoid (unless, of course, Donald Trump has got re-elected in the meantime, in which case the US will probably pull out of NATO and leave the Europeans to deal with the problem).

I don’t know what the wisest course is now. Frankly, none of the options look good. But what I do know is that we failed massively on deterrence. In the run-up to this business we told Putin quite unambiguously “We’re not going to use nukes, and we’re not going to use our conventional forces either.” And he very clearly took that as a green light, figuring that he can ride out any sanctions (his wealth is in Russia, not outside it) and that he can eventually steamroller the Ukrainians, no matter how many Javelins we give them.

Mutually-Assured Destruction, the nuclear doctrine that supposedly kept the peace for half a century or more, rested on two critical planks. One was a certainty: that if a nuclear war broke out, the USSR/Russia would be wiped out (the West would too, but that’s not the point). The other were uncertainties: whether we’d be crazy enough to do it, and what it would take to push us to that point.

Conventional deterrence rests on a similar calculation: to deter Putin, we either needed to convince him that we would use conventional forces, or that we might. Instead, we convinced him that we wouldn’t.

And the result is where we are today, with no good options at all.


I also think it’s fairly clear why Zelensky keeps mentioning it.

He’s started framing it as if you won’t do a no fly zone at least give me planes. And Ukrainian officials always followed it up with mentions of aid and weapons.

They’re getting pressure from below about the no fly zone so they have to respond. And they do need to keep pressure and interest up among NATO to keep supplies coming in.

It’s not even necessarily “because nukes”.

This war escalates and spills out, that’s just what’s happening in Ukraine now. Happening in more places, and that means a lot of dead civilians and a lot of ruined cities.

Putin doesn’t need to drop a nuke or mount a full on invasion to put a hole or six in a school in Helsinki. And NATO troops rolling into Russian towns doesn’t look much better.


We hope he’s not stupid. What information we do have from the inside indicates he’s acting increasingly erratic and paranoid. There is some evidence that he’s been hiding a palsy, which could indicate Parkinson’s disease, or that he may be suffering from long-term covid symptoms, including brain fog. And if he truly is paranoid and thinks he literally has nothing to lose, then that’s that last person you want to have access to nuclear codes.


Yeah this is another example of something that might well be in Ukraine‘s best interests but not a good prospect for the world as a whole.

Similarly, the planet as a whole became a safer place when Ukraine joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty and gave up their nuclear weapons in 1994… but if they hadn’t given up that deterrent then Russia might have thought twice about invading the country.

Ukraine keeps taking the hits in the name of keeping the rest of us from having to face a potential nuclear war.


I think this is the key right here, and is what people disagree on. People advocating as the OP does are doing so because the belief is that Putin will stop at all NATO borders. I don’t think they would admit that publicly as policy makers (because it’s basically throwing Georgia and other places under the Russian bus to make peace) but I suspect it is what is driving their decision. In the same way Putin knows the West wouldn’t really start a war over Ukraine, they also know NATO would be forced to start a war over Poland, Lithuania, or Romania, for example. Putin knows he can’t win that war, nukes or not. Putin is a monster, but he doesn’t want to get nuked any more than anyone else.

I agree with your post though and I’m certainly not clear what any of the right decisions are here. Honestly, quietly supporting Ukraine as much as possible as the West is doing seems like a pretty good way to hopefully push Putin back in a way that doesn’t start WWIII and importantly gives Putin some “outs” for saving face. The latter is the only hope I see- giving Putin a way out of this without losing face. If he gets stopped at Kyiv, he can say “I killed all those Ukrainian border Nazis that were threatening us so we’re done here”. If we start a war, he’s forced to try and win it.


so you are saying that Putin would only bluff, and that NATO should take more aggressive action to contain him?

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I’ve been explaining this to multiple family members over the past week just like was done in the video, which is good so I know I was correct.

After 4 years of Trump, people got used to, sadly, the constant firehose delivery of everything being about both him and the US. There’s almost no communication and talk about what the US is doing, except for tiny bits about how we are working with NATO. It’s fantastic to see our soft skills back at work. This is how, for better or worse certainly, we used to work.


How are you extrapolating this :arrow_down:

…from this? :arrow_down:

(something it’s likely even Putin doesn’t want)

Additionally, all this speculation over Putin’s health is IMHO, a lot of horse hockey. To me, he appears as sober and coherent as he always has been. :man_shrugging:


The sober difference is that IF we rattle sabers (or get rattled), we have more than one person making the decision together on whether to react with heavier weapons.

Does Putin?


I took your suggestion that Putin is not stupid like trump to mean you thought he would not stray down the path to nuclear war.

And if so, then our good faith “we won’t bring forces against you” is just being taken advantage of by Putin as others have described here.

I was just wondering if you came down on the side of “we should call his bluff”.

Granted, it’s a bluff they’ve been using since the '60s, and it’s worked pretty well for Soviets and the ex-Soviet thugs of today.

Still, my Spidey-sense is tingling, and I feel like you’re looking for an opportunity to portray me as a “useful idiot”. :man_shrugging:

But okay, I’ll bite.

I’m in favor of a no-fly zone. I don’t think anyone would really press the button, but I don’t think a no-fly zone would really be what sets it all off.


no - I’m not trying to trap you as a “useful idiot”

I think we are playing our cards on the table, and Putin is taking advantage of it.

If we respond with force we have to use the same cards on the table mode because that is the only way Putin will be sure that we won’t nuke him first. We have to say we are going to remove you from Ukraine, and Putin knows we can do it, he knows we’ll do only what we say we will do. We have to say that’s all, no more, no less. I think he’ll minimize his losses and get out.

So maybe I’m an idiot but the formula right now is he will keep doing what he wants and pushing limits.

I agree, and hope to heck that Europe or NATO will be willing to push back. As I’ve stated before, this is like watching people drown.


Except when situations are reversed, there have never been Russian pilots shooting down American planes (I mean: maybe Viet Nam sporadically 50 years ago-- not applicable).

Which is a perfectly good reason.

The best Ukraine is going to get is: getting their pilots into NATO countries, taking ownership of NATO planes, flying them to Ukrainian airbases for subsequent air missions.


Does Russia have a targeting lockout on places in the West where oligarchs own a lot of things, or sell things?

That seems like a difference from the USSR days.