Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke to Congress Wednesday, describing the horrors unfolding in his country amid a violent Russian invasion and pleading for US aid. One can’t help but feel sympathy for the Ukrainian people right now. But in this speech, Zelenskyy renewed his calls for a US “no-fly zone” in Ukraine—and there’s a big problem with this request.
First, let’s be clear about what exactly a “no-fly zone” means. When the US military declares a no-fly zone, it is saying no aircraft may travel through a set space. It enforces this by shooting down any plane that does so. This is what Zelenskyy is requesting.
“Right now, at this moment, every night for 3 weeks now, there are Ukrainian cities [where] Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death for thousands of people,” Zelenskyy said. “Countless bombs… they use drones to kill us with precision. This is a terror Europe has not seen for 80 years and we are asking for a reply from the whole world.”
Zelenskyy calls for a "humanitarian" no-fly zone over Ukraine.
“This is a terror that Europe has not seen, has not seen for 80 years, and we are asking for a reply, for an an answer to this terror from the whole world. Is this a lot to ask for?” pic.twitter.com/7v9uZwxGE8
— CBS News (@CBSNews) March 16, 2022
Ukrainian President Zelenskyy showed this powerful video to Congress, depicting Ukraine before and during the invasion.
The video ends with a familiar call for a no-fly zone: "Close the sky over Ukraine." pic.twitter.com/8nG0w9sv4y
— The Recount (@therecount) March 16, 2022
“Is it a lot to ask to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine to save people?” the Ukrainian president asked. “Is this too much? So that Russia would not be able to terrorize our free cities?”
Unfortunately, yes, it is too much to ask, as one astute observer noted:
yeah it is https://t.co/AWO6olksW2
— Matt Palumbo 🇺🇸 (@MattPalumbo12) March 16, 2022
A US “no-fly zone” in Ukraine is a terrible idea that endangers Americans. Enforcing it would require us to shoot down Russian aircraft and kill Russian pilots—an act of war. This would probably enter the US into a hot war with Russia, a nuclear power. Zelenskyy is essentially asking the US to attack Russia and get into this conflict ourselves, something Americans overwhelmingly oppose.
The risks of a military conflict with Russia are difficult to overstate. Quite literally the fate of humanity is at stake when it comes to a potential nuclear exchange, and at the very least, a war with Russia would be long, bloody, and protracted. There is simply no American interest to be achieved in Ukraine that could possibly even come close to justifying such an extreme risk.
Of course, Zelenskyy’s speech pulls at the heartstrings, and it’s completely understandable for members of Congress and the public at large to feel sympathy for the Ukrainian people right now. It’s also understandable why Zelenskyy would ask for a no-fly zone, as he’s desperate to do anything that could protect his people.
But American policymakers have an obligation to put America First, not endanger the safety of all of our families by intervening in foreign conflicts far from our shores.