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We Call on Biden to Reject Reckless Demands for a No-Fly Zone

It strains credulity to think that a US war with Russia would make the American people safer or more prosperous. To the contrary, going to war with Russia, a nuclear peer of the United States, would expose Americans to vast and unnecessary risks.

Joe Biden has consistently rejected calls to establish a no-fly zone in Ukraine., credit: Gage Skidmore, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

We, the undersigned, urge the Biden administration to continue to reject calls to impose a dangerous no-fly zone over all or part of Ukraine. A no-fly zone would commit the US and Nato forces to shoot down any Russian aircraft that enter. It would be naive to think that merely declaring a no-fly zone would convince the Russian military to comply voluntarily. In short, a no-fly zone would mean going to war with Russia.

We deplore Russia’s aggression, admire the bravery of Ukrainians, mourn the loss of innocent life, and wish for a speedy end to the conflict. However, it strains credulity to think that a US war with Russia would make the American people safer or more prosperous. To the contrary, going to war with Russia, a nuclear peer of the United States, would expose Americans to vast and unnecessary risks. A war that expands beyond Ukraine’s borders could also inflict damage across Europe and weaken America’s Nato allies. We call upon the administration to avoid such a gambit and continue to use appropriate diplomatic means and economic pressure to end the conflict.

The United States has already made clear its opposition to the war and to Russia’s attacks on innocent Ukrainians, and has imposed punishing economic sanctions. What the announcement of a no-fly zone would add would be the threat to engage in a shooting war with Russian forces. And if the United States threatens to do something, it will have to deliver. As two retired US officers have written, “Contrary to what so many in the commentariat seem to believe, a no-fly zone is not a military half-measure. It is a combat operation designed to deprive the enemy of its airpower, and it involves direct and sustained fighting.”

Some of those calling for even a “limited” no-fly zone admit that they are willing to see the United States and its Nato allies wage war against Russia in defense of Ukraine. For example, one prominent signatory of a letter advocating a no-fly zone has recently admitted that a no-fly zone “is an act of war ... You have to enforce a no-fly zone, which means you have to be willing to use force against those who break the no-fly zone.” Even before the war began, another signatory wrote that “US leaders should be marshaling an international coalition of the willing, readying military forces to deter Putin and, if necessary, prepare for war ... The horrible possibility exists that Americans, with our European allies, must use our military to roll back Russians – even at risk of direct combat.” A no-fly zone would expand the war, not stop it.

Throughout the current crisis, the Biden administration has been clear-eyed in rejecting the possibility of using US military force in Ukraine. The administration’s principled restraint commands bipartisan support. For example, Republican senator Marco Rubio has warned that a no-fly zone “means starting world war three”. Democratic senator Chris Murphy likewise writes that a no-fly zone is “a bad idea and Congress would never authorize it”.

The United States and its European allies have imposed sanctions on Russia so severe that they have little historical precedent. We are also providing Ukraine with significant military support. Yet there must be a clear ceiling for escalation, as US officials and experts appreciated during the cold war, when the United States faced a more powerful adversary than Russia represents today. Russian President Vladimir Putin will pay for his reckless gamble in Ukraine. The United States should respond in responsible ways, not make a reckless gamble of its own.

Individuals have signed in their personal capacity, using affiliations for identification purposes only:

1. James Acton, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

2. Aisha Ahmad, University of Toronto

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3. Ivan Arreguín-Toft, Brown University

4. Robert J Art, Brandeis University

5. Emma Ashford, Atlantic Council

6. Paul Avey, Virginia Tech

7. Andrew Bacevich, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

8. David W Barno, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and Lt General, USA (Ret.)

9. Peter Beinart, City University of New York

10. Nora Bensahel, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

11. Rachel Bovard, Conservative Partnership Institute

12. Emerson Brooking, Atlantic Council

13. Mathew Burrows, Atlantic Council

14. Dan Caldwell, Stand Together

15. Jasen Castillo, Texas A&M University

16. Alexandra Chinchilla, Dickey Center for International Understanding

17. Christopher Chivvis, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

18. Ralph S Clem, Florida International University and Major General, USAFR (Ret.)

19. Ben Denison, Defense Priorities

20. Michael C Desch, University of Notre Dame

21. Linde Desmaele, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

22. Chris Dougherty, Center for a New American Security

23. Michael Brendan Dougherty, National Review

24. Jeffrey A Engel, Southern Methodist University

25. Ryan Evans, War on the Rocks

26. Benjamin H Friedman, Defense Priorities

27. John Allen Gay, the John Quincy Adams Society

28. Eugene Gholz, University of Notre Dame

29. Peter Goettler, Cato Institute

30. Mark Hannah, Eurasia Group Foundation

31. William Hartung, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

32. David Hendrickson, the John Quincy Adams Society

33. Paul van Hooft, Hague Centre for Strategic Studies

34. Jolyon Howorth, University of Bath

35. Bruce W Jentleson, Duke University

36. Ben Judah, Atlantic Council

37. Michael Kimmage, the Catholic University of America

38. Edward King, Defense Priorities

39. Rosemary Kelanic, University of Notre Dame

40. Charles Kupchan, Georgetown University

41. Jeffrey Lewis, Middlebury Institute of International Studies

42. Anatol Lieven, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

43. Jennifer Lind, Dartmouth College

44. Justin Logan, Cato Institute

45. Sumantra Maitra, the Center for the National Interest

46. Kimberly Marten, Barnard College, Columbia University

47. Jack Matlock, Former US Ambassador to the Soviet Union

48. Bryan McGrath, the FerryBridge Group

49. Rajan Menon, the City College of New York

50. Stephen Miles, Win Without War

51. Sara Moller, Seton Hall University

52. Aaron David Miller, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

53. Samuel Moyn, Yale Law School

54. Michael O’Hanlon, Brookings Institution

55. Lindsey O’Rourke, Boston College

56. Olga Oliker, International Crisis Group

57. Douglas Ollivant, New America

58. Matt Padilla, former National Security Counsel for Senator Tom Udall

59. Thomas R Pickering, Former US Ambassador and Under Secretary of State

60. Michael W Pietrucha, Colonel, USAF (Ret.)

61. Patrick Porter, University of Birmingham

62. Barry Posen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

63. Christopher Preble, Atlantic Council

64. Daryl Press, Dartmouth College

65. William Ruger, American Institute for Economic Research

66. Vivien Schmidt, Boston University

67. John Schuessler, Texas A&M University

68. Elizabeth Shackelford, Chicago Council on Global Affairs

69. Scott J Shapiro, Yale Law School

70. Joshua Shifrinson, Boston University

71. Sarah Streyder, Secure Families Initiative

72. Monica Duffy Toft, Tufts University

73. Stephen Walt, Harvard University

74. Stephen Wertheim, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

75. Gavin Wilde, Defense Priorities

76. Michael John Williams, Syracuse University

77. William C Wohlforth, Dartmouth College

78. Min Ye, Boston University