The civil war in Syria rages on, hundreds of thousands of refugees continue to make their way onto European shores, and complicating matters further, Russia’s military is actively engaged in fighting in Syria, most disturbingly targeting the very groups backed by the United States.
Calls for the U.S. and its allies to enforce a no-fly zone in parts if Syria have become louder and louder in recent weeks, on both sides of the Atlantic.
A no-fly zone is not the right answer, however, for halting the atrocities of the Syrian civil war, nor for stemming the tide of refugees flowing to Europe. Likewise, a no-fly zone would not serve as a panacea re-establishing faith in U.S. leadership. In reality, a no-fly zone, as explained by Luke Coffey and Jim Phillips, would have only a very minor impact on the ability of the Assad regime to continue killing its own people:
Most of the death toll is caused by artillery barrages and brutal paramilitary hit squads—all of which, including attack helicopters, an NFZ would have a negligible impact on.
Furthermore, it’s doubtful that a no-fly zone would significantly decrease the numbers of refugees heading to Europe. In Germany, authorities estimate that as many as one-third of asylum seekers claiming to be from Syria are not actually Syrian.
Finally, while the U.S. could enforce a no-fly zone in Syria, it would be a costly decision in terms of potential loss of life and equipment (Syria possesses some anti-aircraft capabilities), as well as the financial costs. Putin’s recent decision to intervene militarily in support of the Assad regime has further muddied the waters; as Secretary of Defense Ashton Carton recently claimed, Putin is “pouring gasoline on the fire.”
The Obama administration’s continues to lack a clear strategy for the civil war in Syria or for advancing U.S. interests in the greater Middle East region. Jim Phillips recently noted that Putin’s recent actions in Syria caught the U.S. flat-footed.
“Not only did Putin’s unilateral actions disrupt the administration’s diplomatic dreams of multilateral cooperation in resolving the Syrian crisis, but the abrupt start of Russia’s air campaign without coordinating with the United States stunned Pentagon officials.”
The Obama administration quietly shuttered a program to train Syrian opposition forces, once the centerpiece of U.S. efforts to oust Assad and fight ISIS in Syria. A no-fly zone should not be seen as an antidote to years of failed Obama policies in the Middle East, and it will not advance U.S. interests.
Choosing to institute one would be a mistake.