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No-Fly Zones: Hidden Complexities

  • Susan Yackee

US F-16 fighter jets patrolling Iraqi airspace in June, 2001

US F-16 fighter jets patrolling Iraqi airspace in June, 2001

As forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi ramped up their offensive against opposition strongholds Tuesday, diplomats from Lebanon, France and Britain presented the U.N. Security Council with a resolution that includes authorization of a no-fly zone over Libya. The initiative looks simple at face-value but, as observers point out, it is very complex in nature and difficult to implement, often requiring a coalition of countries to do so. VOA’s Susan Yackee spoke to VOA’s Senior Correspondent André de Nesnera about the definition of no-fly zones and about where they have been used in the past.

De Nesnera: A no-fly zone is an airspace in which certain aircraft, especially military aircraft, are forbidden to fly. And they are usually forbidden to fly by a country that has a bigger air force.

Yackee: And how do they stop people from flying in those zones?

De Nesnera: What they do is - the skies are patrolled by whoever that coalition is at that particular time. And in the last 20 years there were two such no-fly zones – one over Bosnia for two years in the mid-nineties and one over northern and southern Iraq spanning from 1991 to 2003.

The first one was a NATO operation and the one over northern and southern Iraq was a coalition of basically just three countries – the United States, Britain and, to a certain extent, France was involved.

Yackee: Do they actually shoot planes down? What about the people on the ground?

De Nesnera: It’s a good question. What you have to do – and this is what the international community is doing right now – you have to define the objective of the no-fly zone.

Let’s take the example of Libya that everybody is talking about. What is the objective? Is it to protect the people? That way you would be involved in one kind of no-fly zone. Is it to overthrow Colonel Gadhafi? Or is it to help the rebels? So you have to define that and then, based on that, you also have something called the rules of engagement… Do you shoot [planes] down when they are just in that area or do you shoot when they attack you? So there is a lot involved. And that’s not even talking about the military aspect – how many planes should be involved? Are you going to patrol all of Libya or certain parts? So there are a lot of issues that need to be resolved before one can even consider a no-fly zone over Libya.