No-Fly Zone Madness
Catastrophe and Conflict in Aleppo
Tuesday’s House of Commons debate in Britain was filled with the hollow anguish of impotence, fresh with statements about Russian war criminality tossed about like freshly made blinis. Ever easy to point to, Russian support for a regime which Western powers wish to remove, at the expense of further catastrophe, has accelerated the ruthless disposition of the conflict. Peace talks have died in utero; the agents’ actions lack conviction and they pursue, instead, the moral outrage that only impotence engenders.
Hence the scenes of pent up indignation in the Commons, with members running up flags of desperation against a force they see as the Assad monster, backed to the hilt by bully boy Russia and theocratic Iran. At points, the descriptions of desperation became more insistent on a direct military confrontation with Russia, oblivious about the dangerous escalation of the entire conflict.
Aleppo has been raised to be a spectre of cruelty and devastation, a point that was driven home by members of the House after Russia’s veto of a UN resolution calling for a ceasefire in the eastern part of the city.
Individuals such as former international development secretary, Andrew Mitchell, have been pushing for a no-fly zone for months. Erroneously, and dangerously, Mitchell assumes that such zones of aerial engagement can be controlled and delicately managed, despite a proposed tracking of Russian jets by UK warships off the Syrian coast.
On BBC Radio 4’s programme, Mitchell claimed, “No one wants to see a firefight with Russia, no one wants to shoot down a Russian plane.” This is the same Mitchell who claimed that the UK, having learned hard lessons from Iraq, had a plan for post-Qaddafi Libya.
One would hate to have seen the alternative, though anyone with a sense of history’s nasty surprises would be wary about hyperventilating rhetoric on the moral register. For Mitchell, Russia’s behaviour regarding Aleppo matched “the behaviour of the Nazi regime in Guernica in Spain.”
The parliamentary proceedings during Tuesday’s three-hour emergency debate contained an element of farce, though foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, urged members to remember that “the mills of justice grind slowly, but they grind small”. He had held to the firm line, at least so far, that no-fly zones were simply too risky a proposition, an open invitation to expanded conflict and dangerous encounters.
That said, to help the grind towards some form of indignant justice just that little bit, Johnson urged protests outside the Russian embassy. The ledger board for political points was obviously something Johnson had in mind, arguing that other organisations needed to have their voice heard against Russian shelling and bombing.
This view has been appended to a growing list of calls by such company as US Secretary of State John Kerry and French President and François Hollande, who wish to Russia accountable for war crimes in the International Criminal Court.
This rather rich and discriminatory assertion is not so much focused on the regular civilian deaths occasioned by the airstrikes as the attack on an aid convoy that scuttled the latest Russia-US led ceasefire. Details have been traded and questioned, often with infantile fury, but the facts, as with so much in the Syrian war, remain grimly obscured.
The business of finding war criminals would, in any case, be a tough one, since these same powers assist a fair share of brutal rebels who have a good complement of atrocities under their belts as well. Sponsorship from Paris, Washington and London has never been doubted, and their efforts to destabilise the region more broadly have are a given.
What, then, of the no-fly zone proposition? Even the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, has conceded privately about how devastating it could be in the Syrian conflict. In her 2013 speech to yet another shindig at Goldman Sachs, acknowledgment was made how the carnage would be significant in the event such a zone was implemented with any degree of effectiveness.
They’re getting more sophisticated thanks to Russian imports. To have a no-fly zone you have to take out all of the air defenses, many of which are located in populated areas. So our missiles, even if they are standoff missiles so we’re not putting out pilots are risk – you’re going to kill a lot of Syrians.
The result is clear, even from Clinton’s sometimes tortured logic: bodies, and more bodies: “So all of a sudden this intervention that people talk about so glibly becomes an American and NATO involvement where you take a lot of civilians.”
As is evidenced by Clinton’s own scepticism, the no-fly zone for Syria is a cul-de-sac of sanguinary doom. Her initial comments came before the full blooded commitment of Russia’s air force had commenced. To implement such a plan now would not only amplify the massacre; it would ensure a regional conflict of ever greater savagery.
Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.