Biden warned that no-fly zone is an "act of war"

Rep. Ilhan Omar similarly said on the House floor that "it would mean the beginning of World War III."

Published March 18, 2022 5:00AM (EDT)

U.S. President Joe Biden (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
U.S. President Joe Biden (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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As Russia's brutal assault on Ukraine continued Thursday, an anti-war group and Congresswoman Ilhan Omar reiterated demands for de-escalation and reminded President Joe Biden that declaring a no-fly zone would mean the United States entering the war, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

While Biden and NATO have so far resisted calls—including from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy—to declare a no-fly zone (NFZ) over Ukraine, as the civilian death toll and damage to infrastructure have grown, so has the pressure on the U.S. leader and the military alliance to do more.

Both Veterans for Peace and the Minnesota Democrat—who spoke on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday—emphasized that enforcing an NFZ would require shooting down Russian aircraft.

"A no-fly zone would mean direct combat between the U.S. and Russia, leading to a wider European war involving countries with nuclear power," said Veterans for Peace executive director Garett Reppenhagen in a statement. "We need de-escalation and diplomacy to bring this terrible war to an end as soon as possible."

Recalling that the strategy was used in parts of Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War, Bosnia in 1992, and Libya in 2011, the organization's statement noted that "those crises were situations in which the U.S. and NATO used their superior air power to stymie the air defenses of the countries they were attacking."

Robert Prokop, a member of the peace group, said that "for several years during the 1990s, my job at the Pentagon was to help enforce the Southern NFZ over Iraq."

"A no-fly zone is an act of war—nothing less," he declared. "It is lethal ordinance falling, not just on equipment, but on human beings. We all need to be crystal clear about this with elected officials and the general public."

Omar began her speech—which lasted more than five minutes—by expressing solidarity with the Ukrainian people "facing a cruel and inhumane war of aggression from a tyrant," referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin. She also acknowledged the bravery of anti-war protesters across Russia.

"We must address this war with courage, foresight, and humility," said Omar, who spent years of her youth in a refugee camp after fleeing war-torn Somalia. "As we stand with the Ukrainian people, we must avoid the knee-jerk calls to make this conflict even worse."

According to the congresswoman, "One thing we should have learned throughout our history is that policy decisions we make simply based on fear or rage rarely end well."

Framing calls for a no-fly zone as "euphemisms" for the U.S. and NATO joining the war, Omar pointed out that an NFZ "is not simply declared; it must be militarily enforced."

"As the president said, a no-fly zone would mean the United States entering the war," she added. "It would mean the beginning of World War III. We must reject this completely."

"The stakes are incredibly high," she pointed out. "There has never been on this Earth a war between two or more nuclear powers—and there is a reason for this. Even in the madness of the Cold War, leaders around the world understood that nuclear war would mean the annihilation of humanity."

Of the nine nuclear-armed nations, Russia and the United States have the largest stockpiles by a significant margin. Given those conditions, similar warnings about an NFZ have stacked up in recent weeks.

In an open letter to the White House last week, nearly 80 foreign policy experts warned against the strategy, writing that "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."

By Jessica Corbett

Jessica Corbett is a staff writer for Common Dreams. Follow her on Twitter: @corbett_jessica.

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