Over the weekend the United States, along with France, Britain and Canada implemented a no-fly zone over Libya. But how effective are they really? (More)

What is a no-fly zone?

A no-fly zone can be one of two different things depending on the situation:

1. It is an area around important political or strategic places in which no Civilian Flights are allowed for security reasons? Examples: The White House and Buckingham Palace

2. Prohibiting aircraft from a belligerent nation from flying in a designated area, almost like a demilitarized zone in the sky. The two previous times no fly zones have been used were in Iraq from 1992-2003 and in Bosnia from 1993-1995.

Iraqi No-Fly Zone 1992-2003

Following the end of the First Gulf War in 1991, the United States, France and Great Britain, implemented no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq as a means to stop possible violence against the local populations by Saddam Hussein. Specifically these nations sought to protect the Kurdish population in northern Iraq and the Shiite populations in southern Iraq who were fleeing Iraqi persecution.

By 1993, the scope had also been expanded to destroy anti-aircraft installations that might threaten aircraft defending these zones. This is important in that it’s a noted evolution in no-fly zones, as no longer are we restricting ourselves just to military aircraft but now we are also permitting the targeting of ground forces which pose a threat to those aircraft.

The other important thing to take away from the Iraqi no-fly zones is the 1994 Blackhawk incident when two American aircraft accidently shot down two American Blawkhawk helicopters. While very tragic, the primary impact of this incident would be felt not in Iraq but rather in the no-fly zone over Bosnia. As of 1999, over 200,000 sorties had been flown in support of the two Iraqi no-fly zones.

Bosnian No-Fly Zone 1993-1995 (Operations Deny Flight and Deliberate Force)

In October 1992, the United Nations passed a resolution adopting a no-fly zone in Bosnia as a result of the Bosnian War. As a result of this, U.N. forces made note of the amount of times that this restricted airspace was breached, amounting to over 500 by April 1993. Following this the U.N. passed another resolution, barring all flights instead of just military flights and also allowing U.N. members to take all necessary measures to ensure compliance with the resolution.

While this operation was highly successful in preventing the amount of fixed winged aircraft from flying in the restricted zone, from 20 flights a month down to 3, it was much less successful in reducing the amount of flights by helicopters during this time. This was because helicopters would be misrepresented as belonging to the Red Cross or U.N. Humanitarian Aid and after the Blackhawk incident in Iraq mentioned about the problem only became worse.

The second important thing to learn from the Bosnian no-fly zone is the importance of communication in the no-fly zone itself. While the U.N. had passed the resolution for the no-fly zone and had peacekeepers on the ground itself, the no-fly zone was administered by NATO. Although the U.N. ended up passing another resolution allowing for NATO planes to support U.N. peacekeepers with close air support, due to a bloated communications chain of command, this support could often be over a day late. This is best exemplified by Air Response to Srebrenica in July 1995, in which NATO aircraft arrived in support over a day late in support of a U.N. safe zone. This is believed to have been one of the causes of the Srebenica Massacre. As a result of this however, U.N. forces calling for NATO close air support no longer had to go through civilian channels, but instead could go through military channels only when they needed support.

The final thing to take away from this no-fly zone was the willingness of Serbian forces to take U.N. peacekeepers hostage. This led to some months where there was no enforcement of the zone itself while trying to resolve and protect the safety of these hostages. It is important to note because any of our allied population on the ground in one of these areas is not only under the possibility of being injured by a possible strike, no matter how precise our bombing, but they can also be used against us if they are taken hostage. However it is still worth noting that in the 2 years that the no-fly zone was in effect, over 100,000 sorties were run by the 12 NATO nations.

The effectiveness of no-fly zones and looking at Libya?

There is still debate as to the effectiveness and impact of no-fly zones. As we are able to see from Bosnia, they are highly effective at reducing the impact of fixed wing aircraft, however they are less effective in reducing the presence and use of helicopters, which we do know that Gaddafi is using. It is also believed that the no-fly zone that was in place over Bosnia for two years, made the bombing campaign of 1995 much more effective as there was already established air superiority and reduced air defense.

However we must also account for the possibility of hostage taking, both of international civilians and personnel and possible rebel forces. If our true aim is to protect the civilians from Gaddafi’s militaristic oppression then we need to strive to ensure that we do not needlessly inflame the issue. We need to always be prepared to go back to the diplomatic table to truly support these civilians.

The final thing we need to ask ourselves is whether or not taking aim at Gaddafi’s forces that are no threat to our aircraft constitutes a no-fly zone mission. We’ve begun missions already that have assaulted troops of encroaching forces into these areas. In general though, it’s hard to comment on this issue beyond the philosophical merits due to a current lack of information on the anti-aircraft capabilities of these targets hit.

And that’s where we’ll start tonight’s questions:

Will a no-fly zone in Libya increase or to decrease the likelihood of civilian deaths?

Based on the information above and how both the previous no-fly zones ended, do you think this is merely a prelude of more to come and that we should be ready to stay there for two years or more at least?