A handful of politicians have repeatedly called for a no-fly zone (NFZ) in Syria to provide safe haven for refugees fleeing regime airstrikes.
The Obama administration has largely rebuffed any calls for an NFZ, but the weight of a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations adds credence to the prospect. Bill Richardson, who is also New Mexico’s former governor and once ran for to be the Democrat’s presidential candidate, joins Hillary Clinton and John McCain in advocating for an NFZ, but Richardson’s reasoning differs from the others.
“The most important reason I think this no-fly zone is needed is it would really test Russia,” Richardson said during a panel discussion hosted by McBee Strategic about the future of NATO. “Is Russia’s intent really just to help Assad and not do anything with ISIS? Is it just provincial arguments? Or are they ready to participate in a transition of a new government in Syria with perhaps Assad still playing some kind of role?”
The administration’s opposition is based on the potential difficulties of establishing an NFZ. Once an NFZ is set up, it must be enforced. The White House fears the escalation of already tense relations if Russia responds to the NFZ aggressively. But Richardson thinks it is time for NATO to call the Russian’s bluff.
“We haven’t tested Russia there,” he said. “Would Russia be ready for a conflict with NATO? I don’t think so.”
Russia has steadfastly supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime since the start of the civil war there. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia — along with China — has repeatedly vetoed measures aimed at reigning in the Syrian regime’s offensives against civilians.
“Without [Russian and Chinese] vetoes, we could have seen an arms embargo, sanctions on key Syrian decision-makers – maybe referrals to the International Criminal Court,” Stefan Barriga, a UN diplomat from Liechtenstein, told Al Jazeera in September last year.
In September, Russia officially intervened in Syria with the start of an airstrike campaign. The Kremlin claimed Russian jets were targeting ISIS, but opposition activists and watchdogs said that the airstrikes only bolstered the extremist group.