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A No-Fly Zone in Syria? It's a Trap

In the absence of conditions needed to implement a successful no-fly zone, as well as the “dangers of perpetual patrol,” the US and its allies should continue to avoid the no-fly zone trap and work with regional leaders and Syrian opposition groups in negotiating Assad’s fall.
A girl holds a sign reading: "People want a no fly zone" during a demonstration against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Homs, December 27, 2011. Arab monitors head to three more Syrian cities on Thursday to check if government forces are complying with a peace plan after a delegation to Homs, centre of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, was mobbed by protesters demanding protection. Picture taken December 27, 2011.  REUTERS/Handout (SYRIA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONL

As the United States and its allies seek ways to end the Syrian bloodshed and devise feasible scenarios for a post-Assad Syria, options for intervention have resurfaced. France has suggested a possible no-fly zone that oversteps UN Security Council approval, as well as its willingness to recognize a Syrian transitional government as soon as it is formed. Turkey is pressing for a buffer zone in the northern border region. And even though the Obama administration is reticent to intervene militarily, its “responsibility to protect” policy leaves open the possibility of a “partial no-fly zone.” These options would alleviate immediate suffering; however, they are based on humanitarian principles and not a political solution. If extended over the medium term, they could have deleterious consequences on the territorial sanctity of the post-Assad state.

Although some may refer to NATO’s Libyan intervention as a successful no-fly model, this outcome is unlikely to be replicated in Syria unless the US and its allies can cripple Assad’s military and air defenses from the outset. Even then, since a no-fly zone is a means to an end, it requires clear and shared political objectives among allies — either to deter Assad or remove him from power. Both options would require effective air power and military support on the ground, in coordination with unified opposition forces and peacekeeping operations. None of these conditions are present or likely to become available in the immediate future.

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