It feels like déjà vu all over again: France, which led the charge for military intervention in Libya last year, is now backing a partial no-fly zone in Syria—a step that would for all practical purposes amount to a declaration of war.
Last night, France's Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian "urged the international community to consider backing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria," reports The Associated Press' Bassem Mroue, telling France 24 TV that Paris would help implement a full no-fly zone "if it followed international legal principles." As Reuters' John Irish reports, Le Drian's statement marks "the first time a senior French official had suggested that an 'international coalition,' rather than the United Nations, could intervene in Syria." Peculiarly, Le Drian advocated a "partial" no-fly zone instead of a full one, saying that shutting down Syria's entire air space would be tantamount to "going to war."
News flash: Setting up even a partial no-fly zone would still mean going to war. That's an important distinction given France's demonstrated capability of inching the U.S. and its NATO allies toward intervention. And using the kid gloves term "partial no-fly zone" shouldn't cloud that fact. It's a distinction Dan Trombly at the Center for a New American Security makes well in a blog post this morning:
What is particularly revealing here is that a “partial” no-fly zone is floated as some sort of non-war action, but a nationwide no-fly zone in Syria would be “tantamount to war.” But of course, imposing a no-fly zone over part of Syria or the whole of it is a matter of quantitative degree rather than qualitative difference. As I explored in a piece for the United States Naval Institute, imposing a no-fly zone in Syria would likely mean conducting intensive Suppression of Enemy Air Defense to destroy Syria’s air defenses and air force. Even a partial no-fly zone would likely require some strikes outside its limits in order to degrade Syrian airfields, early-warning radars and mobile or semi-mobile air defense systems.
Just something to consider when NATO allies start making bolder pronouncements about interventions that the U.S. will likely bare the brunt of carrying out.