Experts say that enforcing the Libyan flight ban over an extended period is likely to be a major challenge for NATO, since Libya covers 680,000 square miles (1,761,191 square kilometers). On the plus side, most of the population lives on 10 percent of the land, in a narrow region along the coast [source: France24]. A March 2011 analysis by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments estimated the cost of imposing a no-fly zone over the entire country for a six-month period at $3.1 billion to $8.8 billion [source: Harrison and Cooper].
Additionally, no-fly zones necessitate risks to NATO pilots. In Bosnia in 1995, U.S. Air Force Capt. Scott O'Grady's F-16 was hit by a surface-to-air missile. Grady was forced to eject and parachute into Serbian-held territory. Relying upon his survival training, he spent six harrowing days evading Bosnian Serb pursuers, eating ants and catching rain in a plastic bag for drinking water. Fortunately, he was able to establish radio contact with a U.S. search plane, and eventually was rescued by a team of Marines [source: Fedarko].
In Iraq, Saddam Hussein reportedly offered a $14,000 reward in the late 1990s to anyone who could shoot down a coalition aircraft, but fortunately no one ever was able to collect [source: McGeary]. Even in Libya, where anti-aircraft defenses have been destroyed, NATO airplanes are still vulnerable to a lucky shot from shoulder-fired missiles. According to a Russian wire-service report, Gaddafi reportedly possesses 600 to 1,500 such weapons, and has been handing them out to supporters [source: RIA Novosti].
Critics of no-fly zones also question whether they actually achieve their intended purpose of preventing despotic regimes from killing their own people. In Bosnia, for example, the no-fly zone failed to prevent Bosnian Serb forces from laying siege to Srebrenica and massacring 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys there in 1995 [source: BBC News]. Additionally, in Libya, it remains unclear how effective the no-fly zone will be in deterring Libyan dictator Gaddafi from suppressing the rebellion. The regime's ground forces -- tanks, artillery and foreign mercenaries -- are still vastly superior in might to the largely untrained, poorly armed and disorganized opposition [source: England and Green]. As a result, some have criticized the no-fly zone as a halfway measure, and argued that the only way to prevent a slaughter is for the United States and its allies to invade Libya with ground forces and overthrow Gaddafi. But President Obama, in a March 2011 speech, nixed the military regime-change option, in part because it would exceed the U.N. mandate and would risk too many American lives. Additionally, such a move probably would not be supported by neighboring countries [source: Politico].
So for now, a no-fly zone will have to do.
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More Great Links
- Booth, Capt. Geoff. "No-fly zones explained." NATO. April 1, 2011. (April 14, 2011)http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/news_71959.htm?selectedLocale=en
- "Charter of the UNited Nations." UN.org. (Apr. 15, 2011)http://www.UN.org/en/documents/charter/chapter7.shtml
- "Containment: The Iraqi no-fly zones." BBC News. Dec. 29, 1998. (April 14, 2011)http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/events/crisis_in_the_gulf/forces_and_firepower/244364.stm
- England, Andrew and Green, Matthew. "Rebels and Gaddafi forces clash near Brega." FT.com. March 31, 2011. (April 15, 2011)http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/9376512c-5bb3-11e0-b8e7-00144feab49a.html#axzz1JbM9F3JM
- Fedarko, Kevin and Thompson, Mark. "Rescuing Scott O'Grady: All for One." Time. June 19, 1995. (April 15, 2011)http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,983055,00.html
- "Guernica." PBS. (April 14, 2011)http://www.pbs.org/treasuresoftheworld/guernica/glevel_1/1_bombing.html
- Keating, Joshua E. "Do No-Fly Zones Work?" Foreign Policy. Feb. 28, 2011. (April 14, 2011)http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/02/28/do_no_fly_zones_work?page=0,1
- Knickerbocker, Brad. "US leads 'Odyssey Dawn' initial attack on Libya." Christian Science Monitor. March 19, 2011. (April 15, 2011)http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Military/2011/0319/US-leads-Odyssey-Dawn-initial-attack-on-Libya
- Knickerbocker, Brad. "With no-fly zone in Libya now, US-led coalition freer to attack." Christian Science Monitor. March 20, 2011.http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Military/2011/0320/With-no-fly-zone-in-Libya-now-US-led-coalition-freer-to-attack
- McGeary, Joanna. "Bush vs. Saddam: The Sequel." Time. Feb. 18, 2001. (April 15, 2011)http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,99820,00.html
- Labott, Elise and Newton, Paula. "NATO announces agreement on enforcing no-fly zone over Libya." CNN. March 24, 2011. (April 15, 2011)http://articles.cnn.com/2011-03-24/world/libya.nato_1_nato-allies-airstrikes-on-libyan-groUNd-secretary-general-anders-fogh-rasmussen?_s=PM:WORLD
- "No-fly zones: The devil lies in the details." France24.com. March 10, 2011. (April 15, 2011)http://iphone.france24.com/en/20110310-libya-no-fly-zones-us-devil-lies-details-nato-gaddafi
- "Obama's Libya Speech: Full Text as Delivered." Politico. March 28, 2011. (April 14, 2011)http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0311/52093.html
- "Operation Deny Flight." Globalsecurity.org. (April 14, 2011)http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/deny_flight.htm
- Palermo, Linda. "From Iraq to Libya: A history of no-fly zones." The Week. March 8, 2011) http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/76090,news-comment,news-politics,from-iraq-to-libya-a-history-of-no-fly-zones
- RIA Novosti. "Libyan Soviet-made arms may fall into hands of terrorists-expert." African Morning News, March 24, 2011. (April 14, 2011)http://www.africanmorningnews.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2247:libyas-soviet-made-arms-may-fall-into-hands-of-terrorists-expert&catid=42:politique&Itemid=94
- Robinson, Tim. "Analysis-Libyan No Fly Zone-What Next?" Aerospace Insight. March 23, 2011. (April 15, 2011)http://www.aerosocietychannel.com/aerospace-insight/2011/03/initial-analysis-no-fly-zone/
- "Security CoUNcil Approves 'No-Fly Zone' Over Libya, Authorizing 'All Necessary Measures' to Protect Civilians, By Vote of 10 in Favour With 5 Abstentions." UN Security Council. March 17, 2011. (April 14, 2011)http://www.UN.org/News/Press/docs/2011/sc10200.doc.htm
- "Timeline: Siege of Srebrenica." BBC News. June 9, 2005. (April 15, 2011)http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/675945.stm
- "Weissenstein, Michael and Lekic, Slobodan. "NATO: Libyan no-fly zone carries compex risks." Navy Times. March 9, 2011. (April 14, 2011)http://www.navytimes.com/news/2011/03/ap-nato-could-easily-impose-no-fly-zone-in-libya-030911/