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No-fly zone

Ridding the world of bluebottles

This is perhaps too obvious to be worth pointing out, but since that has never stopped me before: the use of no-fly zone to mean flying-and-bombing zone evidently Unspeaks the level of violence (and, inevitably, “collateral damage”) that is going to be involved, such that eminent commentators can blithely say that they would “enforce” one without fearing much scorn except for people whose only contribution to society is to sneer.

If those in favour of an “intervention” (which, puh-lease?) were instead required to say something like: “I am in favour of bombing tanks and people, and shooting down aircraft, in all likelihood injuring and killing other people, including noncombatants”, instead of just gibbering about the desirability of a no-fly zone while holding their mental noses about how it gets established, the “debate” might be a little more interesting, mightn’t it, readers?

  1. 1  Jeff Strabone  March 24, 2011, 7:51 pm 

    The term ‘no-fly zone’, which I associate with U.S. President George H.W. Bush in 1991, is surely the work of an illiterate. What is one to say in response to a no-fly zone? ‘We no fly now‘? This is the worst English imaginable. I prefer ‘air-exclusion zone’ or ‘no-flight zone’, as in a zone where flights are not allowed.

    As for the military operations in Libya, may I refer you to the text of UN Security Council Resolution 1973, where you will find at least two separate authorizations? Paragraph four authorizes member states, without using ground troops,

    ‘to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya’.

    Then, a bit later, in a section under a different heading, we see in paragraph six the authorization for a ‘ban on all flights’.

    There are other provisions as well. My point here is that this is not simply a ‘no-fly zone’. It is a ‘no-fly zone’ and an authorization ‘to take all necessary measures’. You may want to rename it the ‘take-all-necessary-measures zone’ or, in more Bushian language, the ‘no-stop-me zone’.

    Finally, in season six of Curb Your Enthusiasm, ‘No-Fly Zone’ was the brand of ‘no-fly’ underwear marketed by Cheryl’s new boyfriend after she left Larry. This is the only acceptable use of the phrase ‘no-fly’.

  2. 2  Steven  March 24, 2011, 7:55 pm 

    Notwithstanding the authorization of “all necessary measures”, you cannot actually create and enforce a “no-fly zone” without bombing things and people, a fact that the phrase conveniently obscures, as though it were merely a traffic directive from God.

  3. 3  Graham Slapp  March 25, 2011, 7:54 am 

    Which is, of course, the point. The term “no-fly zone” is an anodyne phrase for public consumption only. That it cannot be practically enforced without widespread destruction (from as far away as possible) is not for the rest of us to worry about until the UN resolution is in place.

  4. 4  Ian Leslie  March 25, 2011, 9:15 am 

    Steven – this is similar to the point Robert Gates was making when he expressed frustration at ‘loose talk’ about no-fly zones.

    Jeff, I love that you describe no-fly zone as ‘the worst English imaginable’ and then suggest ‘air-exclusion zone’ as an alternative. The latter presumably a strategy to starve Gadaffi of oxygen.

  5. 5  Steven  March 25, 2011, 9:19 am 

    Thanks, Ian, I had missed that at the time.

    Gates said:

    “There is a lot of, frankly, loose talk about some of these military options. Let’s just call a spade a spade.

    “A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defences. That’s the way you do a no-fly zone.

    “Then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down. That is the way it starts.”

  6. 6  aboulian  March 26, 2011, 12:09 am 

    I’m a bit disoriented by this whole thing.

    And watching Question Time I was struck by how the humanitarian argument for intervention (or, to be Steven about it, ‘intervention’) can’t really ever be wrong. That is it proves too much. I couldn’t say what the threshold is, but any event of sufficient violence, or impression of imminent violence — often with a reference to historical violence which was let pass — can be cited to evoke the conclusion that we must intervene to save lives. ‘People are dying/will die: we have to save them’, is how it tends to run. But the wide applicability of this argument in theory jars against its limited application in practice. That it only arises when the proposed intervention is practicable is not itself disqualifying, but it indicates the presence of a submerged premise whose acknowledgement would deprive the argument of some moral pertinence — modifying it, in effect, to read: ‘People will die: we can save them: we have to save them’.

    It sound less glamorous to say that we are unleashing preventative death not in thrall to the purity of moral necessity, but because we can. I don’t however know that, if this is recognised, the argument loses any persuasive or coercive force.

  7. 7  richard  April 8, 2011, 9:28 am 

    This is entirely off-topic, but if you feel like expanding your remit to include maps and graphics (unlook, maybe), maps of war is doing yeoman’s work in propping up dodgy narratives largely without words. I have a brief rant about it over here, but I know it can be eviscerated far more effectively.

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