Former NATO commander Wesley Clark urges the US to review the no-fly zone

The Post Op-Ed Editor Kelly Jane Torrance talks to former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark by phone on Wednesday. These are excerpts from their conversation.

Q: What moves can the United States take beyond sanctions right now to help protect Ukraine?

A: The most important move right now is the chairman’s announcement Vladimir Putin is a war criminal. Really. This gives great diplomatic leverage and greater incentive to help the campaign.

Q: Does Putin really care if the president or international bodies declare him a war criminal?

A: First, it can rally European support even more strongly – European governments are all interested in the concept of war crimes. Second, it strengthens Ukraine by supporting President Zelensky. And third, if it passes, it means the end of Putin as a world leader no matter how this plays out. It was a very powerful move. Putin doesn’t really care about money. He cares about his reputation – and so does China.

Q: NATO seems to falter – they are saying that member states, such as Poland, cannot even send fighter jets to Ukraine through NATO airspace.

Retired US Army General Wesley Clark
Retired General Wesley Clark is calling for a NATO-imposed no-fly zone over Ukraine, regardless of how Russia might react.
David Paul Morris / Bloomberg via Getty Images

A: This is a mistake. This is driven by the United States, and I would like the United States to reconsider this. Russia does not own Ukraine’s border. They belong to Ukraine. Ukraine is a country under threat. And under the Charter of the United Nations, states have the right to request assistance in self-defense.

How did the Russians know a fighter jet was transferred to use NATO airspace? How do they know it’s not flying over black Sea? How do they know it’s not coming above Belarus?

Look, in the 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the United States has operated as the world’s superpower. Americans today do not recall the stresses and hardships of cold war period. As NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said, this is the new normal. We are not fighting Iraq. We are not in Afghanistan. We are up against another near-peer competitor have nuclear weapons. We must learn and understand how to deal with situations like these. This won’t be the last time.

Q: Do you support the no-fly zone?

A: Absolutely possible. The airspace belongs to Ukraine. If they ask for help, why can’t we fly the plane in there? Say, oh, it’s the Russians, they can come and scramble for it. That’s the Russian problem. They are going to be shot down. Okay, then what? Putin said that he would use nuclear weapons. If we step back from that challenge, if we don’t confront it, then this is like a two-pair gambling hoax, with extremely high stakes.

Get the latest information update in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict with live coverage of The Post.

Q: Will Putin use nuclear weapons?

A: If he loses, I think he can. And if we think that there is a possibility that a guy will use nuclear weapons against us, I guess we just have to abandon the concept of extended deterrence. Why do we want to protect Estonia if Putin wants to use nuclear weapons? Is Estonia worth it? You say it’s NATO, but the hard, cold reality is that Putin can move to Estonia and take control before we decide what to do. Or Taiwan – what if China says, You come to Taiwan again, we’ll use nuclear weapons. The Chinese have a lot of people, they have a lot of nuclear weapons. What if North Korea says, You organize another exercise, We will use nuclear weapons. Say oh, we’ll wipe you out. No, you won’t wipe us out, we can attack the US – right now. What if Iran says that? That’s the answer to it. It’s easy to be the world’s power when we resist Libya, Iraq and Syria. The United States must readjust its understanding, leadership, and processes to operate in this new area, or we will lose the rules-based international system we pride ourselves on. established after World War II and we established using the concept of extended deterrence.

A Zircon cruise missile is launched from a Russian navy frigate during the exercise.
Clark argues that Russia poses a greater threat to the world with nuclear weapons than past adversaries.
ense Ministry said. (Press Service of the Ministry of Defense of Russia via AP

Q: Is there anything we can do, at least say, to degrade Russia’s capabilities, if they continue to escalate and they continue? kill civilians?

A: We can certainly use the net. This is the problem. Anything you do that affects Russian activity will cross Mr. Putin’s so-called red lines. The problem is like this. Ukraine is Hardest opponent he will face, more difficult, say Latvia, Estonia or Lithuania. If you can’t figure out how to deal with his threats now, you have to find a way to deal with them later. And not only from Putin but from North Korea, Iran and China. Putin’s challenge is a challenge to America’s expansive deterrence doctrine. During the Cold War, questions were always raised. Would the United States really sacrifice and, say, risk New York to defend Hamburg, Germany, from a Russian attack? That is the question. We know that we do not have enough force to stop a Russian attack on NATO. But we underestimate the reliability of our first use theory by deploy US troops and has a wide range of nuclear options from tactical to scenario to strategic. We have essentially eliminated those options, the important thing is to align America’s commitments to NATO, which is America’s strategic deterrent. Now, Putin has found a hole in the American doctrine.

Q: In favor of a no-fly zone, it sounds like you think we should be willing to risk a certain degree of escalation.

A: I think we have to. We must think about our situation and measure what actions we can take to counter the risks they incur both in the short and long term.

A map showing where Russian troops have attacked so far in Ukraine since 2 March 2022.
Russian forces have killed more than 2,000 Ukrainian civilians so far, with thousands more in danger as cities besieged.
NY Post illustration
An army officer moves between a Bulgarian MiG-29 and a Spanish Eurofighter EF-2000 Typhoon II and a MiG-29, in Graf Ignatievo, Thursday, February 17, 2022.
Clark encouraged the US to occupy Ukraine’s airspace since the country was invaded.
AP Photo / Valentina Petrova

Q: The last question is: Will the West stand by and watch? Innocent people slaughtered?

A: I think that’s the conundrum that the government is facing. What can we do without triggering the red line? And the answer to that is: It doesn’t just depend on us. It depends on Putin. I’d say it’s a bit unpredictable. Former NATO commander Wesley Clark urges the US to review the no-fly zone


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