Russian President Vladimir Putin's unjustified war of aggression against Ukraine has provoked appropriate scorn from much of the West, with U.S. and European powers levying punitive sanctions against the Russian invaders. Many Americans are inspired by the bravery of the Ukrainian people defending their homeland—and the unusual honor of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy—and wish that we could do even more.
Indeed, NBC News correspondent Richard Engel, observing Russian forces marching on Kyiv, contemplated whether the U.S. should directly attack the Russian convoy.
Perhaps the biggest risk-calculation/moral dilemma of the war so far. A massive Russian convoy is abt 30 miles from Kyiv. The US/NATO could likely destroy it. But that would be direct involvement against Russia and risk, everything. Does the West watch in silence as it rolls?
— Richard Engel (@RichardEngel) February 28, 2022
It should go without saying, but this is an extremely bad idea. The risk is far too great.
First off, the U.S. cannot attack Russia because Congress has yet to declare war on the country. And make no mistake, a direct attack on Russian forces by either the U.S. or NATO would be an act of war. This would bring two of the world's superpowers into direct conflict for the first time since World War II. The risk of a nuclear attack, on either side, would increase dramatically. Indeed, favorable conditions for an all-out nuclear war would, for the first time in world history, finally be achieved.
The plight of the Ukrainians is tragic, but as much as we might like to aid them militarily, the U.S. cannot undertake a course of action with a significant likelihood of causing nuclear annihilation. While it would be gratifying to punish Putin for trying to reclaim the Soviet empire, a bad actor's malicious behavior is no excuse for recklessness on the part of the U.S. Despite Engel's suggestion that the situation presents a "moral dilemma," there is no dilemma here to speak of: War between nuclear powers is not an option.
The same goes for calls to establish a "no-fly zone" over Ukraine. A no-fly zone is not a magic protective barrier—the U.S. would have to enforce it by shooting down Russian airplanes. Russia's air force is quite powerful, so this would be no easy feat. But in any case, it would still amount to war with Russia. The U.S. must therefore reject Zelenskyy's heartfelt request for a no-fly zone. The Biden administration has thus far wisely indicated that such a move is off the table.