Originally published at MintPress News.
AUSTIN, Texas — During Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate, Republican nominee Gov. Mike Pence called for a no-fly zone in Syria, a sign of growing bipartisan support for a measure that military experts have warned could ultimately provoke war with Russia.
It’s an alarming prospect that comes amid rising tensions between the two superpowers, and some suggest it could even lead to a devastating exchange of nuclear weapons.
“The United States of America needs to be prepared to work with our allies in the region to create a route for safe passage [for humanitarian aid] and then to protect people in those areas, including with a no-fly zone,” Pence saidduring a discussion of the crisis in Syria and a proposal for creating humanitarian “safe zones.”
Pence also called for U.S. forces to target the Syrian army with airstrikes, marking a major departure from running mate Donald Trump’s previous statements on Syria. During a May 20 phone call with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Trump suggested he would not target the Syrian government or its military, working instead to collaborate with Russia in Syria to target Daesh (an Arabic acronym for the terrorist organization commonly known as ISIS or ISIL in the West).
Sen. Tim Kaine, the Democratic nominee, also expressed support for the concept during the debate:
Hillary and I also agree that the establishment of humanitarian zones in northern Syria with the provision of international human aid, consistent with the U.N. Security Council resolution that was passed in February 2014, would be a very, very good idea.
In October and again in a Democratic debate in December, Hillary Clinton has repeatedly voiced her support for no-fly zones in Syria. In 2012, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggested maintaining a Syrian no-fly zone could require as many as 70,000 U.S. troops.
However, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned during a Sept. 22 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee that establishing a no-fly zone would constitute an act of war against Syria and Russia.
In response to a question from Roger Wicker, a Republican senator from Mississippi, Dunford said:
Right now, Senator, for us to control all of the airspace in Syria, it would require us to go to war against Syria and Russia. That’s a pretty fundamental decision that certainly I’m not going to make.
Other experts have questioned the entire concept of “safe zones.” Kate Gould, a Middle East policy analyst from theFriends Committee on National Legislation, warned that a Syrian safe zone could actually provoke more instability in the war-torn country. In an Aug. 30 analysis for Vox, she wrote:
The goal of a ‘safe zone’ is a laudable one: to protect civilians from attacks in a designated area. But despite its misleadingly simplistic name, establishing a ‘safe zone’ in Syria would put civilians in even greater danger and risk prolonging Syria’s bloody nightmare.
‘They threaten the very existence of civilization’
Russia ended its involvement in a plutonium disposal treaty on Monday, with Russian President Vladimir Putin citing an increasingly hostile relationship with the United States as provocation. During recent years, the United States and its Western allies have encircled Russia with weaponry and hostile governments, violating treaties signed at the end of the Cold War.
This week, 40 million Russians are participating in annual civil defense drills, including testing civil defense forces’ preparedness in the face of chemical, biological, or radioactive weapons. From war games to civil defense, it paints the disturbing prospect that Washington and Moscow are setting the stage for a devastating global conflict that some have compared to World War III.
In January, the board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which includes 18 Nobel laureates, warned that heightened global tensions are dangerously close to provoking nuclear war. “They threaten the very existence of civilization and therefore should be the first order of business for leaders who care about their constituents and their countries,“ the board urged.
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ “Doomsday Clock,” a symbolic representation of the risk of nuclear war, currently stands at just three minutes to midnight.
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