Getting creative about that MiG dilemma
Occasionally, strange historical precedents can be used to solve current dilemmas.
Here is the current problem. Several NATO countries, most notably Poland, have Russian MiG fighter planes. They are willing to provide them to Ukraine. These MiGS are similar to the planes that Ukrainian pilots use. They could be put into service in relatively short order. Once in service, they would substantially limit the massive inhumane Russian bombing of Ukrainian cities. Stopping the bombing is vital. The Russian land forces might be defeated, but it will be a pyrrhic victory if the civilian population is annihilated.
If airplanes were in the same class as the Javelin and Stinger missiles currently being shipped to Ukraine, they would already be on their way. Ukrainian pilots would simply travel to Poland, take possession, and fly them home.
Airplanes are not in the same class. Russia has announced that flights originating in third-party countries automatically make that country a combatant in the war and therefore a target.
When the U.S. greenlighted Poland's initiative, several analysts pointed out that not only would Poland become a target, but this action would legally put Poland outside NATO's protective umbrella. This may sound like an excessively fine legal distinction, but it really isn't. It would put Poland in the position of an aggressor.
Poland realized the problem this created for it and instead suggested that the planes be flown to a NATO base in Germany, where the Ukrainian pilots could collect them. NATO and specifically the U.S. rejected the idea. NATO is a defensive alliance. This move would lend credence to Russia's otherwise wild claim that NATO poses an invasion threat to Russia. It is the invasion threat that Russia uses as a pretext for attacking Ukraine.
Many readers will find this dilemma between ridiculous and surreal, but there is a hard reality to it. The leaders of Poland, the U.S., and NATO take it seriously. It has stymied the transfer.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said, "The prospect of fighter jets at the disposal of the government of the United States of America departing from a U.S./NATO base in Germany to fly into airspace that is contested with Russia over Ukraine raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance."
In his recent address, President Volodymyr Zelensky urged Poland and the U.S. to solve this logistical riddle: "This is not ping-pong! It's about human lives! We ask once again: solve it faster. Do not shift the responsibility; send us planes."
There is a historical precedent that cuts through the dilemma. In 1940, the United States had not yet entered WWII. The United Kingdom bought several airplanes from the United States. The U.S. was neutral and therefore faced the same transfer problem, but worse. Congress had passed the Neutrality Act, which expressly forbade these kinds of flights.
Canada is right next door, but it was already an active participant in the war. Flying war planes to Canada would be as unacceptable as flying them directly to England. The solution was to transport the planes to the Canadian border. They were connected to tractors or in most cases horses and towed across the border. As unbelievable as that sounds, it's true.
This solution is available today. The MiGs could be moved across the border in the same way. There will certainly be logistical challenges in getting the MiGs to the border, but those can be overcome, just as in 1940 challenges were overcome. We have a major advantage over the people back then. We won't have to use horses.
Image: Pixabay, Pixabay License.