WASHINGTON -- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) would be willing to risk going to war with Russia in order to enforce a no-fly zone in Syria.
In a Monday interview with CNBC's John Harwood, the presidential candidate argued that doing nothing would only embolden terror groups like the Islamic State and increase the number of refugees coming out of Syria.
"I am confident the Air Force can enforce that," Rubio said of a hypothetical safe zone in Syria. "I believe the Russians would not test that. I don't think it's in the Russians' interest to engage in an armed conflict with the United States."
Asked what he would do if Russian forces decided to enter the safe zone anyway, Rubio responded, "Well, then you're going to have a problem. But that would be no different than any other adversary."
Imposing a unilateral no-fly zone at a time when Russian aircraft are already present in the sky over Syria would substantially increase the risk of armed conflict, military experts told the Christian Science Monitor last week.
But Rubio, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was willing to accept the consequences of armed conflict with Russia and President Vladimir Putin because the alternative, in his view, "is worse."
"The alternative is [Syrian President Bashar] Assad will remain in power but never control the whole of Syria again," he said. "The alternative is the continued growth of non-ISIS terrorist groups in addition to ISIS itself.
"That being said, we cannot say, well, if Putin is going to test us, we can't do anything. You basically at that point ceded to him as becoming the most influential geopolitical broker in the region," he added.
Rubio isn't the only GOP presidential contender to voice support for establishing a no-fly zone in Syria. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have done so as well.
Democratic presidential contenders are split on the matter. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday that she supported creating "a no-fly zone and humanitarian corridors to try to stop the carnage on the ground and from the air." Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), her chief rival for the nomination, said he opposes the imposition of a no-fly zone because it could get America "deeply involved in that horrible civil war and lead to a never-ending U.S. entanglement in that region."