Perspective of Stratfor conservative analysts
January 25 2019 22:52:50 GMT
Trouble Awaits Any Military Intervention in Venezuela
there are several reasons why an external military intervention in Venezuela would be no cakewalk. For one thing, even if sizable portions of the armed forces might balk at turning their weapons on fellow citizens, an invasion could galvanize them to circle their wagons against an external aggressor. And in contrast to Libya's military on the eve of the 2011 intervention that ultimately toppled Moammar Gadhafi, Venezuela's armed forces are much better equipped and enjoy much more advantageous terrain. What's more, Venezuela could receive increased external support from allies such as Russia, which could further complicate plans for an intervention.
Any external military action against Venezuela would, in all likelihood, involve a significant air campaign whose first and foremost goal would be to gain air supremacy over the skies. The only country equipped to conduct such a campaign is the United States. Colombia and Brazil — two regional heavyweights that are staunchly opposed to the Maduro government — lack the aircraft necessary to neutralize the Venezuelan Air Force and its air defenses independently. And even if Venezuelan pilots lack the skills of their Brazilian and Colombian counterparts, they boast an advantage thanks to their superior combat aircraft, especially the Russian-made Su-30MK2. Brazil, for example, will only begin to address this technological imbalance this year, when the country acquires its first batch of Swedish JAS 39E Gripen fighters.
A military intervention could quickly snowball into one of the largest worldwide military operations since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
A U.S. air campaign would undoubtedly decimate the Venezuelan air force, but it would require a considerable effort to also suppress and destroy the country's surface-to-air missile batteries on the ground. This would be a complicated endeavor, particularly as Venezuelan air defense units, unlike Gadhafi's forces, would benefit from the mobility of their systems and the abundance of dense urban and jungle terrain. Furthermore, the Venezuelan army as a whole is very large — even before adding in various paramilitary formations — and relatively well-equipped with light and heavy weapons. With such forces also able to benefit from the same dense urban and jungle terrain, it would require an extended air campaign to grind them down if they were to continue active resistance.
Unless an intervention triggered a mass uprising that quickly toppled the government, any effort to accelerate the campaign with a ground invasion would face its share of problems as well. Given Venezuela's sheer size and population, an intervening country or countries would require a sizable military force. Such an army would then need to confront the problem of choosing a route into Venezuela. A direct intervention by sea is inherently risky because amphibious operations are one of the most complicated and dangerous military maneuvers. Overland invasion routes from Colombia or Brazil also face difficult terrain, complicated logistics and extended supply lines that would be vulnerable to guerrilla attack. In effect, a military intervention could quickly snowball into one of the largest worldwide military operations since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
All of these constraints highlight how a military intervention in Venezuela is not comparable to previous interventions in the region, such as Grenada (1983), Haiti (1994-1995) or Panama (1989-1990). Nor is it particularly similar to the 2011 intervention in Libya. Venezuela's size, population, terrain, and weaponry ensure that a long military campaign would be almost inevitable if the initial action doesn't quickly topple Maduro's government or trigger a collapse in the armed forces. And even if an attacking force were successful, the leaders of a military intervention would be faced with a very messy aftermath in which they would have to suddenly shift from offensive operations to propping up the new government and support its efforts to rebuild a broken economy and food distribution system — to say nothing about the prospect of dealing with possible attacks from disenfranchised Chavista forces in a protracted insurgency. And then there are other pressing issues, such as forced migration, the effect of conflict on the energy market or the potential proliferation of weapons and violence. Simply put, overthrowing Maduro through external intervention is unlikely to provide a shortcut to resolving Venezuela's myriad problems.
“Honoring one of U.S.’ greatest military fiascos from 60 years back suggests U.S. policy to Latin America owes more now to a perverse Cold War nostalgia than practical benefits for people of the region,” said Ivan Briscoe, the Latin American director for the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank.
COMMENTARY / LATIN AMERICA & CARIBBEAN 9 APRIL 2019
Will Pressure Bring Down Venezuela’s Government?
A Worried Inner Circle
The circle closest to Maduro – estimated by Elliott Abrams, U.S. special representative for Venezuela, to number ten to twenty people – is not, as critics often suggest, unaware of the scale of the country’s hastening disaster. By giving its consent to the Red Cross to begin distributing humanitarian aid in Venezuela, the government in effect acknowledged the reality of public destitution. Other global humanitarian bodies report direct approaches from the government to begin relief operations. ...
But the government portrays this extreme deprivation as part of a war of attrition, with each new adversity giving a pretext for government leaders or powerful chavista factions to crack down on the opposition with yet more venom.
The inner circle is also conscious that refusing to yield to any opposition demand – with the exception of accepting humanitarian relief – and shunning the gestures that could help initiate serious negotiations could bring catastrophe. A senior chavista identifies three scenarios in which the government could find itself obliged to talk: mass public disorder, akin to the 1989 Caracazo riots that followed a hike in fuel prices, led to hundreds of deaths and helped pave the way for the rise of Chávez; rifts between the civilian and military wings of government; and foreign military intervention....
But several sources close to government note that, even in these extreme cases, civilian leaders may not back down from unbending resistance. The armed forces, led by Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino López, may well need to persuade them to do so. ...
Some pragmatists in the opposition are displeased that the Trump administration’s unstinting backing for Guaidó has often taken the form of vows to roll back socialism in the Americas or restore the Monroe Doctrine. Yet others do not mind such rhetorical flourishes: Washington, in the words of one top Guaidó ally, is the “bad cop” offering protection for the smiling “good cop” who will eventually prevail.
Not all members of the opposition, however, think it wise for Guaidó to be associated with the sanctions that are deepening Venezuelans’ hardship and triggering sporadic mayhem. ...
figures from both government and opposition in private call for restraint and compromise. International efforts to push for a negotiated solution or to create the conditions under which peace talks could take place, above all the EU-backed International Contact Group, are intensifying. Formulas for unblocking the stalemate between the two sides are proliferating, while secret channels for talks are burrowing underneath the lines. Leading chavistas now speak candidly of the conditions under which they would accept new elections and a possible period in opposition. “Well, at least we had 20 years in power”, says one, stoically, “and the oligarchy had nearly 200”. Leading opposition figures court heresy by accepting that Maduro could stay in office until these new elections are held, possibly by presiding over a government of technocrats.
But these initiatives may fail to yield more than soothing chatter unless they resolve the fundamental differences that the pressure campaign is, if anything, deepening rather than mitigating. Even for pragmatists in the opposition, no negotiation is possible without a clear show of good faith from the government, given the failures of previous rounds of talks. To them, good faith means a landmark concession: a commitment that the government will accept losing power, restoration of the National Assembly’s authority or sweeping reform of the discredited National Electoral Council as a first step toward early elections....
In the government’s eyes, meanwhile, the economic suffocation that should in theory be encouraging them to consider negotiations instead prompts them to believe that the opposition and Washington desire not the restoration of democracy, but, in the words of one recent minister, the “political annihilation of chavismo”. Whereas the opposition demands a token of government sincerity to begin peace talks, the chavistas insist on guarantees of fair treatment at the end of the process. They wish to ensure that their movement will be respected as a political force, that they will not be prosecuted or exposed to a witch hunt, and that the new government will respect their social policies. They insist that they should be entitled to take part in new elections if these occur, and keep power if they are victorious. And they are adamant that no guarantee or pledge to respect their demands can be trusted so long as the U.S. maintains support for Guaidó´s “parallel government” and imposes sanctions that will not be lifted barring the chavistas’ total surrender....
Picking Up the Pieces After Venezuela’s Quashed Uprising
...Left to their own devices, in other words, the two sides are unlikely to reach a workable agreement. The onus is on external actors who, regrettably, have been as divided as Venezuelans themselves. Countries close to Guaidó, those supportive of Maduro and those in between should seize this moment to put aside any maximalist position and nudge their respective allies to compromise. That will require the U.S. and its Latin American partners to rule out any suggestion of military intervention and abandon the demand that Maduro immediately resign. It will require Russia, China and Cuba to accept the need for Maduro to initiate a process leading to credible and internationally-monitored presidential elections. It will require all stakeholders to push for the following:
- Formation of a transitional cabinet including representatives of both chavismo and the opposition, focused on economic stabilisation, humanitarian assistance, internal security and institutional reform; ideally, neither Maduro nor Guaidó would hold the presidency during this period, though agreement on this point ought not to be a precondition for negotiations to commence;
- Guarantees to the military in the form of a clear framework for their future role;
- Presidential elections under a reformed electoral commission and international monitoring.
The EU-led International Contact Group could help jump-start this process through its own quiet diplomacy....
Tweet from President Trump on April 30
If Cuban Troops and Militia do not immediately CEASE military and other operations for the purpose of causing death and destruction to the Constitution of Venezuela, a full and complete embargo, together with highest-level sanctions, will be placed on the island of Cuba. Hopefully, all Cuban soldiers will promptly and peacefully return to their island!”
Subsequently he retweeted a video in which John Bolton claimed that Venezuela's Defense Minister, the chief judge of the Supreme Court and the commander of the Presidential Guard had told Juan Guido that they would transfer power from Maduro to him. https://twitter.com/i/status/1123346471477219333
Secretary of State Pompeo tweeted that Maduro was prepared to flee to Cuba Tuesday morning until the Russians told him not to.
An Internal Opening?
Amid the unrest, Maduro’s military commanders went on state television to proclaim their loyalty. But in a possible sign that Maduro’s inner circle could be fracturing, the head of Venezuela’s intelligence agency wrote an open letter breaking ranks.
Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera said he had always been loyal to Maduro but it was now time to “rebuild the country.” He said corruption has become so rampant that “many high-ranking public servants practice it like a sport.”
“The hour has arrived for us to look for other ways of doing politics,” Figuera wrote.
Still, like past attempts to oust Maduro, the opposition seemed outmaneuvered Tuesday. The hoped for split in the military didn’t emerge and a plane that the United States claimed was standing by to ferry Maduro into exile never took off.
Brazil will not cooperate with military intervention
Presidential spokesman General Otavio Rego Barros told reporters Brazil had completely ruled out intervening militarily in Venezuela and was not planning to allow any other country to use its territory for any potential intervention in its neighbor.
Venezuela’s opposition put together a serious plan. For now, it appears to have failed.
....Throughout the day, however, there were mixed messages about what role, if any, the U.S. military would play in Washington’s future efforts to resolve the Venezuelan crisis.
Asked if the U.S. military would be used to protect Guaidó, White House national security adviser John Bolton told MSNBC that President Trump “has been clear and concise on this point: All options are open. We want a peaceful transfer of power. But we are not going to see Guaidó mistreated by this regime.”
Top Pentagon officials emphasized nonmilitary options and said they had not been given orders to pre-position troops or prepare for conflict. “We’re obviously watching the situation very closely in Venezuela. The president’s made it clear that all options are on the table,” Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in congressional testimony. “To date, most of our actions have been diplomatic and economic.”
At the same time, however, aides said he has given Bolton wide purview over Venezuela.As he has pushed for a more aggressive policy, Bolton has angered some within and outside the White House. Even before Tuesday’s events, his staff clashed with Gen. Paul Selva, Dunford’s vice chairman, during a meeting to address the ongoing Venezuelan crisis, according to several officials with knowledge of the exchange.
The soft-spoken Air Force general was giving an update last week on the Pentagon’s view and making the case against a risky escalation by the United States when Bolton aides, including Mauricio Claver-Carone, Western Hemisphere director at the National Security Council, repeatedly interrupted and asked for military options, according to the officials.
Selva, irritated at the interruptions and confrontational style rather than the substance of any disagreement, slammed his hand down on the table, his ring hitting the wood with a sharp crack. Bolton deputy Charles Kupperman, who was chairing the meeting, adjourned the session earlier than planned, said the officials, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
In a Wednesday interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt, Bolton praised a different military leader, Adm. Craig Faller, head of U.S. Southern Command, for showing “the kind of attitude we need.”
Faller, Bolton said, had responded to the Venezuelan threat by preparing his forces and saying that “we’re on the balls of our feet and ready to go.” The comment by the general came in an interview last month with Foreign Policy.
Asked at a Wednesday hearing whether the U.S. military should play any role in the overthrow of the Maduro government, however, Faller emphasized the diplomatic track.
“Our leadership has been clear: This has to be, should be, primarily a democratic transition,” Faller said. “We are in total support of the diplomacy, and we stand ready to support that effort.”
While the Pentagon has developed military options for Trump, it has urged caution in internal discussions regarding the use of force.
One worry is that any decision to mount a unilateral U.S. military intervention would jeopardize a consensus among regional partners and allies that Guaidó will need if he manages to wrest control from Maduro. Maduro has called Guaidó a U.S. “puppet,” and Venezuelans and other Latin Americans are broadly skeptical of American military intervention.
At the same time, military planners traditionally worry about operations that may be limited in intent but can quickly spiral out of control....