Austria, Baltics, Cuban Missile Crisis, Monroe Doctrine, NATO, NATO expansion, neutralization, North Atlantic treaty Organization, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, Russia, South America, Soviet Union, spheres of influence, Trump, Venezuela, Vladimir Putin, Western Hemisphere
No one who lived through it or knows about it (me in both cases) would ever say lightly, “The X situation reminds me of the Cuban Missile Crisis.” So that’s at least one reason to be very worried about the largely under-the-radar situation that’s been unfolding in Venezuela lately. It shows signs of turning into the kind of Western Hemisphere incursion by Moscow that put the world on the brink of superpower nuclear war in October, 1962. What’s worse – there are major reasons for assigning (pre-Trump) U.S. globalist leaders much and even most of the blame.
Normally, I wouldn’t be too concerned about what happens inside any South American country, at least from the standpoint of U.S. national interests. And you shouldn’t be, either. None of the continent’s countries is strong or rich enough to endanger the United States militarily or economically. Further, although chronic misrule is always a threat to generate refugee crises, even the South American countries closest to the United States are too far away to send many to these shores.
The last few weeks in Venezuela, however, have been anything but normal. It’s not just that the country is descending into the kind of economic and political chaos that makes President Trump’s term “a big fat mess” look like happy talk. It’s that Russia – a long time ally of the leftist dictators whose corruption and incompetence have turned this oil-rich country into a bona fide failed state – looks to be establishing a military presence inside Venezuela’s borders.
Moscow’s forces so far are tiny. But there’s no guarantee that they’ll stay small – at least as long as the current Venezuelan regime remains in power. And P.S.: They include specialists assisting with the operation of a battery of anti-aircraft missiles – although in fairness, the Venezuelans bought the system back in 2009. That’s why President Trump has stated that “Russia has to get out.” At the same time, that’s going to be easier said than done without the United States using armed force. Which is scary because Russia is a full-fledged nuclear power. As a result, the President could well be faced with a genuinely agonizing dilemma: Either back down, and open the doors to a big, conspicuous, dangerous violation of one of longest-standing and most crucial pillars of U.S. national security doctrine; or challenge Russian leader Vladimir Putin militarily, and risk a conflict that could quickly escalate to the nuclear level.
I use the word “dangerous” because that national security doctrine, the 1823 “Monroe Doctrine,” correctly assumes that the stationing of foreign military forces in the Western Hemisphere would pose an intolerable threat to America. The missiles the Soviet Union planned to place in Cuba in 1962 raised the prospect of a devastating attack on the U.S. homeland delivered with almost no warning – and thus no way to stop them. Even a Russian deployment in Venezuela falling well short of this scale could bring alarmingly close to U.S. borders significant Russian intelligence capabilities along with military units. The latter could carry out missions ranging from interfering with shipping in the Caribbean and all along America’s Atlantic coast to protecting other anti-U.S. strongmen and interfering in civil conflicts throughout Central and South America whose consequences could well spill across U.S. borders.
Moreover, if the Russians succeeded in creating these kinds of footprints, what would stop the Chinese – who also boast an impressive nuclear arsenal? Even strong opponents of America’s numerous foreign military ventures should worry about these developments.
It’s tempting to look at the Cuban Missile Crisis and conclude that America’s major nuclear edge over the Soviet Union enabled the naval blockade of Cuba to succeed and ultimately force Moscow to back down – and that similar measures could kick Russia out of Venezuela today and keep it out of the hemisphere.
But this temptation needs to be resisted. Declassified documents have thoroughly debunked the reassuring accounts and interpretations that followed the Missile Crisis’ resolution – colorfully summarized by then Secretary of Dean Rusk’s claim that “We’re eyeball to eyeball and I think the other fellow just blinked.” In fact, the crisis ended because President John F. Kennedy secretly agreed to dismantle American missile deployments in Soviet neighbor Turkey, and to pledge to stop seeking to overthrow Cuba’s Communist dictator Fidel Castro. And since the United States has long since lost any nuclear superiority over forces controlled by Moscow, Washington would have even less leverage today to achieve an acceptable compromise.
Fortunately, the basis of such a deal exists – and ironically, because of a reckless American policy that surely prompted Russian leader Vladimir Putin to show his flag in Venezuela (and elsewhere, as in Crimea and Ukraine). That policy entailed the decision following the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union to expand the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) right up to Russia’s borders.
As I’ve argued previously, the United States should publicly offer to declare NATO expansion a mistake and to promise not to add further members in return for Russia’s agreement not to threaten the security of new members already admitted. In addition, Moscow would keep military forces out of the Western Hemisphere.
Washington could sweeten the offer by proposing to neutralize the new NATO countries whose membership has most rankled the Russians – the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which had been forcibly annexed into the old Soviet Union in 1940. If Austria could be successfully neutralized during the height of the Cold War (1955), a Baltic deal should be eminently achievable today.
Many if not most American globalists would condemn this arrangement as a modern version of spheres of influence diplomacy that they contend have long carved up regions for the benefit of large powers and needlessly ran roughshod over the interests of smaller countries that were denied the fully internationally recognized right to determine their own destinies – including their own security arrangements. What the globalists consistently ignore is that such hard-hearted realism can be an effective way to prevent great power conflicts – many of whose worst victims tend to be those same smaller countries.
Ultimately, however, the strongest argument for offering this deal to Putin is that it creates the optimal realistic net benefits for the United States. As a result, it’s an opportunity that a President elected in large part on an “America First” platform should eagerly seize.