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The Collapse of Venezuela and Its Impact on the Region

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In May 2017, as the number killed during protests against the regime of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela climbed toward 40, and with more than 130 injured and over 1,300 arrests, many in the United States and the region asked, “How much longer could it go on?”

In addition to the crisis within Venezuela, the collapse of its economy and the escalating criminal and political violence have also produced a massive outflow of refugees to neighboring Colombia and Brazil, to the nearby Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago, Aruba, and Curaçao, and to other locales throughout the region. In total, an estimated 1.5 million of Venezuela’s 32 million people have left the country since the government of Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999. Venezuela’s neighbors watch the unfolding drama not only with concern for the Venezuelan people but also from the perspective of how that crisis could affect them as it deepens and possibly becomes more violent.

The situation in Venezuela is often mistakenly diagnosed as principally a political or economic crisis. It is better understood as a criminal act without precedent in Latin America: the capture and systematic looting of a state, achieved by first capturing its institutions through mass mobilization and bureaucratic machinations, then increasing control of the state through military force, as the criminal nature of the act and its consequences become apparent to the nation’s citizens. Former Venezuelan government officials have suggested that as much as $300 billion may have been diverted over the last decade from national coffers to private accounts through the currency control system alone.

The crisis in Venezuela is a problem for the country and the region that neither international law nor existing multilateral institutions are well equipped to handle. For neighboring states, politically acceptable alternatives appear to be few. For example, it is unlikely that the United States, or organizations such as the United Nations or the Organization of American States (OAS), will choose to physically intervene or be able to act in a manner sufficiently impactful to alter the current trajectory of Venezuela toward a broader and more violent internal crisis. Yet, both the United States and multilateral institutions do have plausible alternatives and may yet have the ability to play a decisive role in managing the consequences of that crisis for the region without direct intervention.

The Situation in Venezuela

It is difficult to anticipate when or how the Maduro regime in Venezuela will collapse, yet it is clear that its current course is both economically and politically unsustainable. In economic terms, destructive government policies, including expropriations, price controls, and currency controls, in combination with rampant corruption and mismanagement in government enterprises, have progressively eliminated the capacity of the Venezuelan economy to produce even the most basic goods required by the people of the country to survive. Additionally, declining petroleum output, high production costs, debt service obligations, an accumulation of adverse legal judgements from past expropriations, and increasing reluctance of creditors (even politically supportive China and Russia) to lend new money are shutting off Venezuela’s access to hard currency to buy goods from abroad, even though international oil prices have recently trended upward.

Defaulting on the loan obligations of Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA) to use the hard currency to import more goods (to ease political pressures) would trigger legal consequences that could bring about the seizure of the company’s assets, even oil shipments abroad, aggravating the regime’s liquidity crisis in a way that could endanger its ability to maintain power. The Venezuelan government has thus engaged in an increasingly desperate series of delays, legal actions, and fund shifting to make bond payments, while making a minimum quantity of foreign currency available to state organs and friends of the regime for the purpose of importing goods to maintain the support of the military and other key regime support groups.

These measures have included drawing down remaining international reserves (largely in gold), continuing to expropriate companies such as General Motors, rolling over bond payments, mortgaging assets such as the petroleum refiner and distributor CITGO, seeking new loans from state partners such as China and trusted companies such as Rosneft, and filing creative legal actions to delay decisions and awards against the government. Yet, little new credit is coming in, and the government is running out of assets to mortgage and legal options to postpone payments.

Venezuela is unable to produce needed goods domestically and lacks the cash to import them. The result, as increasingly evidenced in reports coming out of Venezuela, is ever greater scarcity of everything from food and medicine to toilet paper. Store shelves are empty, and people are spending significant portions of their day seeking food and other necessities. Seventy-two percent of Venezuelans report having lost weight in the past year because of such shortages. As Wall Street Journal reporter John Forero put it, “Venezuela is starving.”

The Maduro government has attempted to address the political implications of such shortages by appointing the military to distribute scarce food. As a result, the system mainly channels the little available food to those who support the regime while also ensuring the military both has reliable access to food for itself as well as opportunities for earning money by selling food on the black market.

With respect to political dynamics, the maneuvers adopted by the Maduro regime have demonstrated its determination to maintain power at any cost and its unwillingness to pursue a sincere political compromise or a constitutional solution that could result in its loss of power. A string of events and U.S. government actions in recent years against leaders in the current Venezuelan regime has highlighted that there are likely solid criminal cases against a significant number of persons in that government, thus signaling to them that a loss of political power could lead to their extradition and imprisonment in the United States. Indicative events include the July 2014 arrest of former Venezuelan security chief Hugo Carbajal when he left the country to become his country’s ambassador to Aruba, the November 2015 arrest in Haiti (and subsequent conviction on narcotrafficking charges) of Maduro’s nephews, and the U.S. Treasury Department’s February 2017 designation of Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami as a foreign narcotrafficking kingpin.

Reflecting such incentives to maintain power, Maduro and his fellow Chavista elites have violated Venezuela’s constitutional order in increasingly egregious ways, demonstrating that a resolution of Venezuela’s political and economic crisis through democratic processes is increasingly improbable. Key actions in this regard include dubious rulings by the pro-Maduro National Electoral Council and the Venezuelan Supreme Court

  • preventing the opposition from using the supermajority it won in December 2015 elections (by blocking the seating of three opposition congressmen, giving pro-Maduro legislators two-thirds of the chamber);
  • blocking a constitutionally stipulated recall referendum against the president;
  • stripping the opposition-dominated congress of budgetary and other authority;
  • ruling unconstitutional virtually all of the initiatives passed by that congress;
  • postponing state and local elections; and
  • eliminating key opposition leaders, including jailing Leopoldo López and disqualifying Henrique Capriles.

The Maduro regime has further begun a process of “renewing” the nation’s political parties, likely designed to disqualify parties and leaders hostile to the regime if currently delayed local elections or future presidential elections are held. Its boldest step to date, however, was its May 2017 initiative to form a constituent assembly and rewrite the constitution, a process almost certain to eliminate the elected opposition-dominated parliament.

If such actions demonstrate the unwillingness of the Maduro regime to respect constitutional processes and limits that could lead to their loss of power, the Venezuelan military has equally demonstrated its unwillingness to intervene to restore the democratic order or to avert a further economic and political meltdown in the country. While Venezuela’s armed forces have traditionally acted as guarantors of the nation’s constitutional order, during the eighteen years of rule by populist leader Hugo Chávez and his successor, Maduro, the military has been politicized and heavily indoctrinated with pro-regime ideology. In addition, virtually the entire cadre of its senior leaders has been replaced by regime loyalists.

Further decreasing the likelihood that the armed forces would act to restore Venezuela’s constitutional order, the military leadership (and particularly the National Guard) has become too deeply involved in drug trafficking, contraband, and other illicit activities to risk allowing or bringing about such change. Furthermore, the regime has embedded Cuban intelligence and counterintelligence agents throughout the military to keep an eye out for defectors.

While the United States has been highly critical of the actions of the Maduro regime, it has not, to date, indicated a disposition to move beyond the imposition of economic sanctions. And, while the OAS under Secretary Luis Almagro has strongly denounced the interruption of the democratic order in Venezuela, the organization principally functions on consensus, and the block of left-leaning anti-U.S. governments represented by the Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our Americas (ALBA) continues to oppose any anti-Venezuela action by the OAS. Venezuela’s fellow ALBA countries may not agree with Maduro’s decisions in governing Venezuela, but, arguably, they do not find it in their strategic interest for the OAS (in which the United States is an important actor) to condemn Venezuela or play a significant role in the region’s politics in general. Even if the OAS were to expel Venezuela from the organization for violation of its democratic charter, the Maduro regime already gave its notice in April of its intention to leave the body.

Similarly, while the United Nations Security Council, in theory, could authorize an intervention in Venezuela, permanent members Russia and China would likely veto such action, insofar as each has significant business interests in the country, as well as strategic interest in the persistence of a Venezuelan regime that actively resists the expansion of U.S. influence in the region.

Adding to Venezuela’s problems, the probability that violence will escalate is increased by the government’s creation and deployment throughout the country of collectivos, relatively undisciplined armed bands of civilians, to enforce its will. This will ensure a high cost in lives of Venezuela’s own military or of a foreign military if anyone attempts to change the regime by force.

Potential Scenarios for Venezuela

The plausible scenarios for Venezuela (all negative) loosely fall into three groups, based on assumptions regarding which side prevails and whether violence is sustained or dissipates: (1) resistance burnout and consolidation of the criminal state, (2) escalating violence resolved by imposition of a pseudodemocratic compromise regime, and (3) prolonged criminality, repression, and insurgency.

Resistance burnout and consolidation of the criminal state. In this scenario, the military and the government maintain cohesion, and there is no foreign intervention. Eventually, through the regime’s control of resources and brutal repression (including violence by the collectivos), the majority of civil resistance is suppressed or flees the country. Millions depart the country as economic or political refugees, or to escape the criminal violence. With the diminishing of resistance, the regime consolidates its totalitarian order, probably imposing a new constitution and legislative body. Following the imposition of stability, Maduro is killed or pressured to step down, and power passes to a new leader, similarly committed to the populist ideology and the criminal enterprise, but with more rational economic policies and improved managerial capabilities.

With some stability and improved leadership, key anti-United States statist investors such as the Chinese and the Russians begin loaning new money to the regime, further expanding their access to Venezuela’s oil resources. New credit from these allies, possibly assisted by rising petroleum prices, supports further consolidation of power by the regime.

Escalating violence resolved by imposition of a compromise regime. In this scenario, violence increases significantly over that manifested in May 2017, possibly involving sporadic major confrontations between collectivos and Venezuelans identifying with the opposition and demanding the restoration of the previous constitutional order. Armed, self-interested groups are involved on all sides.

Violence exceeds the ability of Venezuela’s National Guard to control; the regular military, already reluctant to participate in the repression of civilians, is deployed but refuses to act, possibly with some units dissolving or declaring themselves loyal to the opposition. Key extrahemispheric players, including the Chinese and the Russians, make a tacit agreement with the opposition in return for guarantees of the protection of their businesses and other interests in the country. Maduro and other key regime leaders are killed or leave the country, while others cut a deal for a power transition, with the support of key military leaders, in return for limited immunity and protection from extraditions.

Prolonged criminality, repression, and insurgency. In this scenario, like the prior one, violence increases significantly, and the regular military splinters or is too unreliable to be employed. Some key figures possibly flee the country. By contrast to the previous scenario, however, a deal involving a power transition cannot be achieved. Key external players such as Russia and China maintain a “wait-and-see” posture. Protest-based violence, including selective attacks against protesters by collectivos, deteriorates into broader, bloodier efforts by pro-regime forces to intimidate or silence regime opponents through large-scale violence, sparking reprisals by anti-Maduro groups, and occasionally drawing the National Guard and regular military forces into the conflict.

Continuing violence, including possible sabotage of oil installations and other government assets, leads to a broad economic collapse and the highest outflow of refugees of the three contemplated scenarios. In this scenario, major foreign actors, including China, would likely coordinate to evacuate their workers. Depending on the risk posed to Russian, Chinese, and other oil installations, United Nations Security Council agreement to a peacekeeping or peace enforcement mission could be possible, presuming that Chavista forces would see permitting such deployments as advantageous, or would no longer be able to block them.

There is no inherent limit to the deepening of suffering, violence, and criminality that could occur. Indeed, the economic plight and abuses by the regimes in Zimbabwe and North Korea serve as reminders of how much a people can suffer at the hands of a totalitarian regime that pursues irrational policies but is determined to maintain itself in power with the acquiescence of its military.

Implications for Venezuela’s Neighbors

Each scenario discussed implies an expansion of the already significant outflow of refugees to neighboring Colombia and Brazil, nearby Caribbean islands such as Aruba, Curaçao, and Trinidad and Tobago, and the rest of the region, as well as the export of arms and broader impacts on the criminal and political landscape.

Colombia. Historically, people and goods have always moved relatively freely across the Venezuela-Colombia border; the mother of Maduro was born in Colombia, and possibly the president himself was as well. Nonetheless, the influx of Venezuelans into Cúcuta and other Colombian border towns has created some resentment among Colombians. Some perceive the new arrivals as competing with them for jobs, particularly in the informal sector, and some believe the refugees have undermined security.

In 2016 alone, over 150,000 people entered Colombia from Venezuela. Some enter on a temporary basis to earn money in the informal or illicit economy and purchase goods not available in their home country, while others choose to remain indefinitely. The Colombian border town of Cúcuta has been the focus of this movement, with significant increases in the population of Venezuelans in the city, including those who work in the informal sector as prostitutes and street vendors, and in other activities. A portion of those crossing the border from Venezuela into Colombia are actually Colombians by birth who had immigrated to Venezuela years or decades prior in search of economic opportunity or to escape violence.

Colombia’s major cities such as Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali have also registered significant increases in Venezuelans. However, because two major roads from Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, converge on the Colombian border near Cúcuta, an expanded flow of migrants from a deteriorating situation in Venezuela would probably concentrate there and, to a lesser extent, to the north in La Guajira department, including the town of Riohacha, and Valledupar in Cesar department. Nonetheless, some of those leaving Venezuela will also enter Colombia at more southerly points, including Arauca, Puerto Carreño, and Inírida, where controls are weaker.

Of those who initially migrated to Venezuela from Colombia, many now returning are expected to settle in the border region, since they have family or other contacts in the region. Of those arriving from cities on Venezuela’s Caribbean coast, such as Caracas, Puerto Cabello, Maracay, and Valencia, many will likely migrate toward Colombia’s own Caribbean coast, to cities such as Maicao, Barranquilla, and Sincelejo, where the climate and culture are familiar. By contrast, Venezuelans coming from more rural areas to the south of the nation’s principal mountain range will likely gravitate toward cities in the interior of Colombia on the other side of its flatlands, such as Villavicencio and Bogotá.

Other migration routes notwithstanding, the focus of migration on Cúcuta and La Guajira raises particular concerns for Colombia since the area, particularly Catatumbo and other parts of the province of Norte de Santander, is a hotbed of criminal and terrorist activity, with Colombia’s notorious Gulf Clan and the National Liberation Army (ELN) vying to fill in areas being vacated by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC). In this complex dynamic, the newly arriving immigrants are both potential victims of and recruits for those organizations. Indeed, given the established history of cross-border smuggling, Colombian security officials believe that some people crossing the border are moving drugs and contraband, among other illicit activities.

Venezuela and Neighboring Countries

Further to the south, in border towns such as Arica, Puerto Carreño, and Inírida, although the current and expected volume of immigration from Venezuela is less of a problem, the area is the center of the illicit mining for coltan, a strategic mineral used in a wide array of advanced batteries and electronics products.

In addition to the potentially destabilizing impact of refugee flows on both the Colombian economy and centers of organized crime in the country, Colombian security experts worry that some of Venezuela’s collectivos and other groups will sell their FN FAL (light automatic) rifles and other military equipment to help maintain themselves, flooding contested criminal areas such as Catatumbo with arms as well as people in economic need.

As the Venezuelan crisis deepens and the flow of refugees grows, de facto encampments are likely to form, particularly around Cúcuta. It will be in the interest of Colombia to formally manage such camps to alleviate suffering and to prevent them from becoming centers of criminal recruitment and victimization, given the challenging environment of the zone.

In preparation for a refugee crisis, the Colombian government has an established system, the “national entity for the management of the risk of disasters,” that was used when Venezuela expelled more than six thousand Colombians from the country in August 2015. Nonetheless, security experts in Colombia are concerned that the resource requirements and the complexity of a massive flood of refugees from Venezuela would likely overwhelm the system’s capacity.

For Colombia, such challenges come at a time in which its military’s resources for operations and maintenance are declining significantly, while the government is searching for the resources to fund the substantial obligations that it incurred in the agreement that it signed with the FARC in November 2016. Colombia must also deal with the upsurge of criminal and other violence between the ELN and criminal bands as the FARC demobilizes and withdraws from its former territory.

Beyond outflows of people and guns, as the position of the Maduro leadership in Venezuela becomes more uncertain, Colombian security and defense professionals also worry that Venezuela could seek to provoke a war; this would serve to divert the attention of the Venezuelan people and the international community as well as maintain the unity of the Venezuelan military. Indeed, Venezuela has a long history of aggressive posturing toward Colombia, including territorial claims over La Guajira and substantial parts of Colombia’s eastern plains in Venezuela’s 1999 constitution. In March 2008, then President Chávez called to move ten Venezuelan armored brigades to the Colombian border in response to Colombia’s signing of a base status agreement with the United States. It further conducted a war game that year, Guaicaipuro, focused on a preemptive Venezuelan invasion of the Guajira. More recently, provocative Venezuelan actions include its conduct of a nationwide mobilization exercise, Zamora 200; its deployment of a small military force across the Arauca River into Colombia in March 2017; and the increasingly bellicose rhetoric of the Maduro regime toward Colombia, calling the nation a “failed state.”

Brazil and Guyana. While Colombia has, to date, borne the brunt of the spillover effects of the Venezuela crisis, Venezuelans have also crossed into the Brazilian state of Roraima. On one weekend in June 2016 alone, an estimated 150,000 Venezuelans crossed into Brazil, although only a portion stayed, while others came to purchase food and other goods. In May 2017, the mayor of the Brazilian city of Manaus declared an emergency after more than 350 Venezuelan refugees appeared on its streets, while more Venezuelan refugees have also been seen in the provincial capital of Boa Vista.

With respect to Venezuela’s other neighbor, Guyana, although the two countries share a land border, the relative lack of infrastructure connecting the two across Guyana’s Essequibo region and the lack of population in the area has limited the migration of Venezuelans to Guyana to date. As with Colombia, however, Guyanese worry that in a moment of crisis, the Maduro regime could provoke a military crisis with Guyana as a diversionary tactic, based on a historical dispute over the Essequibo region. The Maduro regime attempted to resurrect the dispute in September 2015, just months after ExxonMobil discovered significant oil deposits off the coast of the disputed area.

Island nations. In addition to the countries that share a land border with Venezuela, instability in the country is affecting its neighbors in the Caribbean. Venezuelans looking to obtain supplies or to escape economic and other hardship in the country are crossing the relatively narrow expanse of Caribbean water to the nearby islands of Aruba, Curaçao, and Trinidad and Tobago. In Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuelans reportedly take a ferry or hire local boats to cross the seven kilometers of water separating the two countries in order to buy goods in Trinidadian stores. In some cases, they bring guns from Venezuela to trade for food and other basic goods. And, the interchange between Venezuela and its island neighbors, exacerbated by the combination of sheer economic need and the breakdown of law and order, has also contributed to piracy off its coast.

In Trinidad and Tobago, as in the La Guajira region on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, an additional risk is created by the possible migration of persons with ties to radical Islamic groups such as Hezbollah. During recent years, Iran reportedly used Venezuela as a point of entry for its Qods forces (religious paramilitary agents), while Venezuelan authorities sold government-issued passports to refugees from Syria and other parts of the Middle East.While there has been little evidence of the outflow of such migrants to date, the established Muslim communities in Trinidad and Tobago and La Guajira make both a logical destination if the crisis in Venezuela deepens. Given that Trinidad and Tobago is already a leading source on a per capita basis for foreign fighters to the Middle East, migration from Venezuela of those affiliated with radical Islamic groups would have a potentially radicalizing and destabilizing effect on the Islamic communities in those areas.

Recommendations for the United States

Despite the systemic looting of Venezuela by the Maduro regime, U.S. intervention in Venezuela would be strategically unwise. While such action could topple Venezuela’s Bolivarian socialist government, it would reinforce the historic perception of the United States in the region as interventionist, sowing distrust and other anti-U.S. sentiment. In addition, in the short-term, it would leave behind an economically decimated, highly corrupted and politically polarized state. Following intervention, the United States would face the dilemma of allowing the newly “liberated” but broken Venezuelan state to continue as a source of criminality and instability in the region or engaging in the lengthy, expensive effort of trying to rebuild the country. In the process, as in the Middle East, the U.S. presence in Venezuela would likely become the focal point for rallying anti-U.S. sentiment, and U.S. forces in Venezuela would present a tempting target for the Chavista “resistance” and leftist terrorist groups posturing as resistors of the “yanqui invasion.”

While it would be unwise for the United States to intervene in Venezuela and unrealistic for the international community to do so, both nonetheless have an important role in shaping the evolution of the situation in a positive direction, and in managing the consequences of the crisis in Venezuela on its neighbors. With respect to Venezuela itself, the United States should give the fullest support possible to the OAS, currently under Secretary Almagro, in condemning the departure from the democratic order established by Venezuela’s constitution, and it should support the OAS and other multilateral and bilateral efforts pressuring the Chavista elite to restore that order. Also, it is imperative that the United States continue to highlight publicly the illegitimacy of the Maduro regime as a criminal elite that has, through administrative machinations, stolen control of the resource-rich state from its people, and which is increasingly relying on the force of arms to continue looting the state with an eye to making good a “getaway” with the money.

As part of such efforts, the United States must lead the international community in isolating the Chavista leadership through individually targeted economic sanctions, cooperating with other players in the international community to deny the Chavistas sanctuary in other countries after their rule. The U.S. State Department, Treasury Department, and other appropriate organizations should particularly focus on the legal and financial arenas, supporting Venezuela’s National Assembly as it invalidates contracts made by the Chavista elite outside the constitutional order. This approach may have only limited short-term impacts in Venezuela itself, but it may help change the calculations of key Maduro regime benefactors such as China and Russia, convincing them that their best strategy for securing their oil holdings and other interests in the country is by working through the constitutionally legitimate National Assembly rather than the executive branch, whose operation outside the constitution leaves its commitments of Venezuelan resources to others without legal validity.

Beyond addressing the crisis in Venezuela itself, the United States should actively work with the country’s neighbors to prevent the byproducts of the crisis, including the outflow of refugees and arms, from destabilizing the region. Venezuela’s neighbor, Colombia, confronts the double challenge of being the country most impacted by the flow of Venezuelan refugees and arms (and possible military provocations), while dealing with the enormous resource and internal security challenges arising from its government’s peace agreement with the FARC. While the Colombians take pride in their own capabilities, they will need more (and different) support from the United States, not less, in the months ahead.

In the short term, the United States should coordinate with Colombia, as well as Aruba, Curaçao, Trinidad and Tobago, and other states, in conjunction with the International Committee of the Red Cross and other nongovernmental organizations, to support the needs of the refugees. It should collaborate with the governments of the region to provide logistics, intelligence, and other support as permitted by national laws to help protect those refugees from victimization and criminal recruitment, as well as to monitor who is coming in, where they are going, and how they are affecting the local criminal environment. Particularly in Colombia, the United States should consider increased intelligence, training, and material support to police, prosecutors, and special military units combatting organized crime, which will likely expand through the refugee and arms flows.

In the unlikely, but not inconceivable, event that the Maduro administration attempts to provoke a military conflict with Colombia or Guyana, the United States should be prepared to provide military and other support to defend the territorial sovereignty of each. However, it should avoid direct military intervention in Venezuelan territory aside from possible selective removal of offensive capabilities being used against Venezuela’s neighbors, such as combat aircraft and helicopters in their bases, or forward-deployed armored vehicles.

As the United States supports the countries of the region in their response to the Venezuelan crisis, it should, wherever possible, work through the OAS and other multilateral institutions of the Inter-American System, including a coordinated response to the handling of refugees. The United States should also look for ways to leverage the events of the Conference of American Armies, of which it is head during the current two-year cycle, as a vehicle for such coordination in military affairs. Finally, the United States should be prepared to work with the United Nations to deploy a peacekeeping or peace enforcement force into the region when the evolution of the crisis and the positions of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council make such action feasible.

Conclusion

The crisis in Venezuela is a tragedy with grave implications for its neighbors and the region. Yet, in that tragedy, there is also opportunity for the United States to strengthen its relationship with countries in the region by tangibly demonstrating its commitment to work with them to mitigate the effects of the crisis. It is also an opportunity to do so in a way that strengthens the OAS and Inter-American System (in whose functionality the United States has a strategic interest) as the principal multilateral vehicle for addressing regional security issues.

The Venezuela crisis may be the first opportunity of the Trump administration to define its vision for democracy, security, and good governance in the region, and to demonstrate its commitment to the partner nations with which the United States shares the Western Hemisphere. Given U.S. connectedness to the region through geography, commerce, and family ties, doing so is critical not only for the Trump administration and Venezuela’s neighbors but also for the United States and the region as a whole.

First published in the Journal “Military Review” July-August 2017, Republished by Author’s permission

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Friction Between United States & Iran: The Tension and Its Impact

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Background Study

The relationship between the United States (US) and Iran has a long and complex history. In the early 20th century, the United States (US) played a key role in the overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected government and the installation of a pro-Western monarchy under the rule of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. This led to a deep mistrust of the United States by many Iranians. In the 1970s, the Shah’s regime was overthrown in the Iranian Revolution, led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The new Islamic Republic of Iran was deeply anti-American and took 52 American hostages in the US embassy in Tehran. The hostage crisis lasted for 444 days and severely damaged US-Iran relations. In the following decades, the US has had a policy of economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation towards Iran, citing its support for terrorism and pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran has also been known to support groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which are designated as terrorist groups by the US.

In recent years, there have been some attempts at improving relations between the two countries. The Obama Administration negotiated a nuclear deal with Iran in 2015, which lifted some sanctions in exchange for limits on Iran’s nuclear program. However, the Trump Administration withdrew from the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions on Iran. Currently, the US and Iran are in a situation of high tension, with both sides engaging in a series of hostile actions against each other, such as the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad by a US drone in 2020. The US has continued to put sanctions on Iran and labelled several Iranian organisations as terrorist organisations. In summary, the relationship between the United States and Iran has been characterized by a long history of mistrust, hostility and mutual accusations, with both sides engaging in actions that have escalated the tensions between them.

The Tension:

There are several accusations and actions that have contributed to the high tension conflict between the United States and Iran.

From the perspective of the United States, the main accusations against Iran include:

Supporting terrorism: The US government has long accused Iran of providing financial and military support to groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, which the US has designated as terrorist organizations.

Pursuit of nuclear weapons: The US has accused Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, despite Iran’s claim that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.

Human rights abuses: The US has also accused Iran of widespread human rights abuses, including the repression of political dissidents and minorities, and the use of torture and execution.

Threat to regional stability: The US has accused Iran of destabilizing the Middle East through its support for groups like the Houthi rebels in Yemen and the Assad regime in Syria.

From the perspective of Iran, the main accusations against the United States include: –

Interference in Iranian internal affairs: Iran has long accused the United States of attempting to overthrow its government and interfere in its internal affairs.

Supporting Iran’s enemies: Iran has accused the United States of supporting its regional rivals, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, and of providing military and financial support to groups that seek to overthrow the Iranian government.

Violation of human rights: Iran has also accused the US of violating human rights, pointing to actions such as the use of drone strikes and the detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Economic sanctions: Iran has accused the US of imposing economic sanctions on Iran, which it claims have caused significant harm to its economy and people.

In terms of actions that have escalated tensions, from the US side:

  • The killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad by a US drone in 2020.
  • The US has continued to put sanctions on Iran and labelled several Iranian organisations as terrorist organisations.
  • Increasing military presence in the Gulf region.

From the Iranian side:

  • Continuing to develop its nuclear program, in spite of the US sanctions.
  • Seizing of foreign oil tankers and ships.
  • Attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia that were blamed on Iran.
  • Shooting down of a US drone in 2019

It’s worth noting that the situation is complex and multifaceted and both sides have taken actions that have escalated the tensions between them.

Its Impact.

The tension between the United States and Iran has had a significant impact on the international community. It has led to increased instability and uncertainty in the Middle East, with both sides engaging in actions that have the potential to escalate into a larger conflict. This can disrupt the oil supplies and lead to an economic crisis. The tension has also had an impact on the security of other countries in the region, as many of them are allied with the United States or Iran and could be caught in the middle of any potential conflict. This has also affected global oil prices due to the potential disruption of supplies from the Middle East. This has also had an impact on the ongoing negotiations and agreements between other countries and Iran, such as the Nuclear Deal. The US withdrawal from the deal and imposition of sanctions has affected other countries’ ability to do business with Iran and has also affected the ongoing negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

Moreover, many countries have had to navigate the delicate balance between maintaining good relations with both the United States and Iran, as both countries are major powers with significant economic and military influence. This has led to some countries, particularly those in the Middle East, to align more closely with one side or the other, potentially damaging their relationships with the other. Secondly, the tension between the US and Iran has also affected the ability of countries to engage in business and trade with Iran, as the US has imposed economic sanctions on Iran. This has led to some countries to scale back their trade and investment with Iran, or to find ways to circumvent the sanctions. Thirdly, the tension has also affected the efforts of countries to mediate and resolve the conflict. Many countries have tried to act as intermediaries to de-escalate the tensions and find a peaceful resolution, but the deep mistrust and hostility between the US and Iran have made this a difficult task. Fourthly, the tension has also affected the security of other countries in the region, as many of them are allied with the United States or Iran, and they could be caught in the middle of any potential conflict.

Overall, the tension between the United States and Iran has had a significant impact on the formulation of foreign policies in the international borders, as many countries have had to navigate the delicate balance between maintaining good relations with both countries, while also addressing the economic stability and security implications of the tension.

Conclusion.

The tension between the United States and Iran is a complex and longstanding issue, and there is no easy solution to melting down the tension. However, some steps that could potentially help to alleviate the tension include:

Diplomatic negotiations: Direct talks between the United States and Iran could be an important step in resolving the tension, provided that both sides are willing to come to the table with open minds and a willingness to compromise.

Support from the international community: Other countries could play a role in mediating talks between the United States and Iran and in putting pressure on both sides to de-escalate the tension. The support of other countries in the region would be particularly important.

Lifting of economic sanctions: The lifting of economic sanctions on Iran could help to improve the country’s economy and reduce the impact of the sanctions on the Iranian people, which may reduce some of the hostility towards the United States.

Addressing mutual concerns: The United States and Iran have many concerns about each other’s actions, such as human rights abuses, support for terrorism, and destabilizing activities in the Middle East. Addressing these concerns in a direct and honest way could help to build trust between the two countries.

De-escalation of military activities: Both sides should avoid any action that could escalate the situation into a military conflict.

Evidently, these steps would likely be difficult to achieve, but they could help to reduce the tension between the United States and Iran, and provide some relief to the international community.

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Americas

The World is Entering A Period of Transformation: Can the West lose?

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The world is witnessing a complex mix of escalating tensions, in the context of which some see that the US’s grip is beginning to loosen, and its hegemony and influence over the international system has begun to disintegrate. The shifting world order is giving way to a diverse mix of protectionist nationalism, spheres of influence and regional projects of the major powers. It cannot be denied that there is a deeper crisis, linked to liberal internationalism itself, and to get rid of the deeply dysfunctional characteristics of the global economic and social system, policy makers and those in control of the fate of the planet need to rediscover the principles and practices of statecraft, and collective action against the tendency towards chaos and the destruction of human structures. Likewise, the multilateral global institutions of the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund and below need to be reformed to reflect this new global reality.

With one of the permanent members of the Security Council violating international law, and the principle of not changing borders by force, which is the case that the US and its allies have been doing for decades as well, the United Nations with all its structures remains mostly marginalized. Meanwhile, dealing with Ukraine as part of the East-West confrontation would spoil for decades any prospect of bringing Russia and the West in general, and Russia and Europe in particular, into a cooperative international order. And if Ukraine is to live and prosper, it should not be the outpost of either side, east or west, against the other, but should, as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger estimated, act as a bridge between them. Russia must accept that trying to force Ukraine into dependence, and thus move Russia’s borders once again, would condemn Moscow to repeating its history of self-driving cycles of mutual pressure with Europe and the US. The West must also realize that for Russia, Ukraine can never be just a foreign state. A geopolitical dynamic, in the context of which the Biden administration seems keen to restore the reputation of the US, and restore its image, after four years spent under the rule of former US President Donald Trump. It wants to clearly distinguish between the behavior and values of the US on the one hand, and the behavior and values of its opponents such as China and Russia on the other.

In the process, Washington wants to re-establish itself as the linchpin of a rules-based international order, but the it, torn internally, will become less willing and able to lead the international stage. It will be difficult to restore its image in the Middle East, especially. For a long time, unquestioned the US support for Israel has allowed it to pursue policies that have repeatedly backfired and put its long-term future in even greater doubt. At the forefront of these policies is the settlement project itself, and the absolutely undisguised desire to create a “Greater Israel” that includes the West Bank, confining the Palestinians to an archipelago of enclaves isolated from each other, the familiar clichés related to the two-state solution, and “Israel’s right to defend itself.” It loses its magical incantatory power with the rise to power of the fascist far right. The US, which considers itself a mediator in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, is still offering the Palestinians empty rhetoric about their right to live in freedom and security, while supporting the two-state solution. It’s claim to a morally superior position seems blunt, tinged with hypocrisy in Stephen Walt’s words. And if the US had normal relations with Israel, the latter would receive the attention it deserved, nothing more.

Chomsky, who seems keen to criticize neoliberal democracy, and wants to rid democracy of the power of money and class inequalities, which cause the success of populism. He sees that there are people who are angry, and dissatisfied with the existing institutions, which constitutes, for the demagogues, a fertile ground for inciting people’s anger towards the scapegoats, who are usually from the weak groups, such as European Muslim immigrants or African Americans and others, but at the same time, it leads to a kind of popular reaction that seeks to overcome these crises. There are many uprisings against oppressive regimes, and most of them are due to the impact of neoliberal programs over the last generation. Almost everywhere, in the US and Europe, for example, the rate of concentration of wealth, which has stagnated so great for the majority, has undermined democratic forms, just as elsewhere the structural adjustment programs in Latin America, which has produced decades of backwardness. The negative effects of globalization on the lower and middle social classes, coupled with national resentment against immigration, and a sense of loss of control over sovereignty fueled violent populist reactions against the principles and practices of the liberal order. With the intensification of the crisis due to the Russian-Ukrainian war, as well as the Iranian nuclear file and its faltering paths, Europe appears between a rock and a hard place, although in reality it does not like acts of hatred and imposing sanctions against Moscow, or against Tehran, due to the intertwining of its economic interests, but they must follow the US. As described by Chomsky. Whoever does not comply with it will be expelled from the international financial and economic system. This is not a law of nature, but rather Europe’s decision to remain subservient to the “master tutor” in Washington. The Europe and many other states do not even have a choice, and although some peoples and states have benefited from hyperglobalization, the latter has ultimately caused major economic and political problems within liberal democracies. Here Mearsheimer agrees with Chomsky that it has seriously eroded support for the liberal international order. At the same time, the economic dynamism that came with excessive globalization helped China quickly transform into a superpower, as it rearranged itself in a way close to or superior to other major powers, and this shift in the global balance of power put an end to unipolarity, which it is a precondition for a rules-based liberal world order.

When Mikhail Gorbachev presented his vision for managing the post-Cold War era, he proposed what was then called the Common House of Europe. This was one of the options for a unified Europe and Asia region extending from Lisbon to Vladivostok without any military alliances. Today, the world is witnessing a revival of some of the worst aspects of traditional geopolitics. The wars of the major powers in Europe and the Indo-Pacific region, with the increase in Israel’s extremist and racist policies, and the possibility of Iran causing instability in the Middle East, have combined to produce the most dangerous moment since World War II. As great power competition, imperial ambitions, and conflicts over resources intensify, the stakes are how to manage the collision of old geopolitics and new challenges. It is inconceivable that there is a state that represents the backyard of any other state, and this applies to Europe as much as it applies to US, Asia and every other region in the world.

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Americas

Brief Review of Wilson’s Study of Administration

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Public Administration is an action part of the government responsible for policy formulation and implementation. It can be defined broadly as a part of government activity and academic discipline. This field emerged from the mother discipline, Political Science. 

The root of public administration emerged from The Study of Administration, an article by Woodrow Wilson that appeared in Political Science Quarterly in 1887 and is credited with establishing the foundation of public administration. This is the beginning of public administration. This first paradigm is known as the Public-Administration Dichotomy with many facets. Political-administrative dichotomy, which serves as the theoretical foundation of public administration, has a profound historical basis but continues to spark heated debates and disputes.

Administration, according to Wilson, falls outside the proper realm of politics. Frank J. Goodnow asserts that although the administration “has to do with carrying out these policies,” politics “has to do with the manifestation of the national will.” Shortly said, Goodnow advanced the Wilsonian theme with more daring and passion and proposed the politics-administration dichotomy.

Wilson’s article is primarily concerned with the United States of America, although its arguments can be applied wherever in the world. He discusses three broad subjects in this essay, all of which relate to public administration as a science that must be examined. To begin, a brief history of the study of public administration is provided. Second, there is the subject matter, or, more precisely, what really is public administration. Finally, he strives to determine the most effective strategies for developing public administration as a science and helpful tool within the framework of the United States of America’s democracy.

The science of administration is the ultimate fruit of the study of politics that began around 2200 years ago. The administration is the executive, functional, and most noticeable side of government and is as old as the government itself. Wilson says, until the twentieth century, no one wrote about administration as a science of governance. Administering a constitution is getting tougher than formulating one. He compares the old and contemporary public administration. Nations like Prussia (Germany) and France, who set an example of first regarding themselves as servants of the people and then creating a constitution with organized government offices, easily incorporated administrative science in their administration. Wilson claims that democracy is more difficult to govern than monarchy. Monarchies ruled by a few men made decisions easy. But in a democracy, the people decide. A monarchy may easily reform, but not a democracy. 

For instance, to amend a constitutional mandate in Bangladesh, It is necessary to have the backing of a majority equal to or greater than two-thirds of the total number of parliament members. Ziaur Rahman, the president of Bangladesh, declared in 1978 that a referendum was necessary in addition to 2/3 of the vote in order to modify certain articles. By contrast, it is difficult and time-consuming to amend the constitution USA. Two-thirds of both chambers of Congress must approve a proposed constitutional amendment before it can be adopted by three-fourths of the state legislatures.

Wilson distinguishes administration from politics in his article, despite its ideas being integrally linked to politics. Unlike earlier reformers, Wilson believes that administration should be separate from politics and should not be manipulated. Public Administration is a detailed and systematic way of public law, and every application of general law as an act of administration, in his view. He contends that public opinion holds officials for being accountable, which is a part of the modern philosophy of Democracy.  Compelling technical education and rigorous civil service examinations are required to qualify officials for the responsibility challenges. 

Wilson discusses the development methods of the study. The government must find measures to reduce the enormous administrative burden. A comparative administration distinguishes democratic values from non-democratic ones. For example, in Syria, Bashar Al Assad practised autocracy for a long time which is different from democracy in the USA. A strong political system is essential to run the government. The method’s application While the American administration has a European legacy, Wilson contends that it must establish its own path via comparative research. 

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