Naval Blockade: Trump’s Threat to Take Down Venezuela

The latest revelations by heads of state Donald Trump and Nicolas Maduro have revealed a behind the scenes depicting a completely different scenario of the current situation in Venezuela: the two governments, over the last months, have entertained high level relations to try and find a point of conjunction which could lead to a solution of the crisis which, in certain instances, has risked turning into a true armed popular revolt.

We have commented in the past whilst analysing this aspect, until now concealed, that Venezuela represents a victory for the Trump administration if we consider the way that it managed the delicate situation which entailed the presence of another important international player: Russia.

Having exerted pressure on Caracas through international isolation and sanctions while concurrently supporting the internal political opposition, Juan Guaidò, Maduro was forced to deal with Washington. The immediate effect has been twofold, the consequences of which will only be visible in the medium/long term: the United States has succeeded in deposing Russia from the role of crisis mediator and has proved that Moscow is not an interlocutor strong enough to substitute Washington on the international scene.

Events can be interpreted as the result of a carefully prepared strateg – however unscrupulous – already tested during the Korean crisis and currently also being applied to Iran: purposely increasing diplomatic and military pressure on an opponent so as to force him into a deal. It worked with North Korea, although it has generated a political impasse which seems destined to crystalize. It also appears to have been successful with Venezuela. We are still waiting for the outcome of this strategy implementation in Iran. This operational strategy has been defined as “the Korean scheme”, and at this point seems to be a well-oiled system.

The White House, regarding Venezuela as well, has progressively intensified diplomatic reproach also insinuating the possibility of some kind of direct intervention in order to bring about the fall of Maduro’s socialist-Bolivarian regime. One such action could have been a naval blockade along the lines of the one carried out during the 1962 Cuba Missile crisis.

The US Navy was ready for a naval blockade in Venezuela

Admiral Craig Faller, commander in chief of the US Southern Command, on the occasion of the start in Brazil of the Unitas 2019 maritime military exercise, in which naval units of nine South American countries participated together with United States, Great Britain, Japan and Portugal, declared that the US Navy is ready to do all that is necessary to resolve the situation in Venezuela.

“I’m not going to detail what we’re planning and what we’re doing, but we’re ready to implement policy decisions, and we’re ready to act,“ stated Faller, adding that “the United States Navy is the most powerful navy in the world. If there is a political decision to deploy the Navy, I am confident that we will be able to do whatever is necessary.”

There exists – or rather there existed – therefore a US plan to enforce a naval blockade against Venezuela as anticipated by indiscretions leaked by the press over the last few days which stated that President Trump was ready to carry out such a move.

The operation would have required time and resources to be put into action. Therefore it is reasonable to suppose that news of such a move had been disclosed at a diplomatic level, more than a few days ago – we think voluntarily – to put pressure on the government of Caracas: a crafty application of modern hybrid war characterized by the use of propaganda and the manipulation of the media, on the same level as Russia does with its Desinformatsiya.

In fact, President Trump is said to have put forward the idea of the blockade a number of times since the beginning of 2018, the last time only a few weeks ago, although the Pentagon sources consulted did not consider it very feasible.

A high-priced act of war

A naval blockade requires a large number of resources in order to be put into practice: a security perimeter needs to be defined, beyond which access is denied to a particular type of naval unit (or all) and requires constant maritime patrolling with ships, submarines and aircraft.

Venezuela has a long coastline a great distance from American bases. Consequently, in order to keep the ships and aircraft enforcing the blockade in position, the US would have to deploy a massive logistical structure, relying on bordering friendly countries or its own high-altitude refuelling aircraft, thereby spending US Navy funds in a delicate historical moment when the navy is being engaged on other fronts such as the Persian Gulf and the Western Pacific.

Experts at the Pentagon have explicitly said that such an operation would require “huge amounts of resources, probably more than the US Navy can provide” and therefore it is not an operation which can be carried out at present. However, as is always the case in war, it is just as important for “the threat to be credible”, and sometimes the strength of its plausibility is enough to earn a victory without a single shot.

We should also consider that a naval blockade, if enforced unilaterally, that is without being backed by an international resolution, represents an act of war and would therefore immediately give Venezuela a considerable propaganda advantage: a small socialist country besieged by American imperialism.

The naval blockade itself, if applied without an international mandate, would put countries giving the US logistical support in serious difficulty. They would be violating their positions of neutrality, possibly opening the way to a large-scale conflict in South America.

All the above considerations therefore have us thinking all the more that the possibility of a naval blockade was only a smart diplomatic move to lure Venezuela to the bilateral discussion table with the United States, which is exactly what happened.