2018 peace and security Caribbean Security Latin America & Caribbean Trump's Western Wemisphere Policy US-Venezuela

Trump’s Preference for Use of Military Intervention Subverts Diplomacy and Threatens Venezuela

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Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

Trump’s Preference for Use of Military Intervention Subverts Diplomacy and Threatens Venezuela

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

The recent baring of a not so unexpected truth by media sources that the U.S. president gave serious thought in August 2017 to invading Venezuela early in his presidency is further confirmation that President Donald Trump’s foreign policy is defined more by the reckless use of U.S. military power rather than utilizing diplomacy to resolve geopolitical issues.  The use of military intervention as a first option and not a final option affirms Trump’s belief that the rest of the world must adhere to his ‘America only’ policy. Countries with limited power who fail to fall in line should expect serious consequences.

Trump’s consideration of regime change in Venezuela through military invasion should concern governments of Latin America and the Caribbean regardless of their disapproval of, or disdain for Nicolás Maduro. Emerging from the early months of Trump’s presidency is that U.S. military intervention in the hemisphere, or elsewhere, to impose its will is not a thing of the past. Governments in the region should be concerned that Trump is not prepared to use diplomacy to resolve issues, especially when the problem involves helpless nations that can easily be overcome by U.S. military might.  It is also clear that Trump pays no attention to international law and norms.

According to media reports, then national security adviser Gen. H. R. McMaster successfully launched a vigorous effort to dissuade Trump from consideration of military intervention in Venezuela. It appears Trump was unhappy with the slow effect of the U.S. sanctions in removing Maduro from power. Trump’s predecessor in imposing sanctions against Venezuela intended to coerce Maduro to change his behavior with regard to denial of human rights, rule of law, and the perversion of democracy and democratic institutions. Thus, the focus of the targeted sanctions imposed by President Barack Obama’s administration was not expected to, or interpreted as means to effect regime change.

Due to Trump’s now well-known imperial hubristic approach to foreign policy, though excused in some circles as amateurish rather than hubris, and his disdain for checks and balances on the powers of the presidency, there is no telling how long he will refrain from the use of military intervention in Venezuela. This possibility is greatly enhanced by the replacement of Gen. H. R. McMaster with Ambassador John Bolton as national security adviser. Bolton, who is well known as a proponent of the use of America’s military might and disdain for diplomacy, is far more likely to affirm the president’s militaristic approach.

The U.S. president has surrounded himself with sycophants in the White House, and, with McMaster out, there is no one to push back on Trump’s militaristic approach to foreign policy issues. Furthermore, with a Republican Congress which cowers before Trump, there seems to be no unfettered use of presidential power.

Turn now to the Trump administration’s diplomatic engagement with the Organization of American States (OAS) to gain approval for actions against Venezuela. Was this diplomatic initiative a mere façade to justify U.S. unilateral actions aimed at regime change in Venezuela, or was it a real attempt to engage collectively through the OAS to solve a very troubling hemispheric problem? Some opponents of the resolution claim that the resolution approves regime change and sets a bad precedent for the region. Others who voted for the resolution denied that the resolution approves regime change.

Supporters of the resolution were adamant they were not voting in support of the U.S. position on Venezuela. None admitted the intense lobbying by the Trump administration which preceded the vote influenced their vote. Neither have they explained whether earlier threats by President Trump and his Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, that those who do not support the Trump administration’s positions in international fora will face consequences. One can make the case that coercion by the Trump administration must have had an impact on the vote.

The countries supporting the resolution maintain that they were exercising their own positions with respect to the problems in Venezuela and the Maduro government, and they were not doing the bidding of the U.S. government. They are justified in their positions that changes are needed in Venezuela to restore human rights, rule of law, democracy, and to end abuse of the institutions of government. However, there are good reasons to be skeptical that the OAS resolution they approved on June 5, 2018 will achieve those objectives without regime change.

What did the resolution approve or did not approve? Oftentimes, resolutions agreed to in regional and international organizations are by virtue of the nature of consensus building drafted in extremely vague language. As a result resolutions, such as the one agreed by the OAS, are open to more than one interpretations.  Either side of the issue may interpret the resolution to serve that government’s objectives.

Three of the preambular paragraphs of the resolution provide some rationale for the decisions in the operative paragraphs, and provide clues of the drafters’ intentions.

  • The first rationale refers to the February 12, 2018 report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights “Democratic Institutions, the Rule of Law and Human Rights in Venezuela,” which concludes that there was a political, economic, and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.
  • The second rationale is the OAS resolution (CP/RES. 1078 (2108/17) of April 3, 2017), which “declared that an unconditional alteration of the constitutional order of the Bolivaran Republic of Venezuela had occurred.”
  • The third and perhaps the most dispositive rationale underscored, that diplomatic initiatives offered by the OAS Permanent Council and “undertaken by several member states have either been rebuffed by the Venezuela Government, or failed.”

These preambular paragraphs establish the context for the intent and meanings of the operative paragraphs.

Operative paragraph 8 called on OAS member and permanent observer states “to implement, in accordance with their respective legal frameworks and applicable international law, the measures deemed appropriate at the political, economic, and financial levels to assist in the restoration of democratic order in Venezuela.” (Italics are the author’s.) There is no mention or suggestion of military intervention to restore democratic order.  However, the resolution leaves it to each country to decide and does not rule out regime change to restore the democratic order in Venezuela if such change is possible through imposition of harsh economic, political and financial measures. Thus, the danger of abuse of the resolution is in the omission of details. It doesn’t prohibit any member or observer state with the necessary capacity to impose total economic and financial embargo that could cripple the country and effect regime change in Venezuela.

Operative paragraph 9 is also troubling. The OAS Permanent Council remains seized of the situation in Venezuela and can reconvene at any time under the original agenda item for the purpose of supporting “diplomatic actions and additional measures that facilitate the restoration of democratic institutions…” in Venezuela. (Italics are the author’s.) The term “additional measures” or “other measures” has been used in UN Security Council resolutions to mean “military actions” beyond diplomatic and other non-military efforts.  This term was used by the Bush administration to circumvent the veto of other permanent members of the Security Council on the U.S. invasion of Iraq despite lack of Security Council approval.

The big challenge for Latin American and Caribbean governments who supported this OAS resolution is whether they will defy the Trump administration and deny OAS approval of “additional measures,” and, since all non-military actions would have been tried and failed, what would those “other measures” be? With both China and Russia protecting their interests in Venezuela, the UN Security Council will not approve military intervention in Venezuela. Has the OAS given Trump the cover to provoke military confrontation with Venezuela?

© 2018 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post

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About the author

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward is a former Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the United Nations with Special Responsibility for Security Council Affairs (1999-2002) serving on the UN Security Council for two years. He served three years as Expert Adviser to the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee. He is an Attorney-at-Law and International Consultant with extensive knowledge and experience in national and international legal and policy frameworks for effective implementation of United Nations (UN) and other international anti-terrorism mandates; the legal and administrative requirements to effectively implement and enforce anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AML/CFT); extensive knowledge of the legal and regulatory requirements for effective implementation and enforcement of United Nations multilateral and U.S.-imposed unilateral sanctions; and the imperatives for Rule of Law and governance.

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