In August, U.S. President Donald Trump said that the United States was considering using military force to resolve the crisis in Venezuela. His announcement was quickly condemned by the United States’ allies in Latin America and the Caribbean as reckless and counterproductive. Yet there are some, mostly in the Venezuelan exile community, who still insist that a U.S. military intervention to remove the dictatorship of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro would be worth the cost.
Not since the United States invaded Panama in 1989 had a U.S. president threatened to use force for political ends in the Americas, and for good reason. There are no longer any military challengers to the United States in the region. Today, the Pentagon focuses on helping Latin American governments dismantle drug trafficking networks, deal with insurgents, and respond to natural disasters. It does not plan military interventions in the region, although it certainly could, if ordered to do so.
If the military were to make such plans for Venezuela, policymakers would need to answer a few important strategic questions. First, they would need to lay out the political goals of the intervention. When states use or threaten military force, their objectives are usually straightforward: they tend to seek either a shift in policy or regime change. In Venezuela’s case, that might mean pressuring the Maduro government to recommit to the rule of law and to enter into a serious dialogue with the opposition, or removing it from power entirely. But could achieving those goals through force undermine more important U.S. objectives in the Americas and beyond?
The short answer is yes. Fighting in Venezuela could quickly escalate, drawing the United States into an expensive, long-term occupation. Even if that did not happen, an intervention would sour the United States’ relationships with its partners in the Western Hemisphere and diminish Washington’s influence there.
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