It took only minutes for the Trump Administration to support Venezuela’s opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, when he challenged the nation’s incumbent president, Nicolás Maduro, for power last week. Trump may have promised to “stop racing to topple foreign regimes,” but his choice to back Guaidó isn’t surprising. In fact, just about every American president since FDR has attempted foreign-imposed regime change, or FIRC, in one form or another. This history offers some lessons that shed light on the crisis unfolding in Venezuela.
Over recent years, a somewhat geeky debate has emerged among the exponents of deterrence and assurance. Although the discussion typically occurs between Americans and nationals of an allied country, it’s overly simplistic to describe it as one between the US and its allies—the divisions aren’t that clear-cut.
The debate is part philosophical and part phraseological. At its core sits a single adjective. Some Americans (including policymakers) say that what the US offers its allies is ‘extended deterrence’. But a number of allied nationals (again, including policymakers) find the phrase underwhelming; they’d prefer that it read ‘extended nuclear deterrence’. And so we come directly to the crux of the argument: the presence or absence of the word ‘nuclear’ in the assurance that the US provides to its allies.
Before he resigned, former Defense Secretary James Mattis was reportedly working in conjunction with the Department of State to revise US policy in the Middle East. Whatever vision Mr. Mattis had will have likely died when he left office – but he had the right idea in undertaking a review. Our strategic situation in the region has changed since the turn of the century, but our basic strategy has remained largely intact. That is not necessarily a good or bad thing, but it does suggest that a review of political-military strategy in the region is prudent.
North Korea’s state-owned news agency ran a wire story with tremendous significance just before Christmas, making clear that unilateral denuclearization is not going to happen. As part of a detailed explanation of Pyongyang’s position, it said: “When we refer to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, it, therefore, means removing all elements of nuclear threats from the areas of both the north and the south of Korea and also from surrounding areas from where the Korean peninsula is targeted. This should be clearly understood.” The text also states that “the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula means ‘completely removing the nuclear threats of the U.S. to the DPRK.’”
As U.S. leadership of the international order fades, more countries are seeking to bolster their influence by meddling in foreign conflicts. In this new era of limit testing, Crisis Group’s President Robert Malley lists the Ten Conflicts to Watch in 2019.