While an external intervention in Venezuela seems unavoidable, the disrespect for the basics of world order is deeply unsettling.
The first signs are quite worrisome. The US Administration is talking about “Maduro regime” and using its dominance of the financial transaction system to orchestrate a change of government in Venezuela. President Trump and his team support the claims of National Assembly leader Juan Guiado, who has declared himself Interim President. Several Latin American countries have followed suit, while key EU countries gave the Maduro government an ultimatum: call for fresh elections in eight days or we support Guiado too.
To any external observer of Venezuelan politics, the situation in the country has been far from ideal for several years now. Already since the days of President Hugo Chavez, the country had seen a real-life experiment in militaristic socialism with leaders apparently more interested to poke fun on the US and participate in international political games than develop and secure the well-being of their people.
Endowed with vast oil reserves, Venezuela could have been an ideal place to live in. But centrally dictated measures by the successive Chavez – Maduro governments, which aimed at making the society less unequal and helping the lower classes, ended up undermining the economy and with it the well-being of all Venezuelans. Millions of refugees have left the country, including to neighbouring Colombia, escaping the incredibly high inflation rates and the lack of basic foods and medicines. At the same time, President Maduro was easily re-elected last May, in a vote boycotted by the opposition, which has the majority in parliament. A lot is said about the loyalties of the army, which has been supporting Maduro but is now encouraged to switch its allegiances with the promise of amnesty by the self-declared Interim President.
In view of the situation, an intervention seems both needed and unavoidable. Experience, though, not least in Syria, Libya and elsewhere, shows that external actors usually make the situation worse, before it gets better, if it ever does. In particular, the Syrian case shows that there is no guarantee that the end result will be better, even politically.
Moreover, the involvement of major powers increases the risk of broader confrontation. Russia has been supporting the Maduro government and is reported to have been deploying additional military advisers in view of the latest developments. Cuba and even Iran are reported to be playing a role, upping the geopolitical stakes of any military intervention by the US and its allies. If the Venezuelan military splits or if in some way there is an armed struggle between the two parallel governments in the country, there can be a civil war from which nobody can really emerge as a winner.
In addition to all the words of caution that the adventurous and highly ideological Trump operatives, including National Security Adviser John Bolton, may not heed in any case, there is a deeply unsettling disrespect in any such external intervention for the basics of world order. The US cannot legitimately claim to be the global policeman or unilateral protector of democratic principles and to judge other states and their governments according to its own, self-interested criteria (see Point 2 of the FOGGS Hexalogue).
Such claims and disputes should be brought to collective global bodies of a higher level of authority. That would require an objective and unbiased UN Security Council. It is unfortunately not the case, with the US and Russia, at least, being ready to veto each other’s moves in this case too. The Security Council meeting of 26 January 2019 yielded no result for this very reason.
In view of this impasse, it should be up to the UN General Assembly to discuss the matter from an intergovernmental perspective. Simultaneously, the UN Secretary-General should offer his good offices for a dialogue between the two opposing governments in Venezuela. Countries like those of the European Union that claim to respect international law in theory and practice should refrain from taking sides, and should help the Secretary-General, supporting his efforts and mobilising immediate humanitarian assistance for the suffering Venezuelan people.
Any other course of action may well impose an even greater hardship onto Venezuela and its people.