Written by Daniel Edgar exclusively for SouthFront
A recent article by Rubén Castillo for Misión Verdad (republished by Resumen Latinoaméricano) provides a succinct analysis of the most likely attack options and the Bolivarian Republic’s defence capabilities in the respective scenarios (without ruling out the concurrent implementation of all three – an all-out ‘shock and awe’ aerial attack, immediately followed by medium to large-scale frontier invasions primarily from Colombia and perhaps Brazil, accompanied by ‘low intensity’ but extremely destructive terrorist attacks and sabotage from all directions, internal and external). Indeed the latter scenario, low intensity terror attacks and sabotage, has already been underway for some time, as envisaged in the confidential ‘Masterstroke’ strategy document prepared by SouthCom that was subsequently revealed in the international press (discussed previously by the same author; Daniel Edgar, 2018).
While the new Colombian president Iván Duque affirmed unequivocally during the election campaign that he was not in favour of Colombia participating in a military attack against Venezuela, Colombia and Guyana did not support a recent declaration by the ‘Lima Group’ categorically rejecting military intervention and Duque is taking every opportunity to antagonize and demonize the Venezuelan government and demonstrate his absolute loyalty to his masters in Washington and Miami.
Moreover, in a recent budget statement he announced a projected increase to the military budget of over 50% (matched by a similar level of cutbacks to funding for education and implementation of the now all but defunct peace process with the FARC), largely to fund the acquisition of an air-defence system which in current circumstances could only be used against a possible (counter-)attack from Venezuela (it is unthinkable that such a system would be used to defend the country against an attack by the United States, which already has a very substantial military and intelligence presence in Colombia). The increase is on top of already record levels of military spending; while the FARC-EP disarmed completely following the signing of the Peace Accord, the Colombian State has not relinquished one piece of military equipment or ended compulsory military service. To the contrary, it continued to increase military spending.
This reveals a considerable dilemma for the would-be aggressors: while Colombia has one of the highest levels of military spending and possesses one of the most formidable military apparatuses on the continent, it has been designed and operated with the exclusive objective of fighting against the Colombian people in order to defend and preserve the extravagant luxuries and privileges of the political and economic elite and ‘foreign investors’ rather than defending the country and the people in an external conflict with a well-armed opponent (much less conducting a large-scale offensive military campaign outside the country).
Perhaps Peru, a country that was not mentioned in the SouthCom document outlining the strategy to overthrow the Venezuelan government, could assist in this respect, as it possesses a large contingent of tanks and other offensive weapons that could be transferred to staging areas as they presumably won’t be needed against its traditional enemy Chile as both are currently, and have been for some time, completely compliant US client states.
Although several influential sectors of the mass media in Colombia recently acknowledged that Colombia’s participation in a military intervention against Venezuela would have catastrophic consequences for both countries, the most influential media machines (in particular Caracol and RCN, national television and radio broadcasters that have a near monopoly on television programs – both are owned by Colombian oligarchs who control sprawling corporate empires that dominate some of the most lucrative sectors of the economy) continue to indoctrinate the Colombian people to support an eventual military attack. Thus, as noted by Nazareth Barbás:
“In columns and editorials of the main newspapers of Colombia, the war scenario also has its detractors: ‘The only way out is diplomatic pressure’, says El Espectador. ‘The war speech is attractive, as well as deceptive and dangerous,’ writes analyst Laura Gil in El Tiempo. Semana magazine titled its cover this week with the phrase ‘Playing with Fire’, to allude to an analysis that concludes that ‘a military intervention in Venezuela would be catastrophic’, for which Bogotá should assume a ‘categorical position against’”.
Nonetheless, at the same time many of the articles published by the same media outlets are diligently following the script laid out in Southcom’s ‘Masterstroke’ document to overthrow the Venezuelan government and impose a pliant regime of collaborators (also apparent in the realms of regional and international military, ‘diplomatic’ and economic developments more generally); sensationalizing the emigration of people from Venezuela due to economic hardship or for other reasons (invariably every person leaving Venezuela is described as a refugee on the verge of death fleeing from the brutal Maduro dictatorship), incessant criticism of the Venezuelan government alleging that Maduro bears exclusive responsibility for all problems in Venezuela (and many of the problems in Colombia), sensationalizing real or imagined clashes and incidents along the Colombia-Venezuela border, ignoring the role of paramilitary groups recruited in Colombia to sow terror and disorder in border regions and the many other terrorist attacks against infrastructure and the government in Venezuela, etc.
This is most evident in the programming of Caracol and RCN, whose influence over the perceptions and attitudes of the Colombian people is difficult to exaggerate, particularly with respect to the Venezuelan president and government. While the numerous analysts and political or social organizations quoted by Nazareth Barbàs express scepticism as to possibility that the hype for war belies a real agenda as opposed to constituting nothing more than psychological warfare and political propaganda, a large number of Colombian people ingenuously repeat the insults and allegations against Maduro and Venezuela repeated daily by RCN and Caracol and have assimilated the assiduously crafted psychological warfare ‘talking points’ as immutable fact.
In short, although open military conflict still seems to be a surreal and unlikely scenario, everything is being done to prepare the ground for a ‘frontier clash’ at an opportune moment, in which Colombia must attack Venezuela to avenge the tragic deaths of several soldiers and civilians following an unprovoked, ruthless and reckless incursion by a contingent of brutal Venezuelan soldiers (the number of sensationalized border incidents being reported is already increasing).
It is also quite possible that although Brazil supported the most recent declaration by the Lima Group rejecting an overt military intervention against Venezuela, this was a tactical necessity that will be dropped once the national elections are completed in October. Clearly, the stakes of the pending political contest in Brazil are enormous, and it is not unreasonable to assume that the United States is doing everything possible to ensure that the presidential election in Brazil will be won by a candidate whose first loyalty is to those who control the policies emanating from Washington DC.
The following is a translation of the article by Ruben Castillo:
Scenarios of military intervention: the capabilities of Venezuela to defend itself
On July 4, 2018, the AP news agency in Bogotá stated that last year the president of the United States, Donald Trump, raised the idea of a military intervention in Venezuela in meetings behind closed doors with its top officials and advisers and with presidents of the region in the framework of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
Recall, also, that in a press conference on August 11, 2017, Trump himself assured that the military option was open for our country. After this declaration, President Nicolás Maduro, in accordance with the military doctrine and focus of security and defence in the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB), issued a series of instructions to develop a set of exercises, in civic-military union, as an answer to these aggressions.
Having said this and reviewing the precedents of the US government in the region and in the world, and understanding the softening-up strategy applied to the country in the economic, financial and propaganda fields, a military intervention to our territory is not ruled out. ‘All options are still on the table’ with respect to Venezuela, where the military option is logically included, according to President Trump himself in the framework of the 73rd General Assembly of the UN.
From this assumption some questions arise: Is our FANB able to respond to a possible attack by the US? What would be the possible intervention scenarios that it would use? And finally, which of these theaters of operations would be developed and how would Venezuela act?
Bolivarian military doctrine, prospects for conflict and strategic focus
Since the arrival of Hugo Chávez in 1999, the Venezuelan military paradigm has turned 180 degrees. The Strategic Operational Command of the Bolivarian Armed Forces emphasizes that the current general doctrine of the Venezuelan army is based ‘on Bolivarian military thought, under the strategic conception of a prolonged people’s war, in order to carry out efficiently the planning, coordination and execution processes of military defence operations, cooperation in the maintenance of internal order and active participation in the development of the nation.’
This new approach to national defence, which since the arrival of the Bolivarian Revolution has become integral in all areas that correspond to sovereignty, was accompanied by a series of elements in the procurement of weapons designed to face the possible scenario of an asymmetric or conventional war waged by external actors.
During the last decade, gradually but systematically, the Venezuelan military defence equipment has been upgraded to the point of having the capacity to deny the airspace to any type of aircraft that wants to fly over it without full authorization.
But beyond the fact of having modernized our entire weapons system, beyond all the military exercises that we have carried out inside or outside the territory, our greatest strategic advantage lies in our knowledge of the threats, in the systematic analysis of possible war scenarios that we could face, in efficiently distributing the defence of the territory through a Layered Integral Defence strategy, promoted from larger to smaller scale theaters by the REDI (Comprehensive Defence Region), the ADI (Comprehensive Defence Areas), the ZODI (Comprehensive Defence Zone), and finally, the ZOSE (Security Zones).
This aspect of any prospective conflict has as its operational focus the war of attrition or trench warfare, where the enemy is confronted in a staggered and stabbing way, emphasizing that each defence strategy varies according to the territory to which a certain component is assigned. This responds to the military maxim of the best possible understanding and use of the terrain to improve the efficiency of combat, and would be applied in case of an occupation scenario by exogenous forces.
In that sense, the Bolivarian Armed Forces recognize that the military confrontation, as a continuation of politics by other means, can vary in its forms, depending on the changing nature of the politics and the society in which it is waged. In this way, you can identify the balance point where the aggressor army is confronted, with the minimum number of casualties and loss of resources and the adaptation of the available resources, obtaining an advantage in a confrontation by way of a specific modality.
Intervention scenarios v’s capabilities of the Bolivarian Armed Forces
In this regard, we must make it clear that for several years, Venezuela has experienced a scaled intervention process; only that the last phase, the military one, has not yet been fully developed and is still used as a threat.
This is so not because the United States, as a military force, lacks the resources to carry it out. It has all the military and logistical apparatus that would be necessary; however, as usual, its army does not go to war if in the target country there is an organized defence system capable of repelling or resisting the intervention over a prolonged period.
For that we only have to review recent history: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, among other cases of recent times. In these countries the military intervention was realized after the military component of the nation was demoralized and weakened from within its internal structures, or previously worn down by internal armed conflicts of a mercenary and terrorist nature, also propitiated by the United States, with the objective of neutralizing the defensive capabilities of the target country.
With respect to Venezuela, and taking into account the margin of error implied by any projection, the intervention could take place under the hypothesis of three scenarios. Each and every one of them, also, entails a response scenario from the FANB.
Saturation Bombing and Lightning War
This scenario, although very appealing to enemy forces, because it bases its strategy on the so-called ‘softening-up fire’ that allows reducing casualties to zero because they are attacks from a distance, at the moment represents the biggest obstacle and the most difficult strategy in an eventual military attack.
This is because the military and geostrategic conditions that Venezuela currently possesses do not allow it. With regard to the territorial dimension, our country has a layered defense system, consisting of an anti-aircraft defence system among the best in the world, which has already been tested by the US military forces in other latitudes (Syria, for example ) with adverse results.
The political and media cost of a large-scale intervention of this type is very high because it represents a high probability of failure. Today our country has equipment that detects the enemy presence in sea and air at a minimum of 300 km in a straight line and with a ceiling that is around 25 thousand meters high. Accompanied by Su-30MK2 aircraft, which have the ability to confront any enemy before it invades our airspace, the thesis of a Lightning War (occupying the target country in a few days with a minimum number of casualties) is extremely difficult to carry out. This is compounded by the existence of civil and military focal resistance points that may be encountered in a subsequent phase of the intervention.
The acquisition several years ago of the S-300VM medium-range air defence system, means that Venezuela has a staggered anti-aircraft defence system composed of ZU-23 anti-aircraft cannons, Buk-2M missile systems, and Russian Pechora-2M and S-300VM systems, capable of intercepting all kinds of targets, be they missiles or planes in a range of up to 200 kilometers. This defensive factor complicates the effectiveness of an eventual air campaign against the country.
Intervention from the border areas
There is a likelihood that a military intervention could be carried out within the triple border that our country has with Brazil, Colombia and Guyana. A military invasion from these locations would only be possible with the Colombian army, due to a specific geographical reason: it is the military force closest to the capital of the Republic and with greater accessibility, because there are communication channels that would facilitate such an attack.
Moreover, Brazil’s reluctance to accept an intervention in Venezuela and the almost irrelevant role of Guyana in the current stage of the political conflict means that Colombia is where the first shots could come from.
Specifically in Colombia, the issue operates with a different logic. Even with the support of US military bases and personnel in its territory, operationally they would have to deal with the role that different armed groups that live in those areas near the Venezuelan border, such as the so-called Colombian Self-Defence Groups and the Bacrim (‘Criminal Bands’), who would also defend their interests and areas of influence in the event of a conflict initiated in spaces that they consider their exclusive territories.
Now, in terms of the military capabilities of both countries, according to the prestigious military portal Global FirePower, in its ranking of 2018, Venezuela and Colombia are virtually tied in firepower and military capabilities. However, in more specific lines, Venezuela leads. While the country has 696 combat tanks of different types, 57 self-propelled artillery vehicles and 52 rocket launchers (Smerch type), Colombia does not possess units of these key equipment for conventional or asymmetric land combat.
In terms of combat aircraft and towed artillery, Colombia outnumbers Venezuela, however, the quality of Russian equipment purchased by Venezuela in these categories demonstrate greater capacity than the US equipment bought by the neighboring State.
In anti-aircraft defense, for the expert in conflicts of the University of Rosario, Vincent Torrijos, ‘Colombia does not have a credible anti-aircraft defense system’, which contrasts enormously with the capabilities acquired by Venezuela in this field for several years. Understanding this weakness and acting belatedly, General José Mauricio Mancera, head of strategic planning for the Colombian Air Force, indicated that it is necessary for the neighboring country to acquire an anti-missile system to have a ‘clearly defensive policy’.
This, together with the regional defence capacity that has been installed through the formation of integral defence networks, knowledge of the terrain and the operational readiness for the containment of an occupation army using asymmetric warfare, put at risk the effectiveness of any military intervention that comes from Colombia, given the advantages that Venezuela has.
But beyond these aspects, one of the maxims in any war is that one must have the greatest control over the strategic variables that allow the balance to tip favorably, and for now neither Colombia nor the United States have total control of factors that range from geopolitics, disposition to real combat, and American internal drift.
Another key aspect that could limit the scope of an intervention through Colombia is the preparation of the FANB in the defense of the territory, its high levels of articulation and its high morale, which in this cost-benefit relationship, would be a decisive influence in our favor.
Military intervention through irregular or terrorist factors
The political, strategic and also economic costs of the previous forms of intervention could open the scenario of an intervention through terrorist tactics.
Within the framework of the Plan for Recovery, Growth and Economic Prosperity, one of the actions taken by the Venezuelan government is aimed at equating the cost of gasoline with international prices, due to which service stations, fuel tanks and other components of PDVSA (the State-owned petroleum company), could become attack targets.
The regularization of the sale of gasoline and the affectation of contraband could precipitate the activation of armed groups linked to drug trafficking on the Colombian side, who are the main beneficiaries of this business. The exercises, a little over a month ago, of responding to damage to the bridge over Lake Maracaibo, together with the frustrated assassination attempt against President Nicolás Maduro, are signs that the model of intervention through unconventional warfare is on the agenda.
Given this, it is no coincidence that paramilitary groups such as the ‘Tren de Aragua’ issued a statement a few days ago declaring a frontal war against the police forces, just at the moment when tensions with the United States are at their peak.
The permanent sabotage of the national electricity system, the increase in violence on the Colombian border due to the conflict of interests between paramilitaries and apparently isolated facts such as the discovery of a clandestine ammunition factory in Cabudare (located in Lara state) indicate that the irregular route is being tested and financed behind the scenes in the absence of an electoral or politically viable option to remove Chavismo from power in the medium term.
In this sense, the intelligence and internal security apparatus (SEBIN, PNB and GNB) has played an important role in dismantling actions of this type, through the tactical positioning and handling of anticipated information, executed efficiently by the Force of Special Actions (FAES), as happened in January of this year in El Junquito, Miranda state, with the dismantling of Óscar Pérez’s terrorist cell.
Because of the low political, economic and logistical costs that it represents for the United States, terrorism could be an option to be used to precipitate military intervention mechanisms in Venezuela, which is also not guaranteed of success given the capabilities of the national security apparatus to disarticulate mercenary factors and how it has taken the lessons provided by this type of interference in Iraq, Syria and Libya, to achieve greater effectiveness in the anticipation and detection of threats.
We must consider that, for the Venezuelan government, geopolitics is also assumed as a defence policy that has a notorious influence.
Among the variables that could lead the US government to take the decision of a military intervention, the economic associations with China and Russia in Venezuela play a key role, as it involves an indirect confrontation with rising financial and military powers. A strong factor of dissuasion.
The Venezuelan strategy of integrating its foreign policy with that of China and Russia has been one of the most effective in this stage of the conflict. This is confirmed by President Nicolás Maduro’s recent visit to China, the arrival to the Venezuelan coast of China’s hospital ship ‘Arch of Peace’ and the bilateral meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov before his address to the plenary of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
The projection of Maduro as interlocutor between competing powers and the use of national energy resources to generate counterbalances and geopolitical conditions that limit the scope of the intervention agenda, is a visible consequence of a strategy designed to avoid war as a strategic concept, at the same time that the political offensive and the willingness to fight are maintained.
This is where the United States has perhaps the biggest obstacle to overcome, if it wishes to continue with its plan to attack Venezuelan sovereignty: how to intervene in Venezuela without initiating a new front of semi-direct confrontation with Russia and China, at a time when they are on the offensive and every false step by Washington is used to weaken the hegemony of the US?”
- Daniel Edgar, 2018, “Preparations for the Final Phase of Regime Change in Venezuela: Will the United States resort to a Multilateral Military Invasion?”, South Front
- Nazareth Balbás, 2018, “This is how the threats of military intervention against Venezuela are lived in Colombia” (“Así se viven en Colombia las amenazas de intervención militar a Venezuela”), RT, 29 September 2018
- Rubén Castillo, 2018, “Scenarios of military intervention: the capabilities of Venezuela to defend itself” (“Escenarios de intervención militar: las capacidades de Venezuela para defenderse”), Misión Verdad (republished by Resumen Latinoaméricano 28 September 2018)