President Hugo Chavez continues to consolidate his control. The National Assembly has approved a new armed forces law that merges the civilian militia into the regular armed forces, and also allows foreign nationals to serve in the Venezuelan military.
Separately, the PSUV claims it has organized over 100,000 “combatant” patrols crewed by the party’s younger members.
Also, Chavez has now raised Venezuela’s total arms expenditures since 2005, including Russian weapons bought and delivered and orders placed recently on $2.2 billion of credit extended by Russia, to over $7 billion.
Chavez has been pushing for years to create a Latin american equivalent of NATO, but never got anywhere. Now he is taking a different direction, reforming Venezuela’s military legislation to incorporate foreign nationals into the armed forces as troops and officers.
Chavez apparently is determined to create a multinational armed force under his direct command. Perhaps he is trying to resuscitate a 21st Century Bolivarian version of the army led by the Liberator Simon Bolivar
But important elements are still lacking. For example, Chavez still lacks the heavy transport capability to project force anywhere in the region. But the Russians likely will help him solve that problem.
Chavez also has an unresolved credibility issue. Chavez wants, indeed he desperately needs, to be taken seriously by the big dogs. His strategic alliances with Iran, Russia, China, Belarus, Cuba are aimed at leveraging himself from third-rate banana despot to the status of serious contender in geopolitical confrontations with the US.
What does Chavez need to be taken seriously? A nuclear weapon or two would do nicely. Who might give Chavez a couple of nuclear weapons? Perhaps Iran, together with some baliistic missile capability with sufficient range to constitute a credible deterrent.
US officialdom thinks the odds of this scenario happening are very slight. Perhaps so.
But would it serve the interests of Iran, and possibly other roguish powers, to foster perceptions that Bolivarian Venezuela could acquire nuclear weapons soon after Iran builds its first nukes?
Chavez’s principal mentor, Fidel Castro, has sought unsuccessfully to acquire nuclear weapons capability for almost 50 years. Chavez has the oil resources to buy weapons if any ever become available to him.