This summer, NOH’s Madeleine “MadFo” Foley called attention to rampant U.S. alarmism concerning the relationship between two men that never fail to raise hackles: Hugo Chávez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Yesterday, Bret Stephens at the Wall Street Journal suggested that a new document, detailing an agreement “to cooperate in the field of nuclear technology,” may shed some light on the supposedly threatening Venezuela-Iran relationship. Stephens’ editorial, though, missed some key factors in the association…
Stephens concluded that “Forty-seven years ago, Americans woke up to the fact that a distant power could threaten us much closer to home. Perhaps it’s time Camelot 2.0 take note that we are now on course for a replay.” Iran is far from its stated objective of 10 additional nuclear facilities, let alone a deliverable nuclear weapon, so a comparison to the fully capable Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis is ridiculous. Moreover, Venezuela today is economically dependent on the United States, in contrast to Cuba in 1962, which had been under a partial commercial, economic, and financial embargo.
Stephens’ Cold War analogy is fatally flawed, as most of the threat-hyping on this issue has been. Nonetheless, there are some factors to be aware of in the Iran-Venezuela relationship.
First, after many trade and investment agreements, diplomatic visits, mutual honors, and photo ops, the relationship between Iran and Venezuela is considerably stronger today than it was ten years ago.
Second, the strengthened relationship has sparked concern about regional and global security. The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control targeted the assets of two Hezbollah supporters living in Venezuela, one of whom was a Venezuelan diplomat. The influx of Hezbollah, increased weapons imports, and the porous borders of Central American countries have caused some observers to worry about terrorist infiltration. Furthermore, in May 2009 a secret Israeli government report obtained by the Associated Press implicated Venezuela and Bolivia in the sale of uranium to Iran. This was the first allegation that South America may be involved in the development of Iran’s nuclear program.
Though the current relationship between Iran and Venezuela may be cause for measured (not Stephens-esque) concern, Venezuela is still dependent on the United States economically. The main destination for 53.9 percent of all of Venezuelan exports is the United States. The next highest destination, the Netherlands Antilles, receives only 8.8 percent. Venezuela still sells over half of its oil to the United States. This amounts to more than 1.5 million barrels per day. Further, a considerable portion of Venezuelan refining capacity is located in the United States, which gets less than 15 percent of its oil from Venezuela. This relationship is not likely to change in the near future. An oil embargo might hurt the United States, but it would cripple Venezuela.
Since the United States holds this economic trump card, the relationship between Iran and Venezuela is unlikely to be more than a moderate irritation in the foreseeable future. In the effort to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, the United States should see the “Tehran-Caracas Nuclear Axis” for what it is – a sideshow that distracts from the real security problems in the Middle East.