Why? Chavez says he needs the hardware to defeat a U.S. invasion. The military might also gives Venezuela the ability to enforce land claims against Colombia, Guyana, and Holland -- yes, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, still sovereign on the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire, located just off the Venezuelan mainland.
Chavez isn't stupid -- he knows Argentina lost its Falklands gamble. But he also knows that Britain's Falkland victory was more of a "near thing" than many think. Argentine combat aircraft could just reach the Falklands, while Venezuelan fighters could easily strike the Antilles.
With the Falklands in mind, Holland has garrisoned the islands with a small naval force and an infantry battalion supported by a half-dozen F-16 fighter jets and helicopters.
In a March 8, 2007, article, StrategyPage.com concluded geography, oil power and military hardware give Venezuela a huge tactical and operational advantage over the Dutch. Venezuela could take the islands, and the Dutch "lack the ability to retake the islands on their own."
The smart bet is that a Falklands redux is not in the cards. Chavez will shadow box because it pays in cash. His bombastic threats spike oil prices, which benefits his regime.
But the Falklands War demonstrates that when dealing with caudillos, the military "what if" must never be dismissed.
What happens if Chavez calculates that a Bolivar-like "liberation" of the islands from the prison of European colonial oppression would galvanize support for him throughout Latin America?
Outlandish, grandiose and delusional? Twenty-five years ago, Argentina's dictatorship concluded the risks of outlandish action were worth the grand rewards.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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