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U.S. Threatens Oil Embargo on Caracas; Venezuela's Example Sends a Strong Message to North Korea

February 15th - 2018

The United States has since the inauguration of the Trump administration in early 2017 steadily increased economic pressure on the Venezuelan state under the pretext of both human rights violations and constitutional amendments Washington has deemed illegal. These sanctions have been supported by the European Union, and target both the state and members of its government with the effect of exacerbating an already critical economic crisis. While Venezuela's economic troubles are primarily a result of both its extreme reliance on oil revenues and the devastating effect low oil prices have had on this, as well as widespread corruption within both the government and military, the U.S. has sought through a combination of support for often violent anti government opposition and increased economic pressure to bring about regime change in the country. U.S. President Donald Trump within months of assuming office threatened direct military intervention against the country, while more recently in February 2018 Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that the United States was considering an oil embargo against the country among other sanctions resolutions intended to maximise pressure. Influential members of the U.S. government such as Senator Marco Rubio have also openly guaranteed U.S. support for the Venezuelan military should it move to overthrown the country’s government – encouraging such action and again seriously threatening the country’s stability.

Venezuela's example ultimately provides a key lesson to other U.S. and Western adversaries currently facing economic and military pressure - namely North Korea, Russia and Iran. To take North Korea as an example the country today faces perhaps the most stringent economic sanctions in world history and a serious threat of attack by the U.S. military. The country has been under American sanctions ever since its formation in 1948. Sanctions have escalated since 2006 under the pretext of punishing Pyongyang for its development of a nuclear deterrent force. This was hardly illegal under international law particularly considering both the country's status as a non signatory of the nuclear non proliferation treats as well as threats from the Bush administration in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq to attack the country - with attack plans necessitating the deployment of bunker busting nuclear weapons against Korean fortifications. As of 2002 the United States military’s Nuclear Posture Review had required the Pentagon to draft contingency plans for the use of nuclear weapons against North Korea, while the influential Council on Foreign Relations published a 60-page report planning a full scale occupation of the country with 460,000 troops. All UN members states are guaranteed a right to self defence, and nuclear weapons have never been named an exception under international law. In Pyongyang’s eyes they only way to guarantee its security against a nuclear armed superpower with designs for regime change and the use of nuclear force was to itself develop nuclear parity.

North Korea today has seen 90% of its oil cut off, with several influential figures in the U.S. military and government pushing for a total blockade of oil supplies. It faces both the threat of invasion and stringent economic sanctions, much as Venezuela does, all under the pretext of its 'threat to global peace and stability' by developing a deterrent program. What North Korea can learn from the example set by Venezuela however, a state with no weapons programs whatsoever which faces the very same threats and measures against it by the Western bloc, albeit to a lesser extent, is that Western military and economic pressure are largely unrelated to the country's weapons program. Should North Korea dismantle its nuclear weapons, there is little to no chance that its would see Western sanctions lifted. Much as was the case with Iran, which agreed to Western inspections of its nuclear sites under the 2015 JCPOA deal, U.S. sanctions were lifted only to be reapplied within a week under the pretext of the country's entirely legal development of ballistic missiles. Other Western countries such as France have followed suit in threatening to reapply sanctions if Iran does not reign in its missile program - leaving it effectively defenceless against the far larger and better funded forces of its Western backed regional adversaries as well as those of the U.S. deployed to its borders. Should North Korea, or Iran for that matter, dismantle their nuclear and ballistic missile programs entirely, other than inexorably increasing the risk of U.S. military intervention they would almost certainly yet again see sanctions reapplied under the same pretexts as those used for Venezuela. Should they vote to amend their constitutions, run their economies, or otherwise continue conduct their domestic or foreign policies in ways which contradict the interests of the Western bloc they will see sanctions reapplied and the threat of attack under 'humanitarian' pretexts return. Indeed the same very much applies to Russia - even if Crimea were returned to Ukraine and support for separatist factions in Donetsk and elsewhere ceased entirely, the country's alleged 'human rights abuses' and military intervention in Syria would provide the West with ample pretexts to reapply economic sanctions.

Ultimately the only way for North Korea, Russia, Iran or others to be rid of Western sanctions is to change the nature of their policymaking entirely and conduct both domestic and foreign policy with the interests of the Western bloc firmly in mind. The examples provided by both Venezuela and Iran demonstrate to North Korea in particular that it has little choice but to continue on its current path - doing otherwise and unilaterally disarming would bring extreme risks for little to no economic benefits. Economic pressure is there to stay and there is little doubt that harsh Western sanctions will continue so long as the North Korea continues to exist under the political culture, leadership and economic policies it has today, regardless of nuclear disarmament.

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