Venezuelan Military Doctrine

By 2005 the Venezuelan Armed Forces were incapable of warfighting and seemed likely to remain so. Venezuela has no tradition of expeditionary military action and the government would have to weigh the diplomatic downside of international isolation. The Venezuelan military continued to reach out to vulnerable governments to try to influence them. The home-building, runway improvement and road-building the military has conducted in the region has been rather benign. The military continued to be a major vehicle for the provision of social services. The military represented a resource which, through its size, structure, planning ability, and resources, continued to be a major vehicle for administration of some social services.

Broadly speaking, the FAN by the 1990s exhibited two major missions: external defense and internal security. The counterinsurgency mission of the 1960s and 1970s had terminated with the successful resolution of the conflict with leftist guerrillas. After that time, the military's approach to its missions became less focused, and the armed forces became a more technocratic and bureaucratic institution that was more susceptible to the pressures of politics. Although Venezuela's oil resources lent a certain impetus to the external defense mission of the FAN, the absence of a viable external threat dulled the response of policy makers and shifted the motivation of defense planners away from contingency planning and more toward political considerations, such as maintaining military pay and benefits. This phenomenon appeared likely to persist and to intensify as the potential conventional threat from Cuba, which had seemed viable during the early 1980s, continued to wane during the 1990s.

Venezuelan military doctrine, in keeping with the perceived role of the armed forces in a democratic state, theoretically emphasized readiness for external defense. Strategic planners attempted to prepare their forces to engage in a conflict of limited objectives. Tactically, the doctrine called for the employment of combined forces capable of employing significant firepower and shock capability, while also displaying adequate mobility. It stressed an active defense in which regular forces would engage the enemy and reserves would man static defensive positions. The FAN's amphibious and air transport capabilities, though limited, extended its strategic reach somewhat; naval forces also lent a degree of support to a ground effort in the areas of sealift and antisubmarine warfare. Although the FAN's ability to implement its doctrine was hampered by equipment shortages, maintenance problems, and other logistical shortcomings, these problems generally were less severe than those exhibited by most other Latin American military institutions.

Venezuela's independence day - 05 July 2005 - passed without the planned unveiling of Venezuela's new military doctrine. The doctrine will remain unofficial until Chavez signed off on the draft, which he sent back to the military for revision, new Defense Minister Orlando Maniglia told reporters. The doctrine has not yet been codified in the Organic Law of the National Armed Forces, either. The law cleared the defense committee July 5 after two readings and now goes back to the plenary chamber, according to press reports. Opposition deputy Pedro Castillo said the pro-Chavez bloc, under pressure to pass the law quickly, agreed to an opposition request that articles relating to personnel matters be placed in another law, according to press reports.

In the meantime, the Venezuelan armed forces were busy defining and preparing for "asymmetric warfare" since President Hugo Chavez announced the doctrinal shift in December 2004. According to DAO reporting, the armed forces have held several conferences to plot strategies for war against an overwhelming conventional force such as the US military. A columnist in a major opposition-leaning daily newspaper released an alleged Venezuelan military plan for asymmetrical warfare in which a hypothetical "Goliath" country gathered a coalition of states to get the OAS to approve an invasion of "David." The military has conducted various maneuvers and exercises to prepare for guerrilla warfare. Some exercises have involved members of the new reserve force; 40 PDVSA reservists participated in an antiaircraft artillery demonstration 09 June 2005.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez addressed troops at Fuerte Tiuna, Caracas's principal military base, in a longer-than-usual (two hours and 15 minutes) year-end salute on 27 December 2005. Chavez invoked Bolivar to change Venezuela's military doctrine. Bolivar, he said, opposed defensive strategies, which Chavez interpreted to mean Venezuela should accelerate its "ideological offensive." Chavez urged the creation of a civil-military committee to help his former military academy classmates draft a national security doctrine to be employed in "asymmetrical wars." Extolling the virtues of military education, he tasked all military schools, services, and commands with fomenting the new strategy.

President Chavez proposed significant "socialist" changes to the 1999 Constitution in a lengthy 15 August 2007 speech at the National Assembly. Criticizing what he called an outdated dependence on U.S. military doctrine, the Venezuelan president proposed that the Bolivarian Armed Forces be "essentially patriotic, popular, and anti-imperialist." Among other responsibilities, the armed forces would apply defense principles related to the "popular war of resistance," help maintain "internal order," as well as participate in economic development plans.

Join the mailing list