Writing Armageddon

Writing Armageddon
Furious writing or writing furiously?

Monday, February 6, 2017

Student Risk of War Analysis:Colombia-Venezuela

As part of my IR 315: Peace and Conflict Course I had students conduct a Risk of War analysis of a dangerous dyad according to the Simple Risk Barometer developed in Steps to War by Paul Senese and John A. Vasquez. In this series I will upload to the blog the ones I felt were the best. The goal is to show that with some training anyone can use Steps to War to get a handle on current events and the likelihood of war. 

Colombia-Venezuela

Sena Uzun


Latin America has experienced many problems that have generated from border migration-drug issues and smuggling throughout the history. Among the ongoing rivalries are the source of continuing tension and raises the possibility of militarized border disputes. There have been numerous MIDs those occurred in the region, on average more than once a year throughout the twentieth century. Nonetheless, these MIDs rarely rose to the level of war, occurring only 2.5% of the time. This paper focuses on the risk of a possible war between two Latin American states: Colombia and Venezuela. The two countries share a border of over 2,219 kilometres- contiguity is an important factor in this dyad that should be kept in mind.

I will use Steps to War frame by Senese-Vasquez to analyse the level of bellicosity of Colombia- Venezuela dyad. Senese-Vasquez developed the Risk of War Barometer which offers a prediction of the risk of war regarding four basic steps to war: (1) presence of territorial disputes, (2) the presence of outside allies, (3) the repetition of MIDs and (4) an ongoing arms race. Any combination of these factors is counted as increasing the risk of war.

The territorial dispute between Venezuela and Colombia started on control over the entrance to the Gulf of Venezuela. The Los Monjes Islands, three islands located at the northwest of the Gulf, were seen as the key establishment. By gaining recognition of its claims on the islands, Colombia could have expend its territory into the Caribbean.



Discovery of the petroleum in the Gulf’s seabed in 1960s, brought a new dimension to the dispute. Several unsuccessful negotiations took place during following two decades, eventually in August 1987, a Colombian warship entered the disputed waters- two sides cameto the edge of having a war. Negotiations have been conducted 2 at various times since then but with little progress. In 2015, decades old maritime border dispute has reemerged when Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro decreed maritime borders for military operations, including an area in the Gulf that both countries claim sovereignty over.

Senese-Vasquez advice that once territorial dispute emerges, sides must avoid uses of realist tactics that makes the dispute recur and escalate. Especially avoidance of arm races in seen crucial, since they often increase the probability of war to the highest level. Unfortunately, neither Colombia nor Venezuela have taken this advice, therefore letting further tensions rose. Chavez’s military doctrine was based on a hypothetical US invasion from Colombia to seize Venezuelan lucrative oilfields. In 2007, when Colombia had plans to allow US troops to use Colombian military bases as part of a drive to curb drug-trafficking are unveiled, their relations deteriorated again. Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, accused Colombia of carrying out a military incursion into his country.

Acting quite as a realist, Chavez aimed to have closer relations with Russia. In 2009 he visited Moscow and came back to his country with brand-new Russian hardware. The standoff followed Bogota’s decision to grant basing rights to the US military across the country in October. Bogota’s decision had led to greater hostility in Venezuelan side. Chavez lost no time, about a month after Colombia-US agreement he urged his armed forces to be prepared for a war with Colombia, ordering 15,000 troops to Colombian border.

Senese-Vazquez emphasize that if a dyad had six or more MIDs within twenty
years, the risk of war is considerable. The fact that Colombia-Venezuela dyad had six MIDs only in the period of 2000-2010 makes the situation quite worrying. Senese-Vazquez emphasize that territorial dispute is the most deadly among all factors in the way to war.

When Maduro re-opened the chapter of Colombia’s major territorial dispute with
Venezuela, even though his main goal was to divert public from growing economic crisis, his act approved that the rivalry between two states is still active. According to Risk Barometer of War, the presence of all four risk factors shows that the maximum probability of war would approach 90 per cent. But as they also suggested, the accuracy of these predictions could be improved by introducing control variables such as economic development and the state capacity. These variables can help us to understand why a war has not taken place and improve our prediction of bellicosity of the dyad.

As opposed to the high risk of war the barometer indicates, there are some significant reasons for a war between Colombia and Venezuela is not likely in the near future. Latin American states have some degree of assurance that in the case of an MID, they can rely on diplomatic assistance rather than going to war to end the dispute. They even perceive MIDs as a way to prompt a negotiated settlement that they hope will be advantageous to their state. If they reach advantages, there would be incentives to repeat the behavior. Previous IMDs between two rivals in recent decades revealed a preference for diplomacy and lack of preparedness forconducting effective military operations.

Also the current concerns of two states are very different. Venezuelan economy has almost reached a point of collapse, 2016 GDP growth rate of Venezuela was -10% , and Colombia’s political agenda has been focused on reaching agreements with FARC during the last year. Nonetheless, Venezuela-Colombia dyad maintains its high level of bellicosity. However a war in the near future does not seem to be likely.

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