President Obama just announced the latest threat to U.S. National Security. And it's not some country in the Middle East or bordering Russia. It's Venezuela. And it isn't just because of actions by the Maduro government. The country is on the verge of being the Ukraine of 2015.
As 2013 came to a close, few thought that Ukraine would be the country to make the biggest news in 2014, becoming a Cold War battleground between Russia and the West. Similarly, many are ignoring Venezuela, which has the same potential to become the most chaotic country of 2015.
In fact, the Fund for Peace's report for Ukraine for 2014 listed the country as only 113th on their "Fragile States Index Rank" out of more than 150 countries (with first being the worst). Ukraine was only on the sixth tier of states to be concerned about. Most of the trendlines were positive and others like "external intervention" weren't very high. This isn't like the U.S. being unprepared for the attack on Pearl Harbor, but it is pretty close.
Many could claim that no one could have foreseen Yanukovych fleeing, Russian annexing Crimea and sending troops to East Ukraine, the country bogging down in a Civil War, and a Malaysian airliner being shot down by rebels. But knowing something about the last two bitterly contested elections, the economic and political tug of war between Russia and the West over the country, the ethnic and language differences, and the jailing of political opponents, and we suddenly seem less surprised.
We hope to find the next failed state, before it gets too far to mend. Like Bosnia in 1993, Rwanda in 1994, Georgia in 2008, Libya in 2012, Syria in 2013, which country is likely to catch us off guard?
In 2015, it is likely to be Venezuela.
For most readers, nothing seems out of the ordinary about this Latin American country. The nation made the transition from Hugo Chavez to Nicolas Maduro, a Chavez ally. And they're an oil rich country, right? The Fund for Peace's country data trends places Venezuela as 89th on their Fragile State Index, with scores eerily comparable to Ukraine's 2014 projection.
Well even before the price of oil plummeted, Venezuela was experiencing an economic meltdown, with a falling GDP, skyrocketing inflation, and consumer goods shortages. Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl cited evidence that the country now has the second highest murder rate in the world, with some of these killings being politically motivated and others part of the growing narcotics trafficking that is overrunning the South American country. Jailed opposition leaders plead for peace and outside intervention. Sounds familiar, right?
Last year, Damarys Josefina Canache, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, on the faculty of Latin American and Caribbean studies, told me in an interview "People are upset about many things [such as] inflation. Venezuela has the highest level of inflation in the world, 57 percent. There are shortages of basic goods, and personal insecurity. Last year there were about 25,000 murders in the country. In short, there is a very serious social and economic crisis. This is not something that Maduro created. This situation in large part is consequence of the policies implemented by the government of Hugo Chavez. But all of these problems have worsened under the administration of Maduro."
A focus on the Middle East, Russia and East Europe, and East Asia is always warranted. But it would be a mistake for the United States to ignore events in its own hemisphere, especially as we've seen what happens when a problem isn't addressed until it is too late.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at email@example.com.