Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez boasted on state television that his country will develop a nuclear energy program with the help of Russia. The agreement apparently came about during a meeting last week in Moscow between Chavez and Vladimir Putin, and Chavez states that Venezuela doesn’t seek an atomic bomb “so don’t bother us like Iran.”
As with Iran, the peaceful pursuit of nuclear energy isn’t a bad thing by itself – indeed, nuclear technology can help ease global dependence on fossil fuels, and it might be nice if this country looked closer at developing more plants. What the deal truly symbolizes, however, is the growing partnership between Russia and Venezuela, and a desire by the former Soviet Union to have a greater influence in the Western Hemisphere.
I’m sure the Obama Administration isn’t troubled in the slightest by that desire, but it worries me slightly. Russia doesn’t have a great track record of supporting friendly and stable states (see: Iran), and an increased Russian presence in South America and the Caribbean may create conditions similar to those that prefaced the Cuban Missile Crisis. There’s no yearning for the Monroe Doctrine here, just a recognition that Russia doesn’t have America’s best interests in mind, and a stronger Russian influence doesn’t bode particularly well for that of the United States.
And of course, while it’s far too premature to accuse Chavez of wanting to seek an atomic bomb, there does remain that possibility. Until I see indications otherwise, I’ll take Chavez at his word (which may be a mistake), but there’s no doubt that a nuclear-armed Venezuela would be a drastic threat to South American stability as well as the interests of the United States. Let’s hope it doesn’t go that route.
Update: Apparently some folks at the State Department are concerned about a $2 billion line of credit Venezuela has opened with Russia to buy weapons. This nuclear deal no doubt plays a part in that. Troubling.