Back to the jungle: would U.S. intervene if war comes to South America?

By John Keller

Posted by John Keller

Here's a potential new spin on Hillary Clinton and her red-phone television commercials. If there's a global emergency in the offing, it might not be in Central Asia, where everyone expects it to be. It could be right here in our own hemisphere.

War might be coming to South America .

Venezuela President Hugo Chavez has ordered 10 tank battalions to his border with Columbia, and put his air force under emergency standby, according to a story in the Daily Mail of London entitled U.S. could intervene as Chavez prepares for war on Columbia . Venezuela also has closed the Columbian embassy in its capital of Caracas.

Chavez, it seems, objects to Columbia's sending soldiers into neighboring Ecuador to fight guerilla soldiers hostile to the Columbian government. Chavez, moreover, is telling Columbia not to chase anti-Columbia guerrillas into Venezuela, warning that such an act would be "cause for war."

Let's remember that the Venezuela-Columbia border is just a thousand miles south of Miami, and less than 500 miles from the strategically important Panama Canal . Could the U.S. stand by if Columbia and Venezuela were to go to war? I think the answer is, probably not -- especially if such a war were to escalate quickly.

Columbia borders on Panama, and is only about 150 miles from the Panama Canal at its closest point. The Canal is one of the most strategically important places in the world. It is key to U.S. capability to move naval forces quickly between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

There is little doubt that the United States would intervene quickly in any conflict if U.S. access to the Canal were threatened. Chances of U.S. intervention lessen if the Canal is not part of the equation, yet Venezuela's oil reserves, which many consider to be a strategic asset, undoubtedly will play a role in U.S. decision making.

That's just what we would need -- an armed conflict in the tropical jungles of South America, just as the U.S. seems ready to start drawing down its military commitment in Iraq. It's interesting to glance at the world map and notice that northern Columbia and Venezuela are roughly at the same latitude as Vietnam.

Maybe this speculation is all for nothing; I hope it is. U.S. officials point out that Hugo Chavez is notorious for making wild threats. Perhaps he has no intention of going to war. If he does, though, it won't be pretty.

Now let's add another twist to the mix. Panama Canal operations are managed by a company with close ties to the Chinese government. China is an ally of Venezuela, and China is in desperate need of oil sources to maintain its rate of economic growth. Is it possible that an escalating war between Columbia and Venezuela might bring the U.S. and China into some form of conflict? I think I'd better quick speculating right here.

The accompanying photo is of U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Jordan Mann, a Seabee assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 40, low-crawls through a pond during the endurance course at the Jungle Warfare Training Center at Camp Gonslaves, Okinawa, Japan. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class John P. Curtis.

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The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

May 2015
Volume 26, Issue 5

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