I am sure most of you have heard about the foreign policy of appeasement or even the failures of appeasement by the events that preceded World War II.
To be more specific, when we think about appeasement, we think about the policies of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who thought that war with Nazi Germany could be avoided by offering concessions to Hitler.
As history would have predicted, Chamberlain’s appeasement did not prevent Nazi Germany from attacking its neighbours. Instead, it encouraged Hitler to act more decisively and aggressively against all of Europe.
This is why Churchill immortalized the failure of appeasement by telling Chamberlain, “you were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour, and you will have war.”
Interestingly, when I think about appeasement I also think about my own country, Venezuela, as we experienced a similar dynamic back in 2013.
In 2013, we had our latest presidential election. It was between the government’s candidate, Nicolas Maduro, and the opposition leader Henrique Capriles.
Maduro was running to continue the legacy of Hugo Chavez, who died a few months before the election. Capriles was running to bring change to Venezuela, a country that was already tired of the government’s rampant corruption, radical discourse and socialist policies.
For that reason, the country was mobilized to help Capriles win that election. While I was only 16 years old at the time I remember everyone in my community helping in every way they could. I also remember the thousands of people who attended Capriles rallies.
During election day I remember the optimism of the millions of people going to the ballots to cast their votes. The hope in people’s faces. It was a truly remarkable and historic moment in my country’s history.
However, when the moment to announce the winner arrived, the evidently politicized Venezuelan electoral commission announced what all of us feared. Maduro had won the election. He had won against all evidence, against every poll, against the millions who had voted.
Stunned by the decision the opposition asked the electoral commission for a recount. This was on the back of some reports that stated the opposition had actually won the election by as much as a million votes. The electoral commission declined the opposition’s request stating that no recount was neither possible nor necessary.
This is when Capriles asked the Venezuelan people to protest peacefully on the streets in order to pressurize the government into accepting demands for a recount. Capriles then went on an international tour to raise awareness about the critical situation in Venezuela.
The elections were not reviewed nor the result. Venezuela’s political situation exacerbated to the point that it is now considered one of the most brutal dictatorships in the Western world.
When asked why the international community did not do anything in 2013 to resolve the situation, many point out the response from numerous heads of state, who said something along these lines:
“We know that the rules of the game are not totally transparent in Venezuela, but we cannot escalate the situation. The opposition should simply keep working, take this as a moral victory, and prepare for their next chance.”
Well, there was never another chance for us. Now, with millions of people in exile, and the country in the middle of a humanitarian crisis, there are two questions that come into my mind: Firstly, will we ever have another chance? Secondly, did the foreign policy of appeasement in Venezuela work?
While the answer to the first question is still unknown, the answer to the second one could not be clearer: Instead of de-escalating the situation appeasement in Venezuela resulted in a much bigger conflict than before. One that now has the capability to destabilize the entire region.
In 2013, we did not have millions of Venezuelans escaping to other countries, now we do.
In 2013, we did not have foreign powers like Iran and Russia so embedded in Venezuela’s strategic sectors, now we do.
In 2013, Venezuela was not at the edge of becoming a failed state; now it certainly is. The list goes on and on.
This is why I say that World War II is not the only moment in history that comes to my mind when I think about the failure of appeasement. I also think about my own country. I think about what it could have been if the international community had tried to stop the Venezuelan regime before it grew stronger.
Similarly, this is why I have been advocating for a greater engagement with Ukraine right now, not later. The United States and the European Union have to do everything they can to help Ukrainians protect their sovereignty from Russia’s aggression.
Because if the West tries to appease Russia by accepting Putin’s demands about NATO expansion, then this will not be the last time we see Russia threatening a sovereign nation for the sake of advancing its interests and worldview.