How Strong Is Venezuela's Military?

The Latin American country of Venezuela has captured the world's attention in recent years, with the oil-rich nation plagued by internal unrest since President Nicolas Maduro took power in 2013.

Relations have also worsened with the United States, with President Trump saying he would not rule out a military option to confront the country's authoritarian leadership. So just how strong is Venezuela's military?

The country's armed forces have around 515,000 personnel, including roughly frontline 130,000 troops. On land, Venezuela has 696 combat tanks, along with 700 armored fighting vehicles.

At sea, the nation is much more limited, with only 50 naval assets. Venezuela has 3 frigates, 4 corvettes and 2 submarines, but has no aircraft carriers or destroyers. In the air, the country has 280 aircraft, including 42 fighter jets.

So why have tensions become so inflamed with the United States? The relationship first soured under previous president Hugo Chavez, who was populist, authoritarian and anti-American. After the socialist leader closely allied the country with Russia and China, the U.S. placed an embargo on the sale or transfer of military arms or technology to Caracas. Despite this, Chavez embarked upon an aggressive period of military investment, with Venezuela purchasing a significant amount of military hardware from Russia.

Following Chavez's death in 2013, Nicolas Maduro assumed power. Taking on a more authoritarian stance, he jailed political opponents and took over virtually all legislative and judicial power in the country.

Venezuela has been plunged into a severe economic crisis, with the country hit by hyperinflation, along with extreme food and medicine shortages. Three million Venezuelans are estimated to have fled their country as refugees to surrounding South American countries Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil. China and Russia have extended huge loans to prop up the government.

Despite the crisis, the country's powerful military has up until now steadfastly supported Maduro. But cracks of dissent have started to appear, with minor military attempts to overthrow the president.

And the relationship with America has deteriorated to such an extent that the Trump administration is preparing to add Venezuela to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. Republicans have long accused Venezuela of having ties to terrorist organizations, but experts have played down the threat of those connections.

President Trump has raised the possibility of military intervention, but such a drastic move remains unlikely. While invading Venezuela and toppling Maduro would be relatively straightforward for the U.S., fixing the country's decimated infrastructure would be a lot harder. Military intervention would not just be opposed by Venezuelans, but would anger the rest of Latin America.

It's more likely the U.S. will place an oil boycott on the country. Venezuela remains the fourth-largest foreign supplier of oil to the U.S., the largest purchaser of Venezuelan crude. But if an oil boycott is enacted, it would be painful to both nations, and would likely see Venezuela plunged even further into crisis.