Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Cuba, Russia and Cold War retro? No, it’s time to normalize relations with Cuba.

Amid rising tensions over Georgia, U.S. officials are increasingly concerned that Russia is moving to rebuild one of the most dangerous features of the old Soviet Union's security structure -- its alliance with Cuba.

Moscow has been signaling that it wants to restore a long relationship with Havana that included not only economic ties, but also military and intelligence cooperation. The relationship brought the world to the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, when Russia secretly installed nuclear missiles on the island.

U.S. officials believe that Russian statements are partly bluster, intended to dissuade the United States and its allies from moving the NATO alliance and military equipment, including missile defense sites, closer to the Russian border. And some experts question how interested Cuba is in rebuilding close ties with Russia.

But at a time when Russia has intervened forcefully in Georgia and is extending the global reach of its rebuilt military, some senior officials fear it may not be only bluster.

Russia "has strategic ties to Cuba again, or at least, that's where they're going," a senior U.S. official said recently, speaking, like others, on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive implications of the assessments.

The officials said they doubted the Russians would risk stationing nuclear bombers on Cuba. But some believe that Moscow might seek to restore its once-energetic intelligence cooperation with Havana, and to resume limited military cooperation, possibly including refueling stops for aircraft and warships.

In the current environment, such contacts would make U.S. officials uneasy, serving as a reminder of a military relationship between Havana and Moscow that stretched from the Cuban Revolution in 1959 until a weakened, post-Soviet Russia finally closed a massive electronic intelligence complex in Lourdes near Havana in 2001.

One senior military officer said a return of Russian ships or planes could force additional U.S. deployments in the region. But the Bush administration and Pentagon declined to comment publicly on the implications.

"It is very Cold War retro," said a government official. "The topic could be reminiscent of the Cuban missile crisis, and that is a chapter that people don't want to revisit."
That’s right – we absolutely don’t want to revisit that chapter of the Cold War. I was a child during the Cuban missle crisis but vividly remember the concern of my parents and other adults about what was going on. I knew a nuclear exchange was a possibility and it could bring an end to the world as I knew it – a notion probably not too far off from the reality. It was a fearful time for a child to go to bed and not know what he was going to wake up to.

That was then and this is now. The Soviet Union no longer exists and the Cold War is over. Oddly enough U.S. policy towards Cuba, a reaction to the conflict with the Soviet Union, has not changed. U.S. policy is a relic from a previous world order that was a failure then and is a failure now. The policy cut off interactions between Cubans and Americans in the hope that this will somehow encourage Cubans to topple their government. Yet, despite the fact the policy never produced the stated result after almost half a century, the American government under both Democrats and Republicans held onto this failed policy as if it were sacred. The reality is the only reason the policy existed was to pander to an older generation of anti-Castro Cuban refugees who are believed to possibly cast the deciding vote in the swing state of Florida – it has had nothing to do with Cuba for decades.

Now into this vacuum come the Russians. Should the United States be concerned? Yes but in the perspective that whatever differences the U.S. has with the Russian government Russia is not the Soviet Union and this is not a revival of the Cold War. The best counter-measure to Russian influence would be to normalize relations ourselves with the Cuban government and encourage interaction between the Cuban and American people.

Diplomatic relations should be recognition of fact, not a statement of policy. The Castro brothers are in power for the time being. Whether Americans like that or not doesn’t change the reality. Diplomacy is nothing if it isn’t about talking with people with whom you disagree or dislike. But normalization should go beyond exchange of diplomats. Normalization should include lifting trade and travel restrictions. The Cuban people have suffered under trade restrictions. It’s time to open up to Cuba. We don’t have to worry about propping up the Castro brothers. Their regime is a tyranny and abuser of human rights but their rule is near its end regardless of what we do. It is in our interest economically and politically, as well as those of the Cuban people, to normalize relations with the largest nation in the Caribbean.

Such a move would not necessarily be quick or smooth. U.S.-Cuba relations have a complicated and not particularly happy history from the 20th Century. The heavy hands of the U.S. government and American business interests were constantly interfering into Cuban politics and life during the first half of the century and the second half of the century into the 21st Century has seen outright hostility between the U.S. and Cuban governments.

President Bush did not start this policy; he inherited it from a long line of both Republican and Democratic administrations. However, he has been in a position to make the over-due correction and has done nothing. Unless this administration has a dramatic change of heart in the next four months, the issue will be dropped into the lap of the next president. Let’s hope President Obama or President McCain can let go of the past and move forward in the best interests of both our peoples regardless of the impact on the vote in Florida.

1 comment:

Comrade Kevin said...

The embargo, while it makes for successful political posturing, has done nothing other than embolden Castro.

Russia has to be taken seriously because its coffers are overflowing with oil revenue. The way to really change a newly aggressive Russia is to transition quickly to alternative sources of fuel.