Engaging with Cuba protects U.S. national security interests and strengthens regional stability in the Western Hemisphere.
Cuba’s location in the Caribbean and proximity to the U.S. make it a natural and strategically valuable partner on issues of immediate concern, including terrorism, border control, drug interdiction, environmental protections, and emergency preparedness.
Additionally, further isolating Cuba could open a vacuum for U.S. adversaries, including Russia and China, just 90 miles off our shores.
On April 20, 2018, over a dozen retired U.S. military flag officers urged U.S. National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster to continue to normalize relations with Cuba for the sake of U.S. national security.
Influence of Foreign Adversaries
"The Cold War is long over and Cuba is no longer a threat to the United States. But Cuba, a former Soviet satellite, remains within arm’s reach of President Putin.”
--U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy
Foreign policy experts agree that adding U.S. restrictions on Cuba would benefit the Kremlin. As the economic crisis worsens in Venezuela – Cuba’s post-Soviet patron – recent events indicate that Russia is looking to regain its once diminished influence over our island neighbor.
In the past few years, Russia announced its intent to reopen a intelligence base outside of Havana, signed defense and industrial collaboration agreements, and agreed to investment over $1 billion to modernize Cuba's rail system by 2030.
In May 2017, Russia resumed oil shipments to Cuba for the first time in decades, capitalizing on an energy void left by Venezuela’s economic decline.
“The Kremlin has again become the island’s savior amid a Cuban energy crisis caused by the chaos in Venezuela,” wrote Sen. Patrick Leahy in an op-ed. “This alone should set off alarm bells in the White House.”
Russia also maintains a policy of forgiving 90 percent of Cuba’s Cold War-era debt and has signed multiple agreements to invest in infrastructure developments and oil exploration, incentivizing Cuba to continue their close relationship.
Similarly, China wields increasing economic and cultural influence over Cuba through expanding trade and economic development. Over 50 percent of automobile imports in Cuba come from China, as do a significant percentage of telecommunications equipment, electric machinery, and textiles.
U.S. financial prosperity depends on our ability to compete with China in an increasingly globalized economy. As China meets demand for goods and infrastructure in Cuba, U.S. suppliers are excluded from Cuba’s growing markets.
U.S. borders have comparatively few security threats from our neighbors, but unchecked Chinese and Russian influence in Cuba could change that. The best way to lessen the influence of China and Russia in our backyard is through increasing trade with Cuba.
Improvement in Regional Partnerships
An economically prosperous Cuba promotes regional stability in the Western Hemisphere. As Cuba grows its economy and stabilizes its institutions, it is better equipped to cooperate with U.S. efforts on border security and drug trafficking. Thanks to a combination of U.S. policy changes and collaboration with Cuba’s maritime border patrol, the number of illegal Cuban migrants to the U.S. has dropped to virtually zero.
Economic prosperity would also allow Cuba to diversify its energy supply and avert a domino effect caused by economic decline in Venezuela.
By contrast, there is growing regional unity in Latin America against the embargo and Cuba’s exclusion from the Summit of the Americas. Anti-American sentiment in the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance) states is exacerbated by resentment of the embargo on Cuba. Cuba’s isolation also contributes to its economic dependence on Venezuela, with whom the U.S. has a fraught relationship and whose regime is politically unstable.
May 2015: U.S. removes Cuba from State Sponsors of Terror list.
October 2015: Deputy Sec. of Homeland Security visits Cuba to discuss security cooperation with Cuban government officials.
May 2016: Officials held a fourth round of diplomatic discussions in Havana and discussed law enforcement.
September 2016: U.S. and Cuban officials hold fourth Bilateral Commission, where they discussed law enforcement, nonproliferation, human trafficking, maritime borders, and migration.
January 2017: Administration ends controversial “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy, which stemmed the flow of migrants from Cuba to the U.S. who had often been subjected to dangerous conditions.
January 2017: U.S. and Cuba sign MOU on law enforcement cooperation. The agreement outlines U.S.-Cuban cooperation on a wide range of criminal and security-related issues, including terrorism, narcotics, cybersecurity, immigration, money laundering, smuggling, and human trafficking.
The U.S. and Cuba have already made progress in security cooperation and must continue this trajectory to ensure that U.S. national security interests are protected.
In total, the U.S. and Cuba have signed nine agreements on security, ranging in topic from human trafficking, counter-narcotics, cybersecurity, and maritime border security. In a region rampant with corruption and narcotics trafficking, Cuba has been an asset to the United States in seizing contraband and stopping smuggling. Over the past 10 years, Cuba has alerted U.S. authorities of over 500 drug smuggling operations and confiscated several dozen tons of narcotics.
Other areas ripe for security cooperation include environmental protection and coastal erosion prevention, given that U.S. Gulf states and Cuba have a shared interest in mitigating the effects of climate change. Coastal erosion in the southeastern United States poses a real danger to the livelihood of Americans and successfully controlling its effects requires regional support.