194. Background Paper Prepared in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs1


Summary and Conclusions

Recent Cuban arms modernization, including MIG–23s, naval base construction and the acquisition of submarines, together with Cuban activities in the Caribbean and in Africa all pose serious security policy questions for the U.S.

—The rapid buildup of Soviet-furnished conventional offensive weapons since early 1976 and the increased Soviet navy presence in the Caribbean increase Soviet-Cuban military capabilities in this hemisphere. The acquisition of MIG–23/Flogger aircraft, the Foxtrot and Whiskey submarines and the development of the naval facility in Cienfuegos exemplify this trend, which could be taking place without violation of existing agreements with the USSR.

—Based on the potential capacity of the new naval facilities and submarine/minelayer capability, Cuba could establish within 1½ to 2 years a capability to interdict our non-Arab petroleum supplies (Nigeria, Venezuela, potentially Mexico), our bauxite supplies (Jamaica, Surinam, Guyana) and ocean-to-ocean transit (Panama Canal).

—Therefore, in the event of contingencies in a NATO scenario, CINCLANT would be obligated to provide forces to protect our southern flank against Cuba. Both CINCLANT and the Joint Staff have indicated that the U.S. forces required to neutralize an increasingly modernized hostile Cuba could cause an important reduction in U.S. forces available to NATO.

—Cuba has been an influential communist regime and in some cases directly supported Soviet objectives by providing troops and direct aid to revolutionary movements elsewhere. Cuba’s revolutionary small country mystique gives it entree into liberation struggles more easily than the USSR.

—The successes of these efforts and Cuba’s continuing role in Africa encourage those antagonistic to us even in countries where Cuba has not actually sent troops. Recent developments in Central America [Page 555] and the Eastern Caribbean (Grenada, Jamaica, Guyana) are providing Cuba with new targets of opportunity in the Western Hemisphere which she has demonstrated a willingness to pursue.

—In sum, Cuba provides the USSR a cheap proxy to carry out Soviet policy objectives with little direct Soviet commitment.

In the face of these problems our policy is drifting. We have neither developed carrots nor sticks with which to deal with Castro. The embargo is an irritant to Cuba but has not brought them to revise their policies, and it does reinforce their dependence on the Soviets. Our efforts toward normalization of relations and other partial efforts to solve our problems have not paid off. Cuban initiatives in Angola and Ethiopia have not evoked a forceful response from the U.S. nor have they deterred the establishment of a new Cuban presence in South Yemen, and Mozambique. We have mounted a political challenge in the NAM through friends but this has not really undercut the Cubans and our efforts are flagging. We have not conveyed clear signals regarding the Cuban activities in Africa, the Cuban military buildup, or on Central American or Caribbean issues.

In short, the Cubans have many irons in the fire and may believe they are free to expand their activities at will. Therefore, a reappraisal of our relations with both Cuba and the USSR is in order and we need to redefine the agreement or “understanding” under which the placement of nuclear and/or offensive weapons in Cuba is precluded.

Obviously actions we take vis-a-vis Cuba will have a Soviet dimension and could impinge adversely on U.S./USSR relations. The purpose of this paper is to stimulate discussion of the joint Cuban-USSR strategy as we see it, to describe comprehensively the pattern of Cuban action, and to catalog possible U.S. responses.

Disturbing Trends in Cuban Actions

—Continued buildup of Cuban military, civilian advisory and training personnel abroad in unprecedented numbers. (Some 39,000 military personnel and 11,000 civilian advisors in 20 countries.) Notable deployments include:

Military Civilian Advisory
—Angola 20,000 7000–9000
—Ethiopia 13,000 600
—Mozambique 600 300
—Iraq UNK 400
—S. Yemen 500 200–300
—Vietnam UNK 200–300
—Laos UNK 50–150
—Grenada 70 200 (anticipated shortly)
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Note: The trends have been upward in each of the countries cited above in recent years. Increases in civilian advisory personnel are anticipated in each of these countries and a presence in Afghanistan may be expected this year.

—Continued acquisition of sophisticated offensive military weap-ons systems which represent an increase of potential threat to the U.S. (MIG–23s, Foxtrot submarine and Whiskey trainer, with Cienfuegos base construction, and possibility of additional submarines and missile patrol boats are examples.)

—Increased military capability has increased Cuban options for possible military action against the U.S., especially in a global U.S.USSR conflict or in support of destabilizing the Caribbean as a surrogate force for the Soviets. These actions generally support Soviet foreign policies, but could also support independent Cuban objectives—a fact that suggests that we may need to deal with Cuba as well as the Soviet Union in forestalling problems.

—Strenuous efforts to control the NAM Summit and establish firmly Castro’s leadership. (In 1970 Cuba had diplomatic relations with 7 African nations, in 1979 with 36. It now has relations with 66 of the 88 NAM nations.)

—Conclusion recently of long term economic arrangements with the USSR, keeping Cuba in the Soviet camp for years to come.

Note: Though Moscow is trying to reduce the burden in 1981–1986, they will find it difficult to hold aid to Cuba below $3 billion per year. With such a subsidy constituting 20–30% of Cuban GNP, intensification of Cuban-Soviet planning for 1981–86 period cannot but have an effect on Cuban policy. The largest subsidies are paid by the Soviets on sugar, nickel and petroleum.

—A record of unbroken success has given Cuban leaders greater confidence in overseas expeditionary forces as evidenced by their increased presence in the Middle East (S. Yemen), Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Laos), potentially in Afghanistan and now in the Eastern Caribbean (Grenada).

—More sophisticated ability to influence events by indirect methods—infiltration, organization and training in Cuba, advice, and funds—rather than direct intervention with personnel and arms. (Witness their behind the scenes approach in Central America. Also their sophisticated marshalling of support for radical movements in Puerto Rico and attempts to make Puerto Rican independence a major U.N. issue.)

—Continued revolutionary and terrorism training in Cuba and in some cases (Jamaican trainees) encouraging them to immigrate to the U.S. to foment revolution.

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[Omitted here are the sections entitled “Cuban Objectives,” “U.S. Policy Dilemma,” “Desirable U.S. Policy Objectives,” “Actions To Achieve Our Policy Objectives,” and “Actions To Neutralize Cuban Activities on the Spot.”]

Actions To Take With The Soviets

Approach the Soviets at the highest level and review the entire situation of the influx of offensive weapons to Cuba and the joint Cuban/Soviet involvement overseas.

—We should be prepared to tie the approach to major U.S./USSR issues, including economic steps as well as political and military moves.

—Redefine the agreements and understandings which precluded the introduction of nuclear and offensive weapons into Cuba.

—Point out where the use of Cuban forces overseas are contributing to deterioration of our relations and outline steps we feel might alleviate the situation and steps we may be forced to take to counter such actions if they continue.

[Omitted here are the sections entitled “Actions To Take Regarding the NAM,” “Economic Actions,” and “Longer Term Actions.”]

Why These Courses of Action?

We believe that our current efforts toward normalization with Cuba, while achieving limited domestic benefits, have damaged our long term strategic interests. If our intelligence is correct, the Cubans now do not expect significant improvement in U.S./Cuban relations over the next few years. Therefore, they feel they have much to gain and nothing to lose by continuing their present course on issues of concern to the U.S. In order to make them moderate their actions, this perception must be reversed. Strong, across-the-board but progressively measured actions as outlined above will lay the groundwork for the United States to respond to disturbances in the Third World fomented by the Cubans and Soviets. Keeping the Cubans and Soviets “honest,” even at a short term cost to normalization, would be preferable to the unopposed activism of the Cubans and Soviets. It might well advance us more toward normalization with Cuba in the long term. It would increase U.S. prestige and credibility worldwide. And it would, most importantly, force reconsideration of what appears to be a joint Cuban/Russian attempt to project force in this hemisphere, i.e., introduction of offensive weapons, construction of bases.

Implications for U.S.USSR Relations

If we depart from the premise that Cuba’s actions are motivated both by Castro’s “revolutionary” zeal and the level of support received from the USSR, then we need to either decrease the level of USSR sup[Page 558]port or increase the cost perceived by the USSR, since we have no ready way of countering Castro’s mind-set. That is the purpose of the possible actions listed above, all of which in turn have a cost to us in terms of our relationships with the USSR. The point is that the Cuba-USSR joint program which we now consider poses serious policy considerations for the U.S., will not be moderated unless we find a way to exacerbate subtle ideological differences between the USSR and Cuba, or increase the cost to the USSR compared to the benefit of using Cuba as its surrogate, as has been so comprehensibly described in both DIA and CIA studies (SNIE 85–792 and TCS 2315–79/1). Just as Cuban actions can only be viewed in a Cuban/USSR context, U.S. counteraction must also be viewed in a U.S./USSR context.

  1. Source: Carter Library, NSC Institutional Files, Box 104, SCC 185, 7/20/79, Cuba after Summit. Secret. Sent under a March 16 covering memorandum from Carl Smith, the Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, to Robert Gates, the Special Assistant to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs.
  2. SNIE 85–79, entitled “The Cuban Foreign Policy,” is in the Central Intelligence Agency, NIC Files, Job 79R01012A.