364. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Brown to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Ways to Enhance US Military Presence in the Caribbean

A Special Coordination Committee (SCC) convened on July 20, 1979, to consider various courses of action in response to the Cuban military buildup and increasing interventionism in the Third World.2 From that meeting, DoD was tasked to develop, and submit to the NSC, proposals on ways the US can enhance its military presence in the Caribbean in order to promote regional stability and demonstrate US interest in the region.

The current military presence in the Caribbean is as follows:

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a. Major Bases: US military bases are at Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and the Canal Zone. No operational fleet units are permanently based at these locations; however, there are virtually continuous US Navy training missions in the Caribbean and occasional large exercises conducted in the region. Port calls throughout the Caribbean by US Navy ships are limited by operational/training considerations.

b. US Naval Facilities: The US has maintained naval facilities in Antigua, Barbados (closed March 31, 1979),3 Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas. These facilities provide sound surveillance intelligence data on Soviet submarine operations in the Western Atlantic. However, as a result of improved technological developments, these facilities will no longer be required. Closure of the facilities at Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas is programmed for 1980. The Antigua closure is programmed for 1984. The US Navy Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC) at Andros Island in the Bahamas, which conducts acoustic research and weapons development, will be retained for the indefinite future.

c. Air Force Sites: The Air Force Eastern Test Range sites are located at Antigua, Grand Bahama Island and Grand Turk. These sites are involved in supporting ballistic missile test programs. They will be maintained for the foreseeable future.

The options below detail ways in which US military presence and operational readiness can be enhanced in the Caribbean, particularly in the eastern region. These options are feasible for implementation within the Atlantic Command and can be conducted within the constraints of operational tempo, fuel allocation, budgetary considerations and other deployment commitments; e.g., DPQ submitted to NATO.

a. Shift the centroid of fleet exercises from the Atlantic seaboard southward to the Caribbean. Short training periods in home waters can be combined into fewer but longer duration periods of coordinated exercises in the Caribbean. Exercise units can be scheduled for increased visits throughout the Caribbean.

b. Deploy amphibious shipping, with a landing force embarked, to conduct additional amphibious training in the Caribbean. This will provide an opportunity for increased port visits both before and after the exercises.

c. Conduct bilateral maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) operations with Netherlands patrol aircraft stationed in the Caribbean.

d. Renew efforts to encourage Latin American and NATO navies with interests in the hemisphere to expand their participation in the [Page 903] annual readiness exercise (READEX) in the Caribbean. This is a follow-on exercise to the previous SPRINGBOARD exercises in which various countries from Latin America, the United Kingdom, Canada and the Netherlands participated. Participation has decreased in recent years because of a variety of factors, but it is believed this can be reversed.

e. Obtain staging rights for periodic surveillance missions of US maritime patrol aircraft out of Barbados and Brazil. Present staging is out of Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. Staging rights in the eastern region/South Atlantic will increase surveillance area coverage and provide wider US presence in the hemisphere. DoD is proceeding to approach State with a proposal on patrol aircraft staging in this hemisphere as well as other areas.

f. Increase of mid-training break period for ships undergoing training at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base to permit expansion of port visitation program.

g. Provide military support for civic action programs after natural disasters. Funding for operations of this nature would be required from non-DoD sources.

h. The possibility exists for the establishment of a naval reserve unit in Puerto Rico. However, there are a number of factors that need to be addressed before proceeding with this endeavor.

In addition to the above options, DoD is now studying the most effective use for the basing assets of the US naval complex at Key West, Florida (which supports Navy and Air Force TACAIR).

An option on the diplomatic side would be to pursue the establishment of a regional Defense Attache (DATT) accredited to the eastern Caribbean islands. The DATT could be stationed in either Barbados or Trinidad and Tobago.

My own view is that we should proceed with the majority of the above options, selecting them on the basis of their expected diplomatic and perceptual benefits and possible disadvantages.

As related information, US Navy/US Coast Guard Caribbean deployment port calls since 1976 are listed in Appendix I.4 This summary shows that the greatest US military presence has been in US territories. Elsewhere, particularly the eastern Caribbean, the US military profile is quite low. Major fleet exercise activity in the region is summarized in Appendix 2. This list does not include the almost continuous exercise/training activity that is conducted at Guantanamo throughout the year.

Harold Brown
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 45, Latin America, 1–9/79. Secret.
  2. See Document 55.
  3. See Document 311.
  4. Appendices I and II are not attached.