US national security took an important, but little noted leap forward yesterday when President Obama announced the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba. Most of the media coverage focused on the economic and political consequences of this bold move, and what little I’ve seen on its national security implications quotes opponents as calling it “appeasement.” This is a clear reference to Britain’s vain attempts to mollify Hitler prior to World War II, and therefore an attempt to slam Obama’s move as naive and dangerous. So why do I maintain that his move did the opposite and, instead, dramatically improved our national security?
Whenever Russia complains about our actions close to its borders which it finds threatening, we argue that we have no ill intentions and it has nothing to fear. To wake us up to what it feels like to have a heavily armed adversary camped out on your doorstep, Russia then is tempted to look for similar actions it can take close to our borders. And Cuba is the logical location.
The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis started this way, with the US deploying nuclear-armed missiles in Turkey that Spring. According to Khrushchev’s speech writer, Fyodr Burlatsky:
Khrushchev and [Soviet Defense Minister] R. Malinovsky … were strolling along the Black Sea coast. Malinovsky pointed out to sea and said that on the other shore in Turkey there was an American nuclear missile base [which had recently been deployed]. In a matter of six or seven minutes missiles launched from that base could devastate major centres in the Ukraine and southern Russia. … Khrushchev asked Malinovsky why the Soviet Union should not have the right to do the same as America. Why, for example, should it not deploy missiles in Cuba? [Fyodr Burlatsky, Khrushchev and the first Russian Spring, Scribners, New York, 1988, page 171]
A repeat almost happened in July 2008, with an incident that I refer to as the Cuban Bomber Mini-Crisis. This nuclear near miss is almost unknown because it stopped just short of becoming a full-blown crisis. The stimulus was President Bush’s Eastern European missile defense deployment, which the Russians saw as threatening their nuclear deterrent. In reaction, they threatened to deploy nuclear-capable bombers to Cuba, an action which Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said would cross a red line.
Whether or not you agree with my analysis, I hope you will contact the White House (or call 202-456-1111) with your comments on this dramatic move. That’s the best way the president can learn how the average American feels about his decision, and therefore the best way to improve the workings of our democratic government.