Increased cooperation between the United States and Cuba should be a boost for U.S. national security, according to a recent report.
The previous long-standing U.S. policy of isolating Cuba, a remnant of the Cold War era, hampered the United States’ ability to address regional security issues.
“There is this huge, almost black hole in the Caribbean for U.S political and military operations,” said Andrew Holland, a senior fellow for energy and climate at the American Security Project, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. He is also a co-author of the June report titled, “Potential Areas of Cooperation Between the United States and Cuba.”
An unmonitored zone so close to the United States opens up security risks via the trafficking of migrants and drugs, Holland said. The threats themselves do not emanate from Cuba, but unknown zones of operation always present a risk, he said. A terror group could potentially exploit any area of traffic between the United Sates and Cuba that is inadequately monitored, he added.
The two countries officially re-opened their respective embassies in July, establishing a formal restoration of diplomatic relations.
During a press briefing July 21, State Department spokesman John Kirby said there has been no discussion yet about a military-to-military relationship with Cuba. “I have no specifics with respect to what a defense relationship could or would look like in the future,” he said.
Holland said increased cooperation with Cuba would offer an opportunity for the military to expand the operational effectiveness of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM).
Conducting key operations such as counterterrorism, monitoring transnational crime and disaster response would require cooperation with the Caribbean nation, the report said.
“Right now, there is no communication between the U.S Navy and Coast Guard and the Cuban government at all,” Holland said.
A major operational role for SOUTHCOM is responding to and providing disaster relief, he said. Cuba and other Caribbean countries are highly susceptible to natural disasters such as hurricanes, he said. Cooperation and open dialogue with the Cuban government would allow the United States to provide aid to the nation if needed and better coordinate for disaster response in other parts of the region.
Security threats associated with natural disasters, such as mass migration, will require increased dialogue between the two countries, according to Holland. For example, a major weather catastrophe could cause a mass migration of Cuban citizens to the United States, which would present a security risk, he said.
The United States also has an opportunity to develop new levels of cooperation by increasing Cuba’s access to quality forms of energy. Most of Cuba’s oil is imported from Venezuela, the report said. However, with advances in natural gas and its proximity to Cuba, the United States has an opportunity to become the island nation’s most competitive energy supplier, according to the report. Energy cooperation would reinforce peace and international ties, and offer the United States a voice in Cuban politics, the report said.Photo Credit: Thinkstock