A graduate of both Harvard University and Yale College, Jorge I. Dominguez is a writer and publisher. His books primarily focus on the economic and social situation in Cuba, though he has edited books relating to Mexico and wider Latin America. Jorge I. Dominguez is interested in how Cuba’s relationship with the United States has evolved over the decades.
Interestingly, we may see another change in the relationship between the United States and Cuba in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Throughout 2022, Russia’s ties to Cuba have deepened. In January, Russian delegate Sergei Ryabkov refused to rule out the possibility that Russia may set up a military presence in Cuba.
Furthermore, both nations have committed to exploring options in other areas. According to Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, the island is working with Russia on joint projects related to industry, transport, banking, and energy. Cuba has also refused to condemn Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and it has blamed the crisis on alleged U.S. and NATO aggression against Russia.
The renewed development of these ties between Russia and Cuba brings to mind the relationship the Soviet Union had with the island in the 1960s. Russia has even implied that the United States’ continued opposition to Russia’s advance into Ukraine could evoke the dimensions of conflict not seen since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
A retired Harvard University professor and experienced writer and publisher, Jorge I. Dominguez specializes in Latin American political science, international affairs, and democratic development. A member of many professional organizations, Jorge I. Dominguez served on the editorial board of Political Science Quarterly (PSQ) from 1984 to 2018.
PSQ started in 1886 when a Columbia University professor collaborated with a New York publisher to distribute the first issue. Since then, PSQ has released an issue every quarter, informing academics and the general public on diverse national and international political issues. The journal is nonpartisan, and it maintains rigorous standards to ensure that articles provide sufficient evidence to back their claims. Alongside articles from new and established scholars, each issue contains 30 to 40 book reviews.
PSQ offers subscriptions to individuals and institutions. Its special membership grants more expanded benefits, such as complete archival access to PSQ’s collection on JSTOR starting from its founding. Special memberships are also partially tax-deductible.
Possessing a background in international relations at Harvard University, Dr. Jorge I. Dominguez has spent much of his career researching and writing about the Latin American political landscape. He has been on the editorial board of various journals, including Political Science Quarterly and Cuban Studies. Dr. Jorge I. Dominguez has also authored and edited numerous books on the US-Cuba relationship, which experienced a dramatic shift in the early 1960s.
As explored in an NBC piece and numerous books and articles, the Cuban Missile Crisis has defined US-Cuba policy since taking place 60 years ago. Cuba’s government had entered into an alliance with Soviet leaders, expropriated billions of dollars of US assets, and fought a U.S.-sponsored Cuban exile invasion at the Bay of Pigs..
In 1962, USSR Premier Nikita Khrushchev made good on his long-standing promise to supply Fidel Castro with Soviet arms. Allied intelligence learned that missile components were being sent to Cuba by ship. At the same time, US U-2 spy plane pictures confirmed that missile facilities were being built in Cuba capable of harboring a nuclear threat that could reach the United States.
Upon learning that the additional Soviet materials for ballistic missiles were en route by ship, President John Kennedy convened with the National Security Council. After considering offensive options such as an air strike targeting missile sites, Kennedy finally opted for a naval blockade, or “quarantine,” which would prevent arms shipments from reaching Cuba.
Ultimately, this defensive approach proved successful, as Khrushchev blinked first and announced that missile parts already delivered to Cuba would be sent back and no more work would take place on missile sites. In turn, the U.S. withdrew its Jupiter missiles from Turkey. Moreover, the long-term impact of this incident was strict US sanctions against Cuba that have lasted until the present.
On 13 January 2022 Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov suggested that the
Russian Federation may deploy military units to Cuba and Venezuela in response to U.S.
military support for Ukraine. What agreements may provide for shared security reassurances for
Russia, Cuba, and the United States?
Military deployments to Cuba are not new. The Soviet Union began to deliver military
supplies to Cuba in 1960 and, in 1962, deployed nuclear warheads, ballistic missiles, and tens of
thousands of troops to Cuba. The Soviet Union continued to deploy military forces to Cuba until
the end of the Cold War.
Russian military deployments to Cuba are not new. The U.S. Southern Command has
monitored Russian Navy deployments to the Caribbean. The last visit to Havana took place in
June 2019 — the frigate Admiral Gorshkov and supporting ships. The equipment of Cuba’s
armed forces is of Soviet vintage; Russian-Cuban military agreements since 2016 focus on spare
parts re-supply. In 2022, a Russian telescope went live in Cuba, interoperative with Russian
space satellites, enabling intelligence cooperation.
A “security regime” may govern these trilateral relations. A security regime implies a
pattern of explicit and implicit understandings among international adversaries that aims to
enhance the security of each party. It embodies practical rules to limit the scope of conflicts that
still persist. It relies on direct consultation.
The Soviet-U.S. security regime on nuclear and conventional forces. Following the
1962 crisis, the U.S. and the USSR agreed on these understandings:
- The USSR withdrew its missiles and nuclear warheads from Cuba and the U.S. withdrew
its Jupiter missiles from Turkey.
- The UUSR allowed U.S. verification of its weapons withdrawal. Soviet troops could
remain; the Soviet navy, absent nuclear weapons, could visit Cuba.
- The U.S. promised not to invade contingent on Cuba’s permitting on-site inspection.
Cuba did not; the no-invasion pledge did not become effective.
- Only the U.S. and the USSR negotiated. The U.S. refused to engage Cuba directly. There
was no formal treaty.
National Security Council Adviser Henry Kissinger wrote in his memoir that, in 1970,
following a Soviet request, he affirmed that the understanding “prohibit[ed] the emplacement of
any offensive weapons of any kind or any offensive delivery system on Cuban territory. We
reaffirmed that in return we would not use military force to bring about a change in the
governmental structure of Cuba.” Kissinger had known about the now-dropped on-site inspection
requirement. The security regime at last became effective.
Later that year, the U.S. objected to new Soviet naval facilities in the port of Cienfuegos.
The USSR affirmed “that ballistic missile submarines would never call [on Cuban ports] in an
operational capacity,” and that it did not have and would not build a naval base in Cuba.
Both amendments to the understandings embodied the security regime’s practical rules:
- Each side stopped doing what the other one found objectionable.
- Each side made unilateral nonreciprocal concessions.
- Cuba remained excluded.
Two amendments came later. In 1975, Cuba accepted the 1962 crisis settlement,
dropping its previous demands that the U.S. had rejected. The U.S. subsequently discovered a
residual Soviet brigade in Cuba; Cuba and the USSR reaffirmed the understandings, agreeing not
to introduce Soviet combat troops in the future nor to turn the existing brigade into a selfsufficient combat force.
The three governments came to welcome the security regime. Each took care not to
humiliate another, made unilateral nonreciprocal concessions, and stopped doing what the other
found most objectionable. Precedents were binding and the basis of refinements. Only the U.S.
and the USSR negotiated, however.
The Post-1990 Security Regime: Russia/USSR leads. The USSR, then Russia led to
create a post-Cold War security regime. In 1991, the USSR withdrew its remaining troops from
Cuba. In January 2002, President Putin closed the decades-old Lourdes intelligence facility. In
2000 Russia and Cuba closed Cuba’s only still-unfinished Juraguá nuclear power plant.
Cuba chooses restraint. During the Cold War, Cuba refused to join multilateral nuclear
weapons treaties. Yet in 2002 Cuba ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Treaty
for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean. Cuba and the
International Atomic Energy Agency approved a comprehensive safeguards agreement; on-site
inspections occurred in each of the past five years. In 2018, Cuba ratified the Treaty on the
Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and, in 2021, it ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban
U.S.-Cuba security regime. A U.S.-Cuba security regime began with the 1965 migration
and the 1973 air piracy agreements. In the late 1980s, U.S.-Cuban negotiations helped to end
wars in Africa’s southern cone.
In the 1990s, cooperative and professional military-to-military relations developed
around the U.S. Guantanamo naval base and between their coast guards. Illegal migration
interdiction and counter drug trafficking cooperation unfolded.
In 2016, the U.S. and Cuba signed agreements to cooperate regarding travel and civil
aviation security, countering illegal drug traffic, Coast Guard operations, maritime delimitation,
and migration, among others. The U.S. returns, and Cuba accepts, interdicted unauthorized
The U.S. 2021 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report indicates, “Cuba’s
intensive security presence and interdiction efforts have kept supplies of illicit drugs down and
prevented traffickers from establishing a foothold… regional traffickers typically avoid Cuba.”
Does this security regime exist in 2022? President Vladimir Putin has acted as if Russia
is the USSR’s heir, especially regarding Russia’s neighbors. Putin has threatened to deploy
Russian submarines, bearing nuclear weapons, adjacent to the U.S. east coast. Such submarines
might rest and repair at Cuban ports; the old security regime bans such services. This century no
Russian submarine has visited Cuba.
The pre-1990 and post-1990 security regimes relied on unilateral nonreciprocal
concessions to stop doing what the adversary found objectionable. Cuba so acted first in 1975
and has continued. Russia did so until 2002. The U.S. did so last in 1970. The trilateral security
regime has not been reaffirmed since the USSR’s collapse.
The reaffirmation of the security regime would seek the same objective as in the past:
international stability. In practice, it would simply affirm the status quo: Russia and Cuba are not
doing what the regime would prohibit; both would promise not to undertake actions to which the
U.S. would object. The U.S. would do no more than acknowledge circumstances as they are.
For Russia, an incentive would be recognition as a rightful player in the Caribbean –
rightful to agree not to act as the U.S. might object, constraining its future military deployments.
For Cuba, an incentive would be to become a shaper of a regime over which it had had no
authority, though at the cost of hypothetically constraining its international relationships. For the
United States, the incentive would be to stop Russia and Cuba from undertaking what Russia has
intimated, though at the cost of accepting a Russian role in the Caribbean and Cuba as an
interlocutor – recognizing Russia’s and Cuba’s rights to abstain from unapproved military
deployments and unacceptable relationships.
The security regime could still serve shared purposes or wither away. Its revival implies
costs to the three governments, but it also promises a stability that each may value.
Dr. Jorge I. Dominguez, retired, formerly professor of government at Harvard,