While European Communist nations could generally not act on foreign policy initiatives without the explicit approval of he Soviet union, this was not the case with Cuba. Its active interventionist policies in Latin America, and later Africa, were at the time thought by the United States and its partners and allies as executed on the direct behest of the Soviet Union. However, recent research has proven this not to be the case. It was clearly not a traditional client state, and had the ability to act with a great deal of impunity in much of its international affairs.
The question this paper examines is how much autonomy Cuba had in foreign policy the limits to its unilateral action. Key considerations are the points at which the Soviet Union interests conflicted with Cuban foreign policy initiatives and what enforcement measures the Soviet Join could have taken to place Cuba in line with its own intentions. It is important to understand the nature and limits of this Cuban foreign policy autonomy because a clarification of the same allows us to better define conflicts in this era as truly proxy wars or battles that were fought for other reasons.
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The traditional view of superpowers directing and controlling all the actions of states in this period can be shown to be simply invalid, and Scuba’s autonomy in these matters illustrates how much third world nations at the time determined the course of world events. Even early in its own revolution, Cuba demonstrated the propensity to conduct a foreign policy without “any need to refer to Soviet Union. “l Typical of this characterization was its warm relationship with Algeria and the sending of medical aid too nation thought to be an ideological partner and friend.
This friendship and deployment of medical personnel has been attributed solely to the initiative of Cuba. Beyond this early example of independence of action, the defining juncture in the placement of an independent Cuban foreign policy was the Cuban missile crisis. The nature of Cuban-Soviet relations was greatly changed during this event and influenced Scuba’s decisions in regards to security thereafter. After the Cuban revolution in 1959 and before the Cuban Missile Crisis, relations between the two countries developed slowly.
The Soviet Union was clearly wary of agitating the United States, but eventually mutual interests developed around the trade of oil and sugar as much as on ideological grounds. 2 As the relationship with Cuba matured and its slant towards Marxism-Leninism came clear, the Soviet Union approached the possible placement of nuclear missiles as an experiment. The leadership of the Soviet Union made the decision in somewhat of an inculcated manner, underestimating the resolve with which the United States would react to these missiles.
It was almost entirely the decision of Premier Nikkei Khrushchev, who is said to have come up with concept alone while vacationing in Bulgaria. 3 Nikkei Khrushchev was known for not thinking things through and rash decisions were part of his character. The prospect of a United States invasion of Cuba was troubling o him and he had hoped to counter it in a strategic manner. 4 Both nations had reasons to believe an invasion by the United States was possible, but the Soviet approach to the problem as advocated by Khrushchev was wrong.
Cuba, so soon after the attempted invasion at the Bay of Pigs, and with ongoing covert actions against its government would have accepted any security guarantee and the placement of missiles, and after some deliberate consideration of the missile deployment, viewed it as such. Given this divergence of views between the two nations, it is clear that after the crisis, eased upon the understandable Soviet reaction of self preservation over a non-vital issue, a fissure could develop be;en the two countries because of their diverging views.
Fidel Castro bitterly complained about hearing of a compromise on the issue between the Soviet Union and the United States on the radio and the fact that he was not consulted. “We realized that we had become some type of game token,” Castro said at the time. 5 Later, he complained to German Democratic Republic representatives that the lack of a border with the Soviet Union meant that no real security guarantee from a united States attack existed, and that Cuba would have to fend for itself. From this point on, Cuba largely viewed the Soviet Union as negatively pragmatic and willing to compromise with the united States in order to avoid conflict. The leaders of Cuba had clear reason to question whether the Soviet Union would always place it own national security interests well above that of Cuba. As a result, leaders in Cuba developed a different mindset and attitude towards the Soviet Union that made independent foreign policy decisions not just possible but likely.
This mindset in turn nurtured the belief that it must kook after its own security and fostered an approach to foreign policy that neither sought nor needed the approval of the Soviet Union. In fact, starting in 1 963, Cuba used this measure of independence as it looked for ways to demand more economic assistance from the Soviet Union in return for continued allegiance. Techniques they utilized at the time included diplomatic overtures to Peking, in an attempt to use the ongoing Sino-Soviet disputes to their advantage.
The Chinese were very critical of the Soviet’s commitment to revolutionary and ideological principles, and the rivalry presented Cuba a way o leverage the Soviet Union. Cuba also refused to sign the Nuclear Test Ban treaty, which while a symbolic move, clearly showed that the Soviet Union could not always dictate foreign policy to Havana. 7 Cuban autonomous tendencies in foreign policy also manifested themselves in predictable ways. After its own revolution, it would seem reasonable for Cuba to support and foment revolution in its closest neighbors.
This would have the effect of building regional allies and freeing the Western hemisphere from the domination of the United States. Cuban revolutionary efforts in South America would seem to be a natural extension of what the beliefs Cuba shared with the Soviet Union. Yet Cuban actions were not encouraged over the long term by the Soviet Union for reasons that had yet again little to do with Scuba’s security or the idealistic spread of Communism. They had everything to do with the fact the United States was afterwards much more wary in regards to Soviet relations in the Western hemisphere.
It was also true that in the course of time, the Soviet Union wanted the world to perceive it as a peace-loving nation and build commercial ties with Latin American countries. It could do neither if perceived to be supporting military action in the hemisphere. Such concerns were in contradiction to the ideological aims and ideas of Castor’s Cuba and a further reason why Cuba strives to set its own foreign policy agenda apart from the Soviet Union. Such a divergence was not immediately apparent.
After the missile crisis, the Soviet Union was perceived somewhat at a political disadvantage to the United States. As a result, it lent tacit and financial support to “national liberation struggles” actively aided by Cuba, such as the one in Venezuela, in order to maintain the appearance of ideological legitimacy. 8 However, as time progressed, public statements of support for communist and guerrilla movements in Latin America focused on the need to correct injustices rather than promote ‘regime change’ through violence.
There is proof that Moscow financially supported Venezuelan communists through 1 965, in line with Cuban policy that armed resistance was necessary. After Khrushchev’s death, the Soviet Union reduced such support, an action which was inconsistent with Scuba’s views. But Scuba’s views and efforts were not enough to promote successful ideological revolutions across Latin America. Revolution had failed to take hold in Latin America, and Castro was often at odds with Communist party leaders in such nations such as Venezuela, Chile and Guatemala, in addition with members of the Organization of American States.