On December 1, 1961, Mr. James Reston wrote in the New York Times that “obviously, the United States would not tolerate a Communist regime in Cuba, no matter how freely elected, if that regime allied itself to Moscow and exercised its sovereign rights to maintain a Soviet military base on that island.” Obviously, the United States is tolerating exactly that situation now, and the administration is certainly subject to the criticism of inconsistency. Mr. Arthur Krock, commenting in the New York Times (September 20, 1962) on the Congressional resolution on Cuba, accuses the administration also of lack of candor: “This fear of being candid with the American people on acts in foreign policy, and their real foundations, pervades the Kennedy Administration. . . .”
In order to understand the significance the Cuban situation has for the United States, it is necessary to perform three tasks: determine the real situation in Cuba; assess the damage this situation has done and is further likely to do to our interests; and evaluate the measures we can take in defense of those interests.
The situation in Cuba is stark and simple: Cuba is being transformed into a military base under the auspices of the Soviet Union. It is misleading to say that the military build-up in Cuba is merely “defensive” and that the more than 4,000 Russian citizens who have recently landed there are “technicians”; and it is downright preposterous to suggest that what is happening in Cuba has no military significance.
To dispose of the preposterous statement first: it is necessary to dispose of it at all because it appeared in the London Economist, a serious and rightly respected journal, and because it is typical of that stubborn refusal to look unpleasant facts in the face which dominated British political thinking in the 30’s. “The one thing known for sure,” declares the Economist (September 8,1962), “. . . is the existence of a tented camp a dozen miles outside Havana containing a sizeable number of healthy-looking young Russians. All else is speculation. . . . Healthy-looking young Americans, after all, have been seen disembarking in various countries since President Kennedy took office; no one has yet suggested that the Peace Corps is a branch of the United States Army.” After proposing that the Russians might be “just lathe-operators and tractor-drivers,” the Economist continues “. . . suppose that the Russians are real soldiers, not just electronics wizards. So what? Whether they are troops or technicians is at bottom immaterial . . . Mr. Khrushchev has decided that Dr. Castro is worth a little more investment, in the form of steel mills and military assistance. But the military assistance is of a kind not particularly relevant to the main danger facing Dr. Castro [internal discontent]; and Mr. Khrushchev is still carefully not offering an outright alliance.”
The reference to “technicians” is misleading since it does not raise the decisive question: “technicians” for what? The answer is provided by the missiles and electronic equipment whose arrival coincided with that of the “technicians.” A soldier handling modern equipment is bound to be a highly trained technician. But to call him that and nothing else is to deliberately obscure the issue. Since the technical functions these “technicians” are supposed to perform can have no civilian purpose—the means of destruction are nationalized in the Soviet Union and Cuba as they are elsewhere—the “technicians” must be members of the armed forces of the Soviet Union.
It is also misleading to dismiss the military build-up in Cuba as “defensive.” The quality of a weapon as offensive or defensive is not intrinsic to the weapon but depends upon the circumstances of its use. Certainly under modern conditions of warfare Cuba cannot be an offensive threat to the American mainland, and it can be taken for granted that the Soviet Union does not intend it to be that. To dismiss the military build-up in Cuba as merely “defensive” in view of an offensive military strategy nobody can have seriously contemplated is, however, to miss the point. This point emerges from the political-military context of the Cuban situation.
The nations of Latin America are, in different degrees, in a pre-revolutionary stage. After having had their national revolutions a century and a half ago, they are now getting ready for their social revolutions. The Alliance for Progress is the American attempt to change the economic and social status quo in an orderly and gradual fashion and to direct inevitable change into non-Communist channels. Communism offers the Castro revolution, anti-Western and pro-Communist, as the model to be emulated by the nations of Latin America.
Cuba is not only being offered as the model of that revolution, but it is also—and this is the decisive point for our discussion—the headquarters of its ideological, political, and military propagation. Here the leaders of the Latin American revolutions are being trained; from here agents are being sent into the Western hemisphere, carrying money, weapons, and instructions. This headquarters of the Latin American revolutions, vulnerable as it is in the shadow of the North American giant, must be protected from a more effective repetition of last year’s invasion. Hence the military build-up in Cuba.
How does this build-up affect the interests of the United States? It is detrimental to the political position of the United States in the Western hemisphere. It is detrimental to the political and military position of the United States in the world. And it is detrimental to the intellectual and emotional health of our body politic.
Our attempt to stimulate the peaceful and gradual transformation of the social and economic life of Latin America would meet great and perhaps insuperable obstacles even if Cuba did not exist as a revolutionary alternative. However, in Latin America neither the problem nor the remedy is primarily economic; rather it is political in the fundamental sense of comprising the intellectual and moral conditions of public life. Economic and social improvements depend upon a radical transformation of those conditions. Yet those conditions are sustained by oligarchies whose political power in good measure depends upon the maintenance of the economic and social status quo. Will these oligarchies yield to reform, or must they be displaced by revolution?
The American answer has been at best ambiguous, and when the chips are down it has favored the status quo. Faced with the threat of Castro-inspired revolutions, the United States is likely to be forced into a counter-revolutionary position per se, which, by opposing Castro-inspired revolutions, will tend to oppose all revolutions—and social change to boot. Thus it will be forced to play that very conservative role which Communist propaganda assigns to it. Having staked its prestige upon the Alliance for Progress, American political influence in the Western hemisphere would suffer a crushing defeat with the failure of that device. At worst, the Soviet Union, as the mentor and supporter of Castro-inspired revolutions, would take the place vacated by the United States. At best, the Soviet Union, through the intermediary of such revolutions, would compete with the United States for the allegiance of Latin America.
Not only does the transformation of Cuba into a Soviet political and military base challenge American influence in an area which has traditionally been regarded as an American sphere of influence: also, the unwillingness of the United States to react visibly and effectively to that intervention affects our prestige as a great power. For if the United States is unwilling—nobody doubts its ability—to protect one of its vital interests, regarded as such for a century and a half, is it likely to protect interests elsewhere, which are of much more recent origin and much more dubious validity? Mr. Khrushchev, in particular, cannot help but ask himself that question. For Mr. Khrushchev declared Eastern Europe to be a Soviet sphere of influence in which he would brook no foreign interference, and the President of the United States accepted this declaration when he explicitly refused to intervene in the Hungarian revolution of 1956. On the other hand, when Mr. Khrushchev gains a political and military stronghold in our sphere of influence, we reply with rationalizations for inaction. Mr. Khrushchev has told recent visitors that he does not believe the United States will go to war over Berlin. It is not farfetched to suggest that this conviction may derive from, and certainly has been strengthened by, our passivity vis-à-vis the Hungarian revolution and the transformation of Cuba into a Soviet base.
Not the least of the detrimental effects of the Cuban events has been the stimulation it has given to blind emotions, and the confusion it has wrought in our political thinking. These emotions and confusions center upon the Monroe Doctrine, which is being invoked, reinterpreted, and denied, as theologians do a sacred text. The Monroe Doctrine was a declaration of policy, derived from certain interests and made possible by certain conditions. While some of those interests have indeed survived to this day and others have disappeared, the conditions have totally disappeared. The Monroe Doctrine was the Magna Carta of American isolation. Its rationale was defined on July 5, 1820, in John Quincy Adams’s instructions to the American minister to Russia: “For the repose of Europe as well as America, the European as well as the American systems should be kept as separate and distinct from each other as possible.” The execution of that policy depended upon three conditions: British interests running parallel to those of the United States, the British fleet controlling the Atlantic accesses to the Western hemisphere, and the geographic isolation of that hemisphere.
Insofar as American isolation depended upon American policy, its end was foreshadowed by the Spanish-American War and the two world wars; it was definitely discarded with the outbreak of the cold war in 1947. American isolation as the effect of the policies of other nations has been reduced to a historic recollection by the modern technology of war—the long-range bomber, the intercontinental ballistic missile, the nuclear submarine, all armed with nuclear weapons. The end of isolation was an accomplished fact at the beginning of the 50’s. Yet the illusion lingered on of its continuing reality, of the invulnerable American giant imposing its will upon the rest of the world while exempt from a similar imposition by others. Now the recent events in Cuba have finally destroyed that illusion, and here lies their psychological significance.
What a minority of Americans have known all along, through the processes of reason, the American people as a whole have suddenly and painfully become aware of through an experience of the senses: the visible transformation into a foreign-influenced, hostile political and military base of an island located ninety miles off the American coast. All of a sudden, it has become obvious to everyone that the isolation of America has never been purely a gift of nature, whose beneficial effects could be enjoyed by letting nature take its course and doing nothing. All of us have learned from experience now, what some of us had reasoned out before, that American isolation has always been a two-way street, dependent as much upon the inability and unwillingness of other nations to disturb it as upon American resolution to keep it undisturbed. In the measure that the United States proved able and willing to interfere in the affairs of non-American nations against their will, one or another of those nations was bound sooner or later to interfere in the affairs of the Western hemisphere. This has now happened, and it has made manifest the interconnectedness of American and foreign attitudes toward American isolation, axiomatic for the early American statesmen from Washington to Monroe, and obscured by a century of happy and seemingly natural enjoyment of immunity from foreign interference.
In that awareness of its vulnerability, America has had its moment of truth. All will depend upon how it faces up to that truth. It can lash out against its outward manifestation, expecting to eliminate the cause with the symptom. It would thereby only gain temporary relief for its psychological discomfort. For even if Communist influence were to disappear from Cuba, America would remain vulnerable both in its own territory and in its influence throughout the hemisphere. The factors which have made the Communization of Cuba possible would continue to make themselves felt elsewhere in the Americas, likely to produce new Cubas.
The real issue upon which the future of Latin America hinges, then, is its susceptibility to Communization and the impunity with which the Soviet Union has already undertaken to Communize it. The nature of the issue suggests three different kinds of policy for the United States to pursue: the politization of the Alliance for Progress, the containment of Cuba, and the demonstration of American power.
In contrast to our past foreign aid policy, the Alliance for Progress is based upon the sound theoretical principle that economic development depends upon certain political and social preconditions and that consequently aid will be given only if these preconditions are present. However, practice has not conformed to the theory, and under the pressure of incompetent and desperate governments we continue to give aid in order to preserve at least the status quo. Thus we become in spite of ourselves the allies of political forces which are likely to fall with an unviable status quo, and we leave the Communists as the sole effective advocates of change. In order to escape this fatal identification with the status quo, the theory of the Alliance for Progress must be put into practice and aid must be given only to governments which will use it for economic and social change. Only if we can present ourselves to the masses of Latin America as the effective champions of social and economic change will we be able to compete with the Communists.
Such a policy would by itself serve to contain Communism and, more particularly, prevent its export from Cuba. Yet the success of such a policy is bound to be slow in coming and tenuous at best. For whatever the United States does in Latin America, it must overcome the popular stereotype which depicts it as a mighty, rich, and exploitative giant, allied with the forces of the status quo. In the meantime, the United States must take whatever steps are necessary to isolate Cuba physically from the rest of the hemisphere. And, if necessary, it must take these steps unilaterally—which brings us to the last point.
The United States has been strangely ill at ease in using its military power under certain conditions in support of its interests. The classic example is the halfhearted attempt at the invasion of Cuba in April 1961. The roots of that hesitancy are deeply imbedded in the American mind and have been traced elsewhere. On a more superficial level, that hesitancy stems from a concern for public opinion in other countries, a concern largely unfounded. The weak indeed resent the power of the strong, but they also respect it, and they do not respect the strong who do not know what to do with their strength.
The answer to the question as to what we should do with our strength vis-à-vis Cuba depends both on circumstances and a knowledge of details which is a monopoly of government officials. It could take the form of concerted action with Latin American nations or of unilateral action, such as a naval and air demonstration, a blockade, an invasion, or a combination of intermediate steps. But some kind of action it must be. If we refuse to take any action at all because we take the Russian threat of nuclear war seriously, as we did in 1956 during the Hungarian revolution and the Suez Canal crisis, we will hasten and not prevent the coming of a nuclear war. For, on the one hand, no nation will risk its very existence in a nuclear war fought for a secondary interest, and, on the other, as pointed out above, by yielding to such an implausible threat we create and strengthen in the mind of the Soviet government the illusion that we will not resist, no matter what is at stake. But obviously resist we will in defense of our vital interests. Thus a judicious and convincing demonstration of superior power, as Great Britain showed in the 19th century and the Soviet Union more recently, can be the most effective argument not only on behalf of a nation’s interests, but also in the defense of peace. It will be heard not only by the governments directly addressed, but it will also be listened to elsewhere, even in Moscow.