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Security Requirements for Post-Transition Cuba

Authored by Dr. Alex Crowther. | August 2007

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This monograph serves multiple purposes, the most important of which is to contribute to the thought process of dealing with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias of Cuba (FAR). Change is inevitable in Cuba. Both Fidel Castro and his brother Raul are aging. Their passing will trigger either a succession or a transition. With that change, Cuba?s security requirements will change as well. This monograph analyzes security requirements that the new Cuba will face and proposes what missions and structure the Cuban security forces might have after a transition.

The overall long-range U.S. goal is a stable, democratic Cuba which is integrated into the global market economy. The U.S. Government Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba says that if a Cuban government asks for assistance, the United States could be made available ?in preparing the Cuban military forces to adjust to an appropriate role in a democracy.?

The Cuban military will have to change with the times, altering its focus from the territorial defense of Cuba and internal security to missions that are consonant with modern circum-Caribbean militaries: control of air- and sea-space against transnational criminals. The military will need a new structure for these missions, less focused on insurgency in defense of the island and more focused on a common operating picture and integration with the efforts of Cuba?s neighbors. This monograph proposes a way ahead in preparing Cuban forces for the future, integrating them into the Western Hemisphere community of militaries, and ensuring their support for democracy, subordination to elected officials, and respect for human rights. It also suggests constructive engagement of the Cuban military with the international community. This change is inevitable, and can be relatively painless or long and difficult. Both the Cuban military and the international community have to decide which way they want it to be.


The transfer of power from Fidel Castro to his brother, Raul, in August 2006 prompted the Economist to declare ?the beginning of the end of the Castro era.?1 Although no one knows when Fidel will finally pass on the reins of power, the time is approaching. Another unknown is the type of handoff. Fidel could be succeeded by another communist regime, or there could be a transition to a different type of regime. The worst case scenario would find Cuba descending into chaos if no one could replicate Fidel?s ability to hold Cuba together.

This monograph posits a change to a different type of government, and assumes that a transition government is in place and has asked for assistance from the United States, and that Cuba is ready to tackle the difficult question of where the follow-on force to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias (FAR, the Cuban armed forces) should go. A similar type communist regime would probably not seek to change its military as it would be a major pillar of the regime. Therefore, only a post-transition regime would desire to modify the Cuban military. When the Cuban government is ready for assistance from the United States, America needs to be prepared to provide it. This monograph offers a template for that assistance.

The Cuban military is currently designed and postured for two major missions: the defense of Cuba against U.S. aggression and the provision of internal security. A post-transition government would not be challenged by the first and should not require the military to provide internal security, so the military needs to be redesigned and reoriented.

This monograph begins with a discussion of U.S. policy towards Cuba. Unlike most countries in the world, in the case of Cuba, a web of executive policies and laws produced by the legislative branch significantly limits flexibility in dealing with both the Cuban government and the FAR. Any proposal for dealing with any government organization within Cuba must start with an analysis of U.S. policy because of these limitations.

The author next examines the FAR, including both its history and its current state. As with everything in Cuba, the post-Cold War era has had a huge impact on the FAR. A current snapshot of the FAR is therefore important. From there, the author analyzes the threats that Cuba will probably face. He examines historical threats to Cuba and current threats to the Caribbean, and also considers modern transnational threats. Based on these threats, a capabilities-based approach provides a template for a post-Castro Cuban regime. The author proposes a structure for a post-transition force based on the capabilities that a Cuban force would require.

Additionally, the author examines Western Hemisphere states, with an emphasis on the sizes and types of militaries in countries that have similar territory, size, and length of coastline. This analysis provides a benchmark that may be used to develop a rough estimate of what an appropriate size might be for a Cuban military.

The Nicaraguan experience of the 1990s is the only Western Hemisphere example of a Soviet/Cuban-style military changing after the adoption of a democratic regime. As such, an analysis of the Nicaraguan case will provide some lessons learned and some perspectives to consider prior to any recommendations.

The author concludes with recommendations on ?how to get there,? what Cuban security forces should look like, a way ahead for influencing the change from the current structure to a 21st century Cuban security system, and precautionary measures for handling a potentially volatile situation. Mishandling security issues transitioning Cuba could have significant negative effects upon the United States, so preparation is important.

Several challenges exist. First, the Cuban military is a founding part of the state and will not give up power easily. Second, the Cuban military is in control of a major portion of the Cuban economy, and it will be very difficult to convince it to cede this position. Third, many of the elites have come from the military, and they will be strongly motivated to maintain an interventionist stance for the military. These elites must be convinced that a more subordinate role is appropriate. Fourth, the military could form a power base from which opposition elements could challenge a post-transition government.


Change is inevitable in Cuba. One aspect of that change is the FAR. The FAR currently has a doctrine designed to defend Cuba against attack from the United States. In addition, its orientation is towards internal defense. It also dominates the Cuban economy. It is subordinate directly to the Castro brothers and acts against democracy. These things will have to change. The Cuban military must be professional, politically neutral, and support democracy and democratically elected leaders. The FAR should be oriented towards control of its own sea- air- and land-space. These things are all achievable. The FAR is a force with a history of success and effort in support of the missions given by the government. As such, it is capable of change if it is called for by the Cuban leadership.

On the part of the United States, the U.S. Government needs to engage the Cuban military. At some point, the United States has had conceptual disagreements with most militaries throughout the hemisphere. With engagement and assistance, all of the militaries in the region have changed to support democracy and eschew human rights violations. With an attitude of engagement rather than confrontation, the United States could help the Cuban military to achieve the same.


1.Economist, August 5, 2006.