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Reflections on U.S.-Cuba Military-to-Military Contacts

By Hal Klepak | Strategic Forum 295 | July 01, 2016

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Key Points

  • President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba in March 2016 opened up the possibility of strategic benefits for both nations. Well after over 50 years of hostility, however, it will not be easy to keep this nascent relationship on track.
  • Avoiding missteps requires a deep knowledge of Cuba and particularly its Revolutionary Armed Forces (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, or FAR). The FAR are a complex and powerful institution that enjoys great public respect—more so than Cuba's Communist Party—and remain central to the functioning of the Cuban economy and state. Broadening rapprochement without the support of the FAR is inconceivable.
  • To build on the historic opening in diplomatic relations, both sides need a better appreciation of the other’s institutional norms and some clear "rules of the road" to guide the relationship.
  • This paper offers insights concerning the FAR. It argues that it will be important to expand cooperation in the right areas and that it will be important to start small, go slow, build trust, consult early and often, let Cuba take the lead, and avoid imposing or reflecting a U.S.-centric view of civil-military relations.
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