At the present moment, Cuba does not represent any foreign policy focus for the Biden administration. Whether or not it should become a priority is unimportant; Cuba currently represents an opportunity for the United States to demonstrate to the rest of the world that it can harness soft power in situations where military force is impractical or unnecessary.
The United States military is perhaps the most effective in the world at winning large-scale battles. Recent events in Afghanistan are evidence that, when present, the United States military can tip conflicts in favor of the United States and of its allies. This point brings up an important question, though. Does the United States rely too heavily upon the capabilities of a conventional military in this age of gray warfare? Gray warfare meaning irregular warfare, asymmetrical warfare, cyber warfare, or any other form of conflict that does not conform to conventional war. In addition, the doctrine of conflicts requires the winning side to take and occupy the land. According to international law, this practice is illegal. The United States is hesitant to break such a law, given its close affiliation with the United Nations.
Thus, a political analyst might ask if the US should broaden its capabilities for future conflict? I present Cuba as a potential case study of how the US can diversify its approach towards hostile nations, and how the US might do so by employing strategies that are dynamic and incorporate other Executive organizations besides the Department of Defense, such as the State Department, directly.
Cuba has recently experienced the largest antigovernmental protests in recent history. These protests have focused on how the Cuban government has mishandled the pandemic and the distribution of food within the island nation. To cope with the domestic pressure, the Cuban government led by President Miguel Díaz-Canel has had to concede to some of the public demands. To better cope with the health crises and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government allowed travelers to bring food and medicine without paying import taxes as well as permitting small privately-owned businesses to operate. The possibility exists that the Cuban government is more likely to cave to more demands, made by the United States, regarding human rights violations within Cuban borders. The United States also might be able to gain some momentum in improving relations with the Cuban government.
Such momentum would not be easy to gain through private talks between the Presidents of the United States and Cuba. The United States would need to conduct thorough diplomatic talks, arbitrated by the State Department. State Department Diplomats would be well suited to working with a hostile government where the amount of military force available is somewhat limited. Working with the Cuban government, State Department Diplomats could work out a deal in which Cuba and the United States not only thaw relations but strengthen military and economic relationships between the two countries.
While the United States and Cuba are not overtly hostile towards one another currently, the United States is exerting great economic pressure against the entire Cuban nation and specific government officials. It has been said that President Biden’s foreign policy towards Cuba has been tougher than that of Former-President Trump’s foreign policy. These sanctions do more diplomatic harm than benefit for American national security, though they do provide an incentive for the Cuban government to work with the United States. Diplomatic strategy and maneuvering will earn the United States a geographically close ally.
The United States' infamous attempt to implement a change of Cuban leadership in the Bay of Pigs invasion has steered American policymakers away from military action in Cuba. Military action in Cuba, while not unthinkable or unwinnable, would prove somewhat stressful for the American civilian population. The will of the American people to fight in prolonged combat action in a Caribbean/Latin American country is most likely to be low, given this administration's lackluster performance with the withdrawal from Afghanistan. At the moment, the United States lacks the domestic will and self-confidence to conduct any long-term military operation. As such, military action on Cuban soil would not be expedient.
Cuba, as a country, has close allies with Russia, Venezuela, and China. Long term, the smart national security play for the United States is to deny assets to enemy competitors. Cuba represents a significant risk to the United States if it is well-armed and equipped. Countering Chinese and Russian strategic policy is critical for long-term success in a future power competition. In the short term, however, Cuba is a very close economic ally of Venezuela. The two countries interchange oil for money and medical supplies. As such, Venezuela relies heavily upon Cuba during its time of need and suffering.
If the United States can create a better, working relationship with Cuba, it can affect short-term regime change within the American hemisphere. Long term, improving relations with Cuba can deny future great power competitors potential valuable assets that are close to American soil.