Cuba deal: End or revival of the Cold War?

Cuba deal: End or revival of the Cold War?

“We can’t keep doing the same thing for five decades and expect a different result. It’s time for a new approach. We will end an outdated approach that failed to advance our interests and instead begin to normalize relations between our countries.”

These were the words spoken by President Barack Obama on Dec. 17 when he announced a new era in U.S.-Cuba relations, restoring diplomatic relations for the first time in five decades. Simultaneously, Cuban leader Raul Castro made the same announcement in Havana.

Cuba has been the second-most important symbol of the Cold War, the first one being the Berlin Wall. When the Soviet Union (USSR) installed missiles in Cuba in 1962, the U.S. and USSR came to the brink of nuclear war, marking ground zero in the Cold War.

The Berlin Wall fell 25 years ago. And now with this rapprochement, the second biggest symbol of the Cold War is being shattered, which is interpreted by many as the finalization of the Cold War. However, this development actually points at a bigger and more complicated picture. While it certainly confirms the end of the Cold War, it has also kicked up the dust of the Cold War.

First of all, the timing of the announcement was quite meaningful. Just one day before, the White House had announced that Obama would soon sign a bill to increase sanctions on the Russian economy. And the very next day, Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual press conference, which was broadcast live by many international TV channels amid the country’s worst economic crisis since the 1968 default.

Moreover, Putin has recently been trying to warm up Russia’s relations with its Cold War ally. Last summer he visited Cuba during his Latin America tour when he excused 90 percent of Cuba’s Soviet era debt, totaling around $35 billion. Moreover, the modernization of Cuba’s biggest maritime port, building a new airport and the search for oil in Cuban waters were among other commitments Putin made. “We will provide support to our Cuban friends to overcome the U.S.’ illegal blockade of Cuba,” he said.

Most importantly, right after the visit it was also reported that Russia had quietly struck a deal with Cuba to reopen the Lourdes military base, which was the USSR’s largest foreign base during the Cold War.

Castro, on the other hand, has been Putin’s strongest supporter in Russia’s skirmishes with Ukraine. Now, however, Cuba is opening up to the American market, which will enormously increase trade between the two countries. This, in turn, will decrease Cuba’s dependence on Russia and weaken Moscow’s link with one of its strongest allies in that region while its currency, the ruble, is in free fall.

This rapprochement will also inevitably lead to increased American influence in the Caribbean since Cuba had been the main vain feeding leftism and the anti-imperialist rhetoric in Latin America.

On the other hand, this development has also marked the finalization of the Cold War by showing once more that ideological differences are not an issue anymore. Obama himself emphasized this explicitly: “Looking at the relations we built with communist regimes such as China and Vietnam for four decades, the U.S. embargo on Cuba is an anachronism.”

Castro, who will retire in 2018, also underlined the same message: “Profound differences remain between the two countries on issues of sovereignty, democracy, human rights and foreign policy. Yet, we have to learn the art of living together with our differences in a civilized way.”

In short, the main paradigm of the Cold War has faded away. The ideological differences do not count anymore. Today it is only the economic interests that matter.

Moreover, in this hyper-connected world, the interests of the U.S. and Russia have become so intertwined that they do not have the luxury anymore to not cooperate in many levels, despite all their differences.

Hence, in Obama’s words, the Cold War has become an anachronism. What is up to date is, “agreeing to disagree” and keeping the ball rolling with trade.