When President Barack Obama announced the normalization of relations with longtime Cold War adversary Cuba last December, this seismic shift elicited a range of emotions. While some were against any rapprochement while the Castro brothers and the communists still held power, others welcomed the end of the 50-year standoff, as it provides the opportunity to reunite families separated for decades, not to mention offering a potential new Caribbean vacation spot for U.S. tourists (and access to the island’s legendary cigars).
While this opening holds much promise for American and Cuban economic interests alike, there is a cloud on the horizon. In the past, Cuba has acted as a barrier to the illegal drug trade; now that barrier may fall. “As tourists and businesses flock to Cuba, the island will be awash in as much American affluence and opportunity as the Cuban government can control,” notes U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Brian Smicklas. But not all the new traffic between the two nations will be good or desirable—the smuggling both of drugs and humans can be expected to greatly increase, and the Coast Guard is about to have its hands full in the Florida Straits. Clearly, some U.S.-Cuban concerted effort will be required—and fortunately, there’s already a template in place, as the author explains. Many Americans are probably not aware that Cuba has been a dependable ally in the war on drugs for many years. Having formerly served as “Our Man in Havana,” that is, the Coast Guard’s Drug Interdiction Specialist assigned to Cuba to work with officials there in combating the narcotics trade, Lieutenant Commander Smicklas speaks with firsthand experience about the already well-established spirit of partnership between the United States and Cuba—a relationship that now becomes all the more vital.
Illegal drugs aren’t the only danger to our shores. While the U.S. military in general and the Sea Services in particular have been very forward-thinking in embracing new unmanned technologies, they’re not the only ones, and retired Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander William J. Rogers worries that we’re not ready to counter unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) and unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) employed by terrorist groups or criminal organizations. The author warns that we must plan for scenarios ranging from interdicting a UUV loaded with drugs or a weapon of mass destruction to responding when a private autonomous vehicle violates a marine sanctuary or a foreign vehicle begins surveying within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone. So while we ramp up our own UUV/USV arsenal, we must also develop our capabilities to counter those selfsame threats down the road. “How well we are able to respond depends on the creation of sufficient regulatory regimes and the acquisition of appropriate sensors and enforcement tools,” Lieutenant Commander Rogers explains.
Some believe that our global and homeland security would be enhanced if the nation were not so dependent on foreign oil sources. Energy independence has been a battle cry of politicians of all stripes going back to the oil shocks of the 1970s: “Wouldn’t it be great if the United States were not tied to unreliable and sometimes volatile foreign sources of oil?” The consensus in this country is predictable, but the outcome could be fraught with unforeseen consequences. For example, what impact would that have on the U.S. Pacific Command, which, Lieutenant Commander Scott Bennie is quick to point out, operates in China’s back yard? “The political ties that stem from today’s global economy,” he cautions, “cannot be overstated.” Strong U.S. relationships with Middle East and North African nations allow the United States to “truly focus on Southeast Asian partnerships and boost its national-security posture in the region” as China and India increase fuel imports by leaps and bounds.
The Pacific isn’t the only region requiring our continued engagement. The Black Sea, historically always of intense strategic importance to Russia, has become so again, as the reawakening bear has stormed into Ukraine, peeled off Crimea, and revitalized its Black Sea Fleet. So where do Russia’s Ukrainian moves fit into the larger global picture? It’s a viable question, as Vladimir Putin continues to flex Russian military muscle in various corners. American Policy Council Senior Fellow Stephen Blank provides a keen inside view of the geostrategic implications of Russia’s new beefed-up Black Sea presence—and what it might portend in regions ranging from Eastern Europe to the Middle East.
In this issue we welcome a new regular columnist with the debut of “Charting a Course” by retired Navy Captain Kevin Eyer. A longtime contributor to Proceedings, Kevin will pull no punches while offering valuable career insights gained from his many years of service. His column will also showcase the accumulated wisdom of some of the top figures in the naval profession today. Kevin’s writings have often generated spirited discussions in the Open Forum, and we are thrilled to be able to feature his work on a more regular basis going forward.
Welcome aboard, Kevin!