Re-Engagement and US-Cuban Space Cooperation.

Author:Fleur, Christina La

Fleur, Christina La

  1. Introduction

    Cuba's renewed relationship with the United States has seemingly limitless potential to enrich both countries. While the impact of business, tourism, and telecommunication investments between the two countries has been thoroughly explored, one issue has taken a backseat, in America's domestic policy as well as in US-Cuban research: collaboration in outer space. The reason for this, on the surface, seems to Cuba's lack of a national program and the American Cold War victory.

    The years following the end of World War II encouraged a US-Soviet scientific exchange and competition which played a major role in those countries' self-images and technological growth. In the new millennium, as rovers roam Mars, it would seem natural that countries around the world should continue to work together for common, peaceful ends, in the spirit of the end those soft-spoken but very real antagonisms, and perhaps in the spirit of friendlier competition. 2016's complicated framework: Cuba's opening relations and increasingly connected populace and economy, continued tension between US and Russia, and the political and economic changes within all three, bring new challenges and rewards for cooperation in our shared heavens.

  2. Cuba in Space

    Cuba, like most of the world, does not have any independent, government sponsored space program to speak of. You won't find it on a list of global space programs, active or otherwise. (Foundation) It has, however, played a significant role in the power politics of international relations in the last 50 years, which has often involved or revolved around space technology. The Cold War saw several Cuban space programs born through Soviet support and collaboration, including the 1967 Soviet tracking station, a 1960s ionospheric physics project, satellite projects, Cuban support of the Russian manned space missions, and the InterSputnik Caribe communications station. In 1980, Russian cooperation even provided the opportunity for Cuba's first cosmonaut to take part in what was then, and is still, the rather exclusive club of Earth orbiters. (KISLYAKOV, 2008)

    Since then, Russia has remained the main wellspring of hope for Cuban space programs. (1) (Lee, 2016) In 2008, several news organizations cited a Tass report, no longer searchable on their site, which quoted Anatoly Perminov, chief of the Russian State Corporation for Space Activities Rosmoscos, speaking on the possibility of Russia helping Cuba "its own" space center. This would effectively allow Cuba to set up its independent space program, assuming Russian plans included full operation by Cuban scientists for Cuban projects. (2) A few years later, Russia and Cuba had signed several significant agreements on space issues: in 2013, on communication satellite cooperation; in 2014, for no first deployment of space weapons; and later on peaceful space exploration. (Strengthening of Russia-Cuba relations to be priority of Putin's visit to Cuba, 2014; Russia's Federation Council Ratifies Space Cooperation Agreement With Cuba, 2014)

    These agreements are on top of the shared Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation Programme for 2012-2020, which, in President Putin's words, is Russia and Cuba "working on some major projects in industry and high technologies, energy, civil aviation, the peaceful use of outer space, medicine and biopharmaceuticals." (Russkiy Mir Foundation Information Service, 2014) More tangibly, Russia has been pursuing agreements to build stations for its GLONASS global positioning system, a competitor with the US system. To that end, it has sought Cuban agreement to build signal calibration systems on the island. Although Cuban participation in the project, aside from being its host, may be minimal, it does highlight some of the interesting conflicts between the nations involved as well as the importance of space in geostrategic calculations. (Russia ready to hold talks on placing GLONASS signal calibration stations in Cuba, 2014)

    There is more than one reason Cuba would be interested in building up their space program, even if it isn't leadership's first priority. First and foremost, a developed space program, especially the ability to conduct manned missions or to launch rockets and put up satellites or other technology, is a mark of a developed nation. Less lauded projects, like weather monitoring, could prove tremendously valuable on a practical level.

    Additionally, space programs can pay for themselves. While NASA's returns on investment are disputed due to metric methodology, its scientists have inadvertently developed a range of useful consumer products, not settling for pencils when they could have space pens. NASA's own evaluation of its socio-economic impacts includes a look at how the program impacts space-related and other American industries, its role in foreign policy, and the potential to advance science and interest in the sciences. (The Tauri Group, 2013) Prioritizing space in a diversified economic plan would not be that out there, especially as Cuba builds its relationship with its neighbor and major leader in space exploration.

  3. Cuban Foreign Relations to Today

    Since the institution of the American total embargo in 1962, (3) Cuba has still managed to have a range of open, mutually beneficial trade relationships with countries all over the world. Historic American policy attempted to break socialism's hold on the island. Despite this, many nations ventured to establish stronger diplomatic and economic relationships with Cuba long before American leadership considered a shift.

    While the Soviet Union's attention and influence has been notable, sustaining Cuba in the absence of its primary historical investor up until its fall and the beginning of the Special Period, most countries maintained trade and diplomatic relationships despite and even in spite of the American policy. Despite initially successful American pressure through OAS, most Latin American nations had reopened diplomatic channels with Cuba by the 1970s. American Cold War missteps in proxy conflicts pushed other developing nations towards sympathy with Havana, if not consensus, and the Non-Aligned Movement. The Special...

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