Volume 3, No. 6, June 2021
Editor: Rashed Rahman
Professor Dr. Maqsudul Hasan Nuri
Many writers have developed hypotheses on the nature and pattern of the Soviet-Cuban relationship in Africa as demonstrated through the conjoint military operations in Angola and Ethiopia. One school of thought has viewed Cuba as an indebted, compliant and servile state of the then USSR, and hence a ‘proxy’ or ‘surrogate’ in Africa and elsewhere. This ‘proxy’ thesis was manifest, especially in various policy fora of the US government . The same theme of Soviet hegemony and Cuban capitulation was seen in earlier writings of Jorge Dominguez, a noted observer of Cuban foreign policy . Then US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan  termed the Cubans as the “Gurkhas of the Russian Empire”. 
This ‘surrogate’ thesis became quite pronounced in the monograph studies by David Rees and Brian Crozier . The same thesis was implicit in earlier analyses of Peter Vanneman and Martin James . An Australian writer, T.B. Millar, in the same vein, opined that Cubans are little more than mercenaries in thin disguise . Likewise, A. Suarez and Lars Bondstam echoed the same theme in their writings on the Soviet-Cuban nexus in Africa .
Among the implications of the ‘Soviet-surrogate” thesis was that Cuba not only took orders from Moscow regardless of its own interests, but also that the USSR should be held accountable for Cuban involvement in the Third World. In point of fact, most of the writers who advocated the ‘dependency’ or ‘proxy-surrogate’ thesis took the Soviet military invasion of Czechoslovakia (August 1968) and Castro’s endorsement as a benchmark event. According to most of them, this marked a breaking point after which Cuba had no independent will or volition of its own and was eager to do Moscow’s bidding . In this connection, it is germane to point out a study by Taylor and Townsend in which they propounded the same stereotyped thesis of Cuba as “an archetype of a proxy”. Another school of revisionists, if we may characterize them thus, posited the thesis that the Cubans were a self-directed, revolutionary nation who had taken upon themselves the role of ‘socialist internationalism’ or ‘proletarian internationalism’ to combat ‘international imperialism’ by providing moral and material support to ‘liberation movements’ in the
 See the Pentagon study, Soviet Military Power 1985 (4th ed, Washington D.C.: U.S. Govt. Printing Office, 1985, pp. 113-131).
 Jorge Dominguez, “Cuban Foreign policy”, Foreign Affairs, Quarterly, Vol. 57, Summer 1978, pp. 83-108.
 See “Castro: Russia’s Cat’s Paw”, US News and World Report, Weekly, June 12, 1978, pp. 20-23.
 On the proper role of Gurkha forces as mercenaries see an illuminating account by a former Gurkha officer, Robin Adshead: “The Gurkhas – Past, Present and Future?” Jane’s Defence Weekly, Vol. 3, No. 9, March 2, 1985, p. 359.
 David Rees: “Soviet Strategic Penetration of Africa”, Conflict Studies, No. 77, pp. 1-21; and especially Brian Crozier: “The Surrogate Forces of the Soviet Union”, Conflict Studies, No. 92, February 1978, pp. 1-20.
 Peter Vanneman and Martin James: “The Soviet Intervention in Angola: Intentions and Implications”, Strategic Review, Summer 1976, pp. 96-103; also see later piece, “Soviet Coercive Diplomacy: Saudi Arabia”, Air Force Magazine, March 1981, p. 120.
 T. B. Millar: “Conflict and Intervention” in Mohammad Ayub, Ed: Conflict and Intervention in the Third World (London: Croom Helm, 1980).
 A. Suarez: “Soviet Influence on Internal Politics of Cuba”, in A. Rubinstein, Ed: Soviet and Chinese Influence in the Third World (New York, Praeger Publishers, 1975); see also Lars Bondstam: “External Involvement in Ethiopia and Eritrea”, in Basil Davidson, L. Cliff and B. H. Selassie: War in Eritrea (Nottingham, Spokesman Press, 1980).
 See Carmelo Mesa-Lago: Cuba in the 1970s (Pittsburgh, Pa, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1975); S. Karol: Guerrillas in Power (Hill and Wang, 1970); Edward Gonzales “Relationship with the Soviet Union”, in Mesa Lago, Ed: Revolutionary Change and Julian Weinkle: Cuba’s New Dependency Problems, March-April 1972. In addition, see Edward Gonzales, Cuba Vnder Castro: The Limits of Charisma (Houghton, Mifflin, 1974); Cole Blasier and Mesa-Lago, Eds: Cuba in the World (Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1979, pp. 53- 86.
 See William J. Taylor Jr., and James J. Townsend: “Soviet Proxy Warfare” in Robert Kupperman and William J. Taylor Jr., Eds: Strategic Requirements for the Army to the Year 2000 (Lexington, Mass, Lexington Books, 1984, pp. 209-226).
Third World, particularly in Africa, the Caribbean, and Central America. This argument can be gleaned from the testimony of Lourdes Casal in the Congressional Hearings . Another writer, Nelson Valdes, hewed the same line as above . Finally, African Sovietologist Nolutshungu took a more sympathetic view of Cuba as “more of an independent maverick” than the Soviets’ “cat’s paw” . In a rather well documented and frequently quoted article, William Durch dealt with the roots of Cuban involvement in the Third World (Algeria, Vietnam and Syria) and other lesser military missions in Africa prior to Angola and Ethiopia .
A somewhat analogous analysis of Cuba’s African activities in chronological order is provided by Jorge I. Dominguez . The same approach is adopted by Connel-Smith , who analyzed Cuban relations with the Third World predating the Soviet Union and concluded that during the last twenty years Castro had been much less of a “puppet” than the pre-independence Cuban leaders were then “puppets” of the US.
Jiri Valenta plays down Moynihan’s analogy of Cubans as “the Gurkhas of the Russian Empire”. In his assessment, it was more a case of congruence of common objectives and goals of two allies, at least in the case of Angola (if not in Ethiopia) . Yet another study by William LeoGrande  traces US-Cuban relations by ending on a prescriptive note. According to him, the Soviet and Cuban perspectives diverged on some policy issues in Angola and Ethiopia. At one point, it mentions serious discrepancies in the Soviet-Cuban policy outlook in the 1970s. Going further back, the Cuban brand of militant, revolutionary overthrow of Latin American regimes in the 1960s did not go down well with the Soviet Union.
On international issues, such as Cuba’s zealous advocacy of exchange of doctrinal debate and polemics, there were differences on the cautious Soviet approach. This sometimes led to bitterness. On the New International Economic Order and Cuba as leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, Soviet support remained at best lukewarm and unenthusiastic. The issue of nuclear proliferation was another area of disagreement where the Soviet Union had a conservative approach on the question of passing on nuclear technology to developing countries. Last but not least, though ready and quick to exploit domestic turmoil in the Caribbean and Central America, the Soviet Union was reluctant to have more ‘Cubas’ in the region, and therefore seemed quite unwilling to further underwrite the increasing costs of “socialist construction” in the Third World. This was mainly due to the past string of failures in the Third World and intractable problems, together with increased strains in the economy in recent years .
The same Cuban independence of will and action was highlighted by Vanneman and Martin. Both suggested that this was especially valid in the case of Ethiopia. Likewise, Bissel’s opinion about Egypt’s military intervention in South Yemen (1962-
 Lourdes Casal’s testimony in the Hearings before the Subcommittee of International House of Representatives, 95th Congress, 2nd Session, March 14 and 15, April 5 and 12, 1978, pp. 80-85.
 Nelson Valdes: “Revolutionary Solidarity in Angola”, in Cole Blasier and Carmelo Mesa-Lego, Eds: Cuba in the World (Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1979, pp. 87-119).
 Sam C. Nolutashungu: “African Interests and Soviet Studies”, The Local Context of Soviet Policy, and Soviet Studies, Vol XXXIV, No. 3, July 1982, p. 408.
 William J. Durch: “The Cuban Military in Africa and the Middle East: From Algeria to Angola”, Studies in Comparative Communism, Vol. II, 1978, pp. 37-74.
 Jorge I. Dominguez: “The Armed Forces and Foreign Relations”, in Cole Blasier and Mesa-Lago, Eds: Cuba in the World, pp. 53-86.
 Connel-Smith: “Castro’s Cuba in World Affairs: 1959-79”, The World Today, January 1979, pp. 53-86.
 Jiri Valenta is an acute observer of Soviet and East European military interventionist behaviour in Third World countries. In this case, read “The Soviet-Cuban Intervention in Angola, 1975”, Studies in Comparative Communism, Vol. 11, 1978, pp. 3-33.
 William M. LeoGrande: “Cuba’s Policy Recycled”, No. 46, Spring 1982.
 Peter Vanneman and Martin James: “Soviet Intervention in the Horn of Africa: Intentions and Implications”, Policy Review, No. 5, 1978, pp. 15-36.
 R.E. Bissell: “Soviet Use of Proxies in the Third World: The Case of Yemen”, Soviet Studies, Vol. 30, 1978, pp. 87-106.
68) was ascribed to regional interests rather than Soviet sponsorship. In a similar vein, writers such as Halperin , Klinghoffer , Skurnik , and Traverton  advanced the same thesis of Cuban autonomous-cum-self-directed behaviour. And finally, of all myths about Cuba, the one about the “Cubans as pawns”, says Carla Robbins, is most prevalent in different writings on Cuba .
The third perspective, which seemed more appealing, was spelled out by Edward Gonzeles, a Cubanologist, in his later writings. Explicitly combining the above two theses, terming it as the “paladin” thesis , he maintained that Cuba must necessarily capitalise upon Soviet interests and objectives in the Third World, and in the process continue to advance its own interests. This saw Cuba’s motives as far more complex. By linking itself with the Soviet Union and the Third World in Africa and Latin America, argued the writer, Cuba increased its leverage with both. On Cuba’s foreign policy, Gonzeles observed that although Cuba acted within the parameters of Soviet foreign policy, “it would be a mistake to think of Cuba as simply a Soviet-directed surrogate in the Third World .” Its ‘paladinism’ in Angola and Ethiopia, argued the writer, became the principal means by which Castro regained a measure of leverage over Moscow after 1975 and earned the title of a “privileged ally”  and a “highly valued surrogate” .
This leverage could mean, as argued by Lawrence H. Theriot , the ability to attract more economic and military aid from the Soviet Union. Or it may enable it to derive a greater degree of independence, or given its assets, to exercise more meaningful influence over Soviet policy in Africa. Also, it could mobilise its population for ‘internationalist duties’ in Africa as a foreign policy success, thus gaining legitimacy for the Castro regime.
 M. Halperin: “The Cuban Role in Southern Africa”, in J. Seiler, Ed: Southern Africa since the Portuguese coup (Boulder, Colo, Westview Press, 1984, pp. 19-38).
 A. J. Klinghoffer: “Soviet Policy Towards Africa: Impact of the Angolan War”, in R. W. Duncan, Ed: Soviet Policy in the Third World (New York, Pergamon Press, 1880, pp. 196-211); also see his “The Soviet Union and the Super Power Rivalry in Africa”, in Bruce E. Arlinghaus, Ed: African Security Issues: Sovereignty, Stability and Solidarity (Boulder, Colo, Westview Press, 1984, pp. 19-38).
 W. A. E. Skurnik: “Africa and the Super-Powers”, Current History, Vol. 71, No. 421, pp. 145-148; 179-180; 184.
 G. G. Traverton: “Cuba After Angola”, The World Today, January 1977, pp. 17-27.
 Carla Robbins: The Cuban Threat (New York, MacGraw Hill Company, 1983, p. 280).
 The ‘paladin thesis’ is succinctly elaborated by Edward Gonzales: “Cuba, the Soviet Union, and Africa”, in David Albright, Ed: Communism in Africa (Bloomington and London, Indiana University Press, 1980, pp. 145-167).
 Andrzej Korbonski and Francis Fukuyama, Eds: The Soviet Union and the Third World: The Last Three decades (Ithaca, New York and London, Cornell University Press, 1987, p. 123).
 Lawrence Theriot: Cuban Foreign Trade: A Current Assessment (Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of East-West Policy and Planning, Industry and Trade Administration, 1978).
(To be continued)
The writer is former President, Islamabad Policy Research Institute, ex-Adviser, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Islamabad; former Head, Department of International Relations, National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad, and until recently, Visiting Faculty, Department of Defense and Strategic Studies Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad