Volume 5, No. 3, March 2023
Editor: Rashed Rahman
This point (see last paragraph in Part II of this article in PMR January 2021) is well taken by another observer who sees Cuba’s ‘internationalism’ as closely linked to the nature of the regime and its continuity, a major tenet of its foreign policy being the irreversibility of the Cuban revolution and thus the survival of the regime itself.  In the same context, James Nelson Goodsell quoted a World Bank Cubanologist who remarked: “The desires of both Cuba and the Soviet Union (SU) may coincide and Cuba may be providing the troops that the SU would not provide. But Cuba could not be there if it didn’t want to be.”  The same theme was echoed by Brigadier General James A. Williams in a testimony before the House when he underscored the zeal of Cubans who viewed themselves as models for the Third World and other developing nations.  Further, the fact of Soviet ‘expansionist’ policy on the African continent allowed Cuba some degree of influence over its patron because of an instrumental role in furthering those objectives. These objectives, in the assessment of the writer, could not be achievable by the SU in Africa alone.
Carla Robbins, another observer of Cuban foreign policy behaviour in the Third World, particularly Latin America and Africa, cited Cuba’s Afro-Spanish heritage and Third World revolutionary credentials as motivating factors in African exploits. Rather than being commissioned by the SU to do the ‘dirty’ job, argued the writer, it was the mating of common objectives and the provision of Soviet military and economic wherewithal with availability of Cuban combat contingents that made joint Angolan and Ethiopian operations a success.  Assigning merit to the Cuban initiative in Africa, she noted that the Cubans, despite all the concessions to the SU after the late 1960s, did not for a moment yield in their unstinted support for the African liberation movements. In fact if there had been any radical change it was in Moscow’s policy towards Africa, not Havana’s. Continuing further she stated that Moscow’s decision to join forces with Havana in late 1975 through the airlift of Cuban troops to Angola and provision of arms and equipment constituted a significant change where “Moscow actually seemed to be following Havana’s lead – not the other way around.”
In another study, Gonzales, though not of this school of thought, described the Cuban status as that of a “privileged client state”  while David termed them as “skilled proxies”.  Rubinstein, in
 Enrique Baloyra Herp: “Internationalism and the Limits of Autonomy: Cuba’s Foreign Relations”, in Heraldo Munoz Joseph S. Tulchin, Eds: Latin American Nations in World Politics (Boulder and London: Westview Press, 1984, p. 169).
 As quoted in James Nelson Goodsell, The Christian Science Monitor, March 21, 1978.
 See “The impact of Cuban-Soviet Ties in the Western Hemisphere”, Hearings before the House International Relations Committee, March 14, 15, April 5, 12, 1978 (Washington, D.C.: O.S. Govt. Printing Office, 1978, p.14).
 The reasons for Castro’s ‘New Internationalism’ are spelled out in Carla Anne Robbins: The Cuban Threat (1983, pp. 181-182).
 Ibid, p. 206.
 Edward Gonzales: “The Cuban and Soviet Challenge in the Caribbean Basin”, Orbis – A Journal of World Affairs, Vol. 29, No. 1, Spring 1985, pp. 73-74.
 Steve R. David: Third World Coups d’Etat and International Security (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987).
a study on the SU’s ‘surrogates’, classified them in four categories, varying in degree of influence and control:
(a) The Warsaw Pact countries in which the SU through military aid and economic levers directly shaped the foreign policies of some countries;
(b) The USSR and friendly communist countries – Non-Warsaw Pact members, e.g. DPRK and Vietnam (neither Kim Il Sung nor the Vietnamese leadership are ‘puppets’ as each has the capacity of independent action, tenacity of purpose, and pursuit of national objectives).
(c) Soviet-Cuban relations: Cuba is Marxist-Leninist, Castro is free to make foreign policy, thus making leverage of economic independence and protection not applicable in this case;
(d) SU and non-communist governments: these are non-communist states and do not participate in analogues like the Soviet-Cuban collaboration in Africa (Syria, People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen and the Palestine Liberation Organisation). They follow their own policies and are not ‘surrogates’ like the above three. However, since their policies benefit the SU and they are in some ways dependent on it, they perform a ‘quasi’ or ‘functional surrogate’ role. 
In the same study he mentions that reliance on the Soviet Union does not mean that the Cubans are in Angola at the Soviets’ bidding. It was the Cubans’ long-cherished goals that meshed in with them in an ‘organic relationship’ that “made the accomplishment of each government’s goal dependent upon the actions of the other.” 
Dominguez observes: “Cuba is a small country, but it has the foreign policy of a big power.”  Later he remarked that although living under a “tight hegemony” [Soviet Union and its allies] as compared to a “loose hegemony” [the US and its allies], Cuba is not rendered a “new puppet” or a “proxy” for the Soviet Union.  In fact the Cuban leaders, unlike the Eastern Europeans, “want[ed]” Soviet hegemony  and “consider[ed] (Cuba’s) relationship with the USSR both desirable and useful.” 
Within the context of Soviet hegemony, Cuba has therefore followed its own policies in Angola, cultivating ties in Central America, and inducing the Soviets to behave in ways in which the latter might not have otherwise. There is hence little evidence that Cuba acts in international affairs at the bidding of the Soviet Union. However, its policies are consistent with, if not dictated by, the Soviet Union. 
 Jorge I. Dominguez: To Make a World Safe for Democracy (1989, p. 7).
Merritt Robins explained Cuba’s assertiveness and activist posture in Africa in the mid-1970s as an attempt to overcome its isolation, secure allies, and end “embarrassing one-way dependence” on the Soviet Union by serving as a “bridge” between the Soviet bloc and the Third World and implicitly repaying the massive debt to the USSR with military adventures. 
Pastor opined that the Cubans appeared motivated by three main interests: egoism, nationalism, and ideology,  while Azicri termed this relationship as a symbiotic interaction that stemmed from each side seeking to compensate for its own weakness and shortcomings by gaining from the other’s strength and resources. 
Cuba and the Soviet Union: Small State vs Big State
One is tempted to see in the Cuban-Soviet relationship a prime example of a small vs big state interaction. If, for example, during the 1960s, the Cubans were actively challenging the Soviet Union on various foreign policy issues, it becomes difficult to understand how and why they should have been subservient to them in the 1970s. It is postulated that as a small power, Cuba has maintained substantial leverage and bargaining power over its ‘patron’, the Soviet Union. Moreover, Cuba’s assertive role in Africa in the mid-1970s was occasioned not so much by Soviet dictates or direction as by its own volition. Many factors were responsible, e.g. the systemic environment of both superpowers’ equivalence, the prevailing atmospherics of ‘détente’, the Portuguese hasty decision to decolonise, and the post-Vietnam and Watergate syndromes crippling an effective US policy response. Moreover, Cuba had already historically established links with the revolutionary movements in Lusophone Africa since the early 1960s and here was a propitious moment to act. Finally, there was the rise of the non-aligned movement that Castro was eager to lead.
Over the last decade, certain international relations theorists have focused on the role of small powers.  A thesis from the literature particularly appropriate to the Cuban case is Albert Hirschman’s “dependency management”, which suggested that under certain conditions a smaller power may come to exercise greater leverage over its bigger partner – given its negotiating skills and political conditions. Also, even the strength with which the interests are held may give the dependent or client state more power to choose than the overall structure of inequality would suggest.  In fact, the smaller powers aligned to superpowers had certain assets to their credit, e.g. the ability to concentrate on a single issue; willingness to take greater risks; a greater threshold for sacrifice and suffering if needed, centralisation of decision-making structures, effective use of natural resources, and, possibly, the ability to threaten a new alignment with a superpower.  In addition, military intervention by outside powers differed qualitatively depending on the size of an intervening power.
 Merritt Robbins: “The Soviet-Cuban Relationship”, in Roger E. Kanet, Ed: Soviet Foreign Policy in the 1980s (Praeger Special Studies, 1982, p. 157).
 R. A. Pastor: “Cuba and the Soviet Union: Does Cuba Act Alone?” in Barry B. Levine, Ed: The New Cuban Presence in the Caribbean (Boulder, Colo., Westview Press, 1983, p. 206).
 Max Azicri: Cuba: Politics, Economics and Society (London and New York: Pinter Publishers, 1988, p. 217).
 The literature on the subject is substantial. For a sampling see Annette Baker Fox: The Power of Small States (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967); V.V. Sveics: National Survival: Political Defence in Unequal Conflict (Jericho, New York: Exposition Press, 1970); Trygve Mathieson: The Function of Small States in the Strategies of Great Powers (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1971); Peter Wiles: “The Importance of Country Size: A Question but not a Subject”, unpublished paper, The Policies of Small States (London: George Allan and Unwin, 1973); Jacques Rapaport, Earnest Mateba: Small States and Territory; Robert. O. Keohane: “Lilliputian’s Dilemma: Small States”, in International Organisation, Spring 96; Robert L. Thostoin: Alliances and Small Powers (New York: Columbia University Press,1968); Raimo Vayrnen: “On the Definition and Measurement of Small States”, see Cooperation and Conflict.
 Albert Hirschman: “Beyond Asymmetry: Critical Notes on myself as a Young Man and on Some Other Old Friends”, International Organisation, Vol 32, Winter 1978, pp. 45-50.
 Lloyd Jenson: Explaining Foreign Policy (Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Prentice Hall. Inc., 1982, pp. 227-228).
While those by major powers were generally related to strategic power balances, or to ideological, economic, or military interests, for the minor powers the prime motivations, generally, were the target regime’s incompatibility or border disputes. Therefore, when a major and a minor power operated in tandem in a military intervention, the goals and objectives of the two participants [were] often mixed. 
As regards the oft-mentioned issue of ‘exploitation’ by the stronger against the weaker, there is little empirical evidence to demonstrate it. Sometimes, the bigger power may willingly wish to be ‘exploited’ by the smaller state in international transactions. First, the bigger power collects some sort of illusory psychological returns for being the ‘greatest’ in exchange for what it is forced to pay its more sensible ally in real or tangible benefits; secondly, according to Olson and Zeckhauser, the collective goods of an alliance, or of any other international relationship in terms of self-interest make more sense for the largest single member of the whole, such that it will make disproportionate efforts to keep the entire structure going;  thirdly, in regard to why larger states are likely to do small states’ bidding, he opined that it was some sort of ideological concern for others that got the big state to become larger in the first place. And finally, based on the ‘strength of weakness’ principle, it is the smaller side which is less willing to yield on concessions and can threaten realignment or even its extinction, thus sometimes raising its bargaining stakes.  In fact, the extant literature offers five basic approaches to the definitional problem of a small state. First, some writers totally reject the concept of definition due to the insufficiencies of the concept as an analytical tool. A second group of writers lament the problems and difficulties of definitions and remain very sceptical on the operationalisation of the concept. Among these are Annette Baker Fox, V. Sveica, Mario Hirsch and I. Mathisen. A third approach is to operationalise the concept through employment of some tangible variables such as population, area, GNP, size of the armed forces. This view is advanced by, among others, Peter Wiles, Ronald Barston, Simon Kuznets, J. Rapaport, E. Mateba and J. Therattil. A fourth group relates to the perceptual aspect, i.e. those states that perceive themselves to be small. The works of R. Keohane and R. Rothstein fall in this category. The fifth approach, seemingly eclectic, integrates all the above criteria and features prominently in the works of R. Varyrnen and M. Handel.
Proxies/Allies/Mercenaries: Some Ambiguities
For the purposes of this study, the empirical referents for a small state would include indices such as (1) low rank/status as measured by either objective (hard) or subjective (perceptual) data; (2) limited economic and military capability, hence dependence and vulnerability to external threats, and (3) limited scope of interests.
A close scrutiny of many studies of the Soviet-Cuban nexus in Africa reveals that some writers remain ambivalent about the use of these terms. For example, two studies bearing on this relationship by Taylor and Townsend characterise ‘proxy’ as a “symbiotic, albeit a lopsided relationship.”  But continuing in the same text, they term Cuba as the “archetype of a proxy”
 Frederick S. Pearson and Robert Baumann: “Foreign Military Intervention by Large and Small States”, International Interactions, October 1977, p. 277.
 Maricur Olson Jr. and Richard Zeckhauser: “An Economic Theory of Alliances”, The Review of Economics and Statistics, Vol XLVIII, No. 3, August 1966, pp. 266-279.
 That this is more recommended than is possible cannot be but overemphasised.
 William J. Taylor and James J. Townsend: “Soviet Proxy Warfare” in Robert H. Kupperman and William J. Taylor, Eds: Strategic Requirements for the Army to The Year 2000 (Lexington Mass: Lexington Books, 1984, p 210).
and mention that they are stationed not due to any revolutionary bent but due to Soviet military assistance and the Kremlin’s approval.  Another writer, Bruce Porter, also hews the same line in his book when he comments that the Soviet-Cuban relationship, as far as it pertains to Third World conflicts, has not been that of a highly-dependent Soviet ally obliging its mentors with enthusiasm.  Yet in the same work, he cited Cuba’s ideological links, close party ties, and heavy economic dependence on the Soviet Union as cogent reasons for the Cuban ‘proxy’ status and behaviour in Africa. Illustrative also was the case of another well known study, where there seemed to be some equivocation. While Cuba’s role in the Angolan conflict is seen as that of a surrogate force through the Soviet long range projection capabilities, in the same piece, as a summary, it was referred to as the Soviet-Cuban “partnership”. 
However, in the same context, when other examples of small powers were cited that provided aid and operated at great distances from their territories (e.g. Belgium, Senegal, Morocco and the invasion of the Shaba province of Zaire 1977-78), the expressions used were quite different. They are, for instance, referred to as French-Moroccan and US-French “cooperation”.  Likewise, K.L. Adelman saw the successful Cuban military intervention as having been consummated through “Cuban mercenaries and Russian arms”. Nonetheless, the above two French-Moroccan interventions are euphemistically termed “rescue operations”. 
Still another study of Soviet military aid to Africa by Arlinghaus used the term “allies” synonymously with “surrogates”. The author headlining the title as “Soviet surrogate”, in subsequent narration and description of events tends to counter his own categorisation. Moreover, in his conclusive remarks he sums up thus: Even the closest Soviet allies in the region – the East Europeans and the Cubans – are not mere puppets of the Soviet policy. Each appears to pursue, within limitations, its own economic and political goals in the region.  Proceeding further in the same vein, he also sees North Korea’s policies and programmes of aid to Zimbabwe as more independent and free from Moscow’s control, which would preclude them [North Korea] from acting as Soviet surrogates. 
Aguila and Grebendorff, two perceptive observers of Cuban policies in Central and Latin America, view Cuba as a regional and military power,  although relying on the Soviet Union.
 Bruce D. Porter: The USSR in Third World Conflicts: Soviet Arms and Diplomacy in Local Wars: 1945-1980 (London: Cambridge University Press, 1984, pp. 230 and 55).
 Strategic Survey 1978 (London: IISS, 1979, pp. 12-17).
 For instance, see Kenneth Adelman: “African Security: Facts and Fantasies”, Comparative Strategy – An International Journal, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1980, p. 103.
 Bruce E. Arlinghaus: Military Development in Africa: The Political and Economic Risks of Arms and Transfers (Boulder and London: Westview Press, 1,84, pp. 34-35).
 Ibid., p. 36. The same theme is reiterated in John F. Copper and Daniel S. Papp, Eds: Communist Nations’ Military Assistance (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1983).
 See Juan de Aguila: “Cuba’s Foreign Policy in Central America and the Caribbean”, in Jennie K. Lincoln and Elizabeth G. Feris, Eds: The Dynamics of Latin American Policies: Challenges for the 1980s (Boulder and London: Westview Press, 1984, pp. 251-266); and Wolf Grabendorff: “The Role of Regional Powers in Central America: Mexico, Venezuela, Cuba and Colombia”, in Heraldo Munoz and Josephs Tulchi, Eds: Latin American Nations in World Politics (Boulder and London: Westview Press, 1984).
For Aguila, it was a “regionally intrusive” power,  namely, a nation exhibiting politically significant involvement beyond its borders – an involvement determined in turn by its very “objective, power, motivations, location, and international position.” However, while reviewing Cuba’s pro-Soviet tilt in the NAM (Non Aligned Movement) and identical “institutional-organisational and functional behaviourial traits of a Soviet type system”, they tended to reverse earlier formulations and characterised Cuban behaviour as a ‘proxy’ of the Soviets. Likewise, Warner succumbed to the same fallacy of equating the Soviets’ Cuban “allies”  with Soviet-sponsored “surrogates” and “clients” such as the East Germans. Relatedly, a study by the US Department of Defence equated Cuba with a “Soviet proxy”  and Eastern bloc countries with “surrogates” and “clients”  in one place, but preferred to use “counterparts” in other places. 
Finally, it would be in order to deal with the often misused term ‘mercenary’ – sometimes used synonymously with ‘proxy’. In an excellent study, a serving US Defence Intelligence officer makes five functional groupings of military operative types in the African context: (1) standing army; (2) auxiliary; (3) partisan; (4) agent, and (5) mercenary forces.  His typology is as follows:
|Military Operative Types|
|Operative||Local Citizen||Own Government Support||Integrated Into National Structure|
 Aguila: The Dynamics of Latin American Policies: Challenges for the 1980s (Boulder and London: Westview Press1984, p. 252).
 See Edward L. Warner III: “The Defence Policy of the Soviet Union”, in Douglas J. Murray and Paul R. Viotti, Eds: The Defence Policy of Nations: A Comparative Study (Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1962, p. 106).
 See, e.g., Department of Defense: Soviet Military Power, 1985 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Govt. Printing Office, p. 118, p. 121).
 Ibid, p. 121.
 Ibid., p. 120.
 Gerry S. Thomas: Mercenary Troops in Modern Africa (Boulder and London: Westview Press, 1984, p. 2).
Thus, according to the above typology, a mercenary is:
(1) Not a citizen of the country for which he is fighting;
(2) Neither receives nor is sent overt support by his government;
(3) Takes a direct part in the hostilities outside the established structure of the standing army. 
Judged by the above criteria, the Cuban early support to the Lumumbist and Mulelist secessionist rebels in Congo (1964) may be characterised as ‘agent’-type support, but distinguishable from the large-scale combat ‘auxiliary’ presence in Angola (1975-76) and later in Ethiopia (1977-78). Therefore, it is not a case of a ‘mercenary’ force in any of the above three cases.  Nonetheless, the support accorded to UNITA and FNLA (the rival organizations to the MPLA) through foreign nationals could be termed as ‘mercenary support’. Also, the Katangan gendarmes sent to overthrow Zaire’s Mobutu regime in the Shaba crisis had ‘mercenary’ support. Again, perusing the Soviet press and literature, one comes across frequent use of the term “Western mercenaries”, invariably blurring meanings and using it as a catch-all term for all Western-supported groups. 
Operationalisation of Terminology
The foregoing discussion sensitises us to the imperative of fixing defined boundaries on these amorphous and easily bandied around terms. In our opinion, a ‘proxy’ relationship  has specific dimensions to it. To some observers, a ‘proxy intervention’ appears to symbolise the interest of the principal (A) in proxy (B). However, there has to be some degree of alliance and compatibility of interests. This aspect of interests has already been referred to in the literature survey of writers such as Bissel, Berner, Connel-Smith, Duncan, Klinghoffer, Millar, Ra’anan, Traverton, Valenta, Vanneman and James. Another dimension of a ‘proxy relationship’ is the material support provided by A to B, without which it may not be possible for B to have a relationship with A. Sometimes an essential feature of all discussions of a ‘proxy relationship’ is whether A exercised influence over B. However, power as a concept is difficult to define and measure. It is generally referred to in statements like: B is submissive to A, cannot resist its demands, accepts its directions, or the like.
It is, moreover, generally assumed that an intervener intervenes on behalf of another power because of positive or negative sanctions (or threats of any such sanctions) that may be directed against it. For, as commonly suggested, without such sanctions, that supposed intervention may not come about. ‘Positive sanctions’ may mean rewards like transfer of resources (military and economic aid), while ‘negative sanctions’ may signify either withholding of these benefits or punitive measures like trade embargos and moratoria. Combining the power and material support relationships, one would rely on Duner’s typology of a supposed proxy relationship.
 Ibid., pp. 5-6.
 For an excellent bibliography on mercenarism in Africa, consult Appendix A, ibid., pp. 121-124.
 Most official Soviet writings before 1988 abound with this term. For a sampling see, Anatoly Gromyko, Ed: African Countries’ Foreign Policy, Institute of African Studies, USSR Academy of Sciences (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1981, passim).
 This is to acknowledge Bertil Duner for his operationalisation of terminology and subsequent typology on proxy intervention. See e.g., his “Proxy Intervention in Civil War”, Journal of Peace Research, Vol. XVIII, No. 4, 1981, pp. 353- 361.
 ibid., p. 358.
|Pressured to Intervene||Not Pressured to Intervene|
|Receives (is dependent upon)
|Does not receive (is not dependent upon)||Proxy 2||Autonomous Factor|
This phenomenon of intervention is now divided into four different cases, thus making for a more differentiated and nuanced approach to the subject. As shown above, there are two different types of ‘proxies’ (Proxy 1 and Proxy 2). It hardly needs mention that the relationship most frequently discussed in the current literature is the one in the upper left quadrant. But from a theoretical angle, it is equally important to focus attention on the lower left quadrant. The reason there has always been interest in the first type of ‘proxy relationship’ is the assumption that, in view of the material support received, it becomes obligatory for the recipient state to subordinate its interests to the patron. But as the typology shows, it may well be that the intervener is not subservient but may well be acting on its own.
A cursory look at the literature surveyed above shows that Soviet ambitions and policies in Africa could not have been possible but for the role played by its junior partner, Cuba. In sum, one may ask: was the Cuban behaviour the end result of Soviet economic and military largesse, or because of Cuban earlier historical interests in Africa?
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 Defence and Strategic Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad