By William Tucker
A few days before Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken departed for a long-delayed trip to Beijing, a White House spokesman confirmed reports in the U.S. media of a Chinese intelligence “listening post” operating in Cuba. Considering the Chinese spy balloon affair from earlier this year, the public revelation that China is operating such a post a mere 100 miles off the U.S. coast prompted outrage from both parties in Congress.
Cuba has long been a bipartisan, hot-button issue for Congress, so the reaction across party lines isn’t much of a surprise. Also, it isn’t surprising that China would seek to set up a listening post – or any intelligence collection facility on Cuban soil for that matter – when Beijing and Washington have been locked in aggressive intelligence games over the past seven decades.
The True Danger of a Chinese Influence in Cuba
The real issue here, however, isn’t the listening post in Cuba. Rather, it’s the presence of a foreign power on the soil of an island nation sitting astride a vulnerable waterway that could potentially threaten U.S. security.
The significance of the Gulf Coast, New Orleans, Houston and the Mississippi River offering an entrance into the U.S. cannot be understated. It’s precisely why the British tried to capture New Orleans in 1815 and why the Germans, followed by the Soviets, have invested so much time in Cuba.
While waterborne approaches to the Gulf of Mexico are important for commerce, it is Cuba, which bifurcates the entry to the Gulf, that cannot be ignored. The U.S. Navy can provide security to the Gulf of Mexico and prevent entry by foreign nations. But if a hostile adversary of comparative strength was to gain influence over Cuba’s government and plant foreign troops or weapons on Cuba, the U.S. would respond aggressively.
This aggressive response was certainly the case in during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, according to the U.S. Department of State. Since that time, Cuba has maintained an anti-U.S. stance. However, Cuba has not had a powerful friend capable of challenging the U.S. and playing a supporting role since the end of the Cold War.
In Cuba, China sees an opening to exploit. Given the economic problems endemic to Cuba, the government in Havana will take any anti-U.S. support it can get, doubly so if this support lends itself to the continued survival of the Cuban regime.
Both President Biden and numerous members of Congress served in political office during the Cold War and likely remember that the Soviets had a listening post in Lourdes, Cuba, for 50 years. But it was the presence of Soviet nuclear weapons and military forces that prompted the Cuban Missile Crisis and nearly led to a third world war.
Despite Congressional Outrage, the News about the Cuban Listening Post Has Faded from News Headlines
The outrage from Congress likely stems from this situation arising again – foreign forces of a peer or near-peer competitor setting up shop in Cuba. So no, the outrage over the listening post in Cuba is likely overblown and has already disappeared from news headlines.
Given the lack of continued U.S. outrage over China’s more effective and numerous intelligence operations on U.S. soil, the listening post issue in Cuba was destined to fade. China doesn’t yet have the naval ability to support a major presence in Cuba.
But if that changes, then expect the outrage from Congress to become apocalyptic and sustained. For now, the Chinese listening post in Cuba is just one more collection effort in a long, ongoing intelligence battle between Washington and Beijing.