"THE THREAT TO US SECURITY INTERESTS IN THE CARIBBEAN AREA," Special National Intelligence Estimate 80-62, 17 January 1962

Source: U.S., Department of State, FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES 1961-1963, Volume X Cuba, 1961-1962 Washington, DC

SNIE 80-62

Washington, January 17, 1962.

//Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD (C) A Files: FRC 71 A 2896, McNamara Briefing Notebooks, 12 Jan. 63. Secret. A covering note indicates that this estimate, submitted by the Director of Central Intelligence, was prepared by CIA and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Joint Staff, and NSA. All members of the USIB concurred on January 17 except the representatives of the AEC and the FBI who abstained on the grounds that the topic was outside their jurisdiction.


The Problem
To estimate the threat to US security interests in the Caribbean area over the next two decades.

The Estimate
1. US security interests in the Caribbean relate principally to the maintenance of independent and friendly states in the Western Hemisphere. The Caribbean is not only the basin around which are located a large number of American republics, but it is the link between the US and the larger American republics in the southern continent. In addition, the US is concerned with keeping its southern flank free of hostile military power, and with maintaining the unrestricted operation of the Panama Canal and of other US installations.

2. Threats to US interests could arise from a variety of sources: the vulnerability of the area to attack from outside the hemisphere; the establishment of a military presence within the area by hostile powers; attempts by the Communist powers, with the help of the present Cuban Government, to spread Communist revolution to other parts of the area by military action or subversion; the growth of indigenous radical nationalism; and instability rising from attempts by governments in the area to interfere in the affairs of their neighbors or to impose their will upon them. A discussion of each of these threats follows in the paragraphs below.

3. Vulnerability to outside attack. The area of the Caribbean is within range of Soviet ICBMs and long-range bombers, and cities, canals, and military installations could also be attacked by missile-carrying submarines. In the event of general war, some US installations, such as the canal and air and naval bases, probably would be subjected to Soviet attack.

4. Establishment of a hostile military presence. Cuba and any other Caribbean state which fell under Communist control could be used by the USSR as areas in which to establish missile, submarine, or air bases, designed to bring North America under attack or to add to the deterrents to any conceivable US military action in the Caribbean or elsewhere. On the whole, we believe the establishment of such Soviet bases is unlikely for some time to come. Their military and psychological value, in Soviet eyes, would probably not be great enough to override the risks involved.

5. The Soviet leaders would be concerned lest steps toward the establishment of such bases would provoke the US to overthrow the Castro regime before bases could become operational and would generally heighten the risk of war. Moreover, Soviet bases in Cuba could involve the USSR in difficult political and control problems with the Cuban Government; the Soviets have been very careful to retain control over situations which involve them in any serious degree of risk, and they would be mindful of the danger that Cuban initiatives could expose the USSR to serious risks of general war. Finally, the Soviet leaders, for the present at least, appear to prefer not to make their presence too obvious or apparent, lest they discourage rather than encourage the spread of communism to other Latin American countries. Since their essential aim in Latin America is not military conquest but Communist revolution, we believe they will prefer to use Cuba as a symbol of spontaneous popular revolution and as a base for subversive operations.

6. Nevertheless, the USSR can and probably will augment its naval, air, and communications capabilities in the area by the development of arrangements or facilities not openly identifiable as Soviet military bases. For example, the improvement of Cuban naval and air installations would provide facilities suitable for Soviet use, and special installations and arrangements could be set up for intelligence collection or subversive purposes.

7. This reluctance to establish military bases might not extend over the entire period under review. If communism spread to other countries in the area, and if the US appeared to be weakening in world power and national will, the Soviet leaders might be emboldened to buttress their gains by openly establishing Soviet military bases in the area, with the object of further weakening US prestige and further strengthening and protecting their local satraps. If such bases were established, the first step might be the establishment of jointly-operated submarine or air bases, on the theory that the establishment of such bases would be less likely to incur risk of a US reaction than would the establishment of missile bases, while at the same time constituting a demonstration of Soviet presence and protection.

8. Possibilities of the spread of communism in the area. The area of the Caribbean presents a picture of great variety, in terms of social structure, economic organization, and political direction. A few states have had or are passing through full-fledged social revolutions; in others the pressures for revolution are building up. Some states have very backward economies, while others are moving toward modern industrial societies. Many are single crop or commodity exporters; others are moving toward more balanced economies. In each country there are groups seeking to overthrow the existing order; even Mexico, which can be considered to have completed its revolution, harbors groups who believe that the revolution has been arrested and that a new leftward movement should be set in train. Some of these revolutionary groups are Communist led; some are not.

9. It appears to us very likely that during the next decade or two the Communist element among the revolutionary forces will grow in size, although its growth in influence would not necessarily be proportionate to the growth in size. The important question is not whether communism grows, but whether the non-Communist revolutionary forces can grow more rapidly, can control the revolutionary movement, and can achieve an acceptable level of momentum and progress in social, economic, and political change. This question cannot be answered at this stage of Latin American history; much depends upon such factors as the degree of success of the Alliance for Progress in achieving real social change, the skill and determination of local non-Communist leaders, and the activities and achievements of Castro's Cuba and of the local Communists in exploiting and subverting revolutionary unrest.

10. We believe that Castro's Cuba will continue to do what it can to export its revolution. It has to some degree handicapped itself by openly espousing Marxism-Leninism, but to the extent that it can capitalize on the failure of non-Communists to achieve real reform, it may yet succeed in bringing sympathetic forces to power elsewhere. For some of these countries, Venezuela for example, the critical choice between communism and non-communism may come within the years immediately ahead. For some of the others it may come later. During the next two decades, all could escape communism, but some may fall under Communist control. Local factors of an unforeseeable character, such as the quality of emerging leadership, may prove more decisive than existing political trends or degree of backwardness. In addition, factors external to the area, such as Communist successes or reverses in other underdeveloped countries, developments within the Communist Bloc itself, or changes in the appreciation of the general power balance between the Communist Bloc and the Free World will play a part.

11. Growth of indigenous, non-Communist, radical nationalism. Those states which experience a profound social, economic, and political transformation without coming under Communist control will almost certainly develop a greater sense of national identity and a stronger impulse to assert political independence. As broad-based political movements replace military or personal rule, there will develop a much stronger feeling that the Latin American states can be masters of their own destinies, and the new political leaders will be obliged to stress their devotion to national sovereignty and especially their independence of US policy. In some instances national sovereignty may come to mean that anything can be attempted with little concern or US reaction.

12. This is not to say that the growth of nationalism will necessarily be accompanied by a rise of anti-US attitudes. To the extent the US succeeds, it will tend to reduce the antagonism toward the US among the broad mass of the people, but at the same time it will win the enmity of established elites. In any event, the very emergence of new forces, and the identification--rightly or wrongly--of the old order with the US, will tend to promote suspicion of US motives and policies and will encourage the new leaders at least to strike a pose of independence and self-determination. As a consequence, the US role in the control and operation of canals or other US installations will almost certainly come under heavy attack, and the US freedom of action will probably become increasingly restricted. In the event of open differences with the US, an opportunity might be presented for hostile extra-hemispheric powers to gain a meas-ure of influence.

13. Such a trend toward radical nationalism appears to us to be unavoidable, although it will probably move at a variable and indeterminable pace. In some countries it probably will gather force more slowly than in others. In Panama today, where the Canal Zone offers a visible target for agitation, it appears to be particularly strong; in some of the more isolated countries of the area it may mature only after major reforms have occurred and a new sense of self-confidence develops.

14. Rivalries and tensions within the area. Historically, the Caribbean area has been rife with personal feuds and petty tensions between states. Conspiracies and revolts against some leaders or countries have been organized, armed, and initiated on the soil of others. Combinations and alignments have been developed among groups of countries or leaders against others. We believe this kind of activity will continue in the years ahead, although it may take a somewhat different form than in the past. The pace of social, economic, and political change will not be uniform. Oligarchs cut off from power in one state may move to others and may receive aid and comfort in their plots to reassume control at home. Similarly, frustrated revolutionists will, as in the past few years, use asylum in sympathetic countries to organize and plan revolutions in their home countries. While the form may be the same as in the past, the ultimate stakes will not be personal power so much as the social and economic structure of the nation itself.

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