Is the world once again in the grip of the Cold War?

The Cuban Missile Crisis erupted when the United States learnt that the Soviet Union intended to station nuclear missiles on Cuban soil, which is only 90 miles from Florida’s territory.

To prevent missiles from reaching Cuba, the United States imposed a naval blockade on the island.

In a speech broadcast on October 22, 1962, President John F. Kennedy informed the American public about the missiles and explained his decision to establish a naval blockade on Cuba. He declared that his administration will use military force to eliminate this “threat to national security” if necessary. The nuclear weapons of the United States and the Soviet Union were then activated.

At the moment, the globe was on the precipice of war.

After 13 days of arduous bargaining, Kennedy and the Soviet Union’s then-leader, Nikita Khrushchev, negotiated an agreement to defuse tensions. In exchange for Washington’s assurances to remove US nuclear missiles from Turkish territory near Russia and to desist from invading Cuba in the future, Moscow promised to withdraw its armaments.

Since its socialist revolution, which was victorious in 1959, Cuba has faced enmity from Washington. It was led by Fidel Castro and aimed to destabilise a government sympathetic to the United States. Cuba is still governed by a communist government, and Washington sanctions imposed in the 1960s remain in place.

Chinese spy station in Cuba
A Wall Street Journal claim that China will offer Cuba billions of dollars in exchange for the construction of a “secret Chinese spy base” reminded me of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis between the United States of America (US) and the former Soviet Union.

Despite China and Cuba’s official denials that China has a spy station there, US officials have confirmed that the site has been functioning since at least 2019 and that talks are presently underway to improve and expand it.

Monroe’s Doctrine
The Monroe Doctrine was founded by the United States in 1832, and it came to mean that foreign powers should not interfere in internal issues in the Western Hemisphere (North, Central, and South America).

Despite forming a quadruple strategic alliance with Japan, India, and Australia, as well as a strong alliance with Japan and South Korea and the right to use military bases in the Philippines, Washington has yet to respond to Beijing’s allegations that it is planning to militarily encircle the country.

The network of US friends in China’s region enables the deployment of tens of thousands of US soldiers, hundreds of boats, and aerial bombers near to Chinese territory.

During his speech at a security forum in Singapore, Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu scolded the US and ordered it to mind its own business. “The best way to prevent an incident is for American military ships and planes not to approach our waters and airspace,” he said.

During a press conference, Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stated that “the Biden administration is trying to legitimise its reconnaissance missions and espionage activities around China’s territorial waters and airspace by making accusations that are actually baseless.”

Gameplay guidelines
According to Wenbin, if China decides to set up a surveillance centre in Cuba to spy on the US in the future, it will do so in full compliance with international law and the rules of the big powers’ common game.

As long as the Cuban government agrees, the US has no jurisdiction to make accusations. “The United States has established numerous military bases and intelligence organisations near China, and China has yet to take comparable steps to station its soldiers near American territory,” the speaker concluded.

Lourdes Foundation
The greatest comparable is the “Lourdes base,” an eavesdropping and surveillance station that the Soviet Union and later Russia operated in Cuba for many years.

The station, located outside of Havana, was one of Moscow’s most important overseas intelligence operations during and after the Cold War. Moscow pays Cuba hundreds of millions of dollars every year in exchange for permitting the Soviets to intercept a wide range of American radio and telecommunications broadcasts. As a result, they gained important knowledge, but the Soviet Union’s final demise was unavoidable.

The complex employed about 1,500 KGB, GRU, Cuban DGI, and Eastern Bloc technicians, engineers, and intelligence operatives during the Cold War.

The US government has long suspected that China is gathering intelligence in this hamlet that once held Soviet nuclear warheads.

The US believes the little-known outpost, located just 116 miles (187 km) from Key West, Florida, is used to collect US electronic communications, according to a November 2022 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) paper.

China’s Communist Party maintains a physical presence at Soviet-era espionage stations at Bejucal in what looks to be a signals intelligence collection operation.

The facility’s announcement comes at a time when Washington is witnessing a significant escalation of Chinese threats and strategic competition with Beijing, as well as the US’s sustained animosity and sanctions imposed on Cuba more than six decades ago.

The relationship between the two countries only hit rock bottom last year, when then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, which Beijing considers Chinese territory.

The visit, the first by a House speaker since Newt Gingrich in 1997, prompted China to launch military drills around Taiwan and routinely violate its airspace.

Tensions between the two countries rose when the US shot down a Chinese spy balloon that had infiltrated US territory earlier this year. In two separate incidents in recent weeks, a Chinese warship and an American destroyer came dangerously close to colliding in the Taiwan Strait.

The two vessels are only 150 metres apart, which is incredibly close given their size.

A few days before, another important aviation incident occurred when an American surveillance plane nearly crashed with a Chinese plane that had obstructed its path over the South China Sea.

And, in response to the question presented at the opening of the essay, I would argue that we have never truly exited the Cold War context.

This post was written by Mario Bekes