The US-Cuban Thaw: Lessons from Southeast Asia

The title of this post is also the title of a new essay at The Strategic Review. Drawing on the cases of US-Vietnam and US-Myanmar relations, I make two arguments. First, a normative one, about whether normalizing relations with Cuba is a good idea:

For hardheaded realists who prioritize sober calculations of American foreign policy interests…the end of Washington’s unproductive policy of isolating Cuba is long overdue.

And second, an analytical one, about the central role of domestic political change in explaining changing bilateral relations:

changing US foreign policy interests may mean that the costs of isolating adversaries have risen, [but] the proximate impetus for policy changes tends to lie in changes within adversaries’ own governments. Such changes make partnering with the United States more feasible from the adversary’s perspective, and simultaneously more palatable from the American perspective.

That’s right: Raúl Castro, Nguyễn Văn Linh, and Thein Sein each represent a sufficiently different kind of adversary their predecessors Fidel Castro, Trường Chinh, and Than Shwe.