Cuba in a Global Context: International Relations, Internationalism, and Transnationalism

By Catherine Krull | Go to book overview

1
Disaster, Disease, and Environmental Degradation
U.S.-Cuban Cooperation as a Bridge to Reconciliation

WILLIAM M. LEOGRANDE AND MARGUERITE ROSE JIMÉNEZ

How do countries locked in a cycle of hostility lasting half a century move toward reconciliation? One answer, suggested by scholars and practitioners alike, is through gradual, incremental steps. During the Cold War, international relations scholars seeking to de-escalate the arms race recommended confidence-building measures—actions designed to reduce uncertainty about how adversaries behave toward one another and to increase confidence that their behavior will be benign. Although applied most often in the security realm, the logic applies equally well to any area in which adversaries have the potential to harm one another.

Charles Osgood’s theory of “graduated and reciprocated initiatives in tension reduction” (GRIT for short) posits a positive-feedback model of confidence building. A conflict can be de-escalated by one side taking the initiative to make a low-cost concession and communicating an expectation that the adversary should respond with a quid pro quo. If this process is successful, a series of reciprocal concessions, or a “peace spiral,” can be set in motion, with each step more substantial than its predecessor, leading to a significant dissipation of hostility.1

A related idea, albeit more narrowly focused, is the concept of disaster diplomacy, which posits that cooperation on disaster prevention and relief can build bonds of trust between adversaries, leading to reconciliation. Disasters tend to elicit humanitarian empathy by reminding us that we are all vulnerable in the face of catastrophe, and they create an opportunity for cooperation.2 There is no inherent reason why this dynamic should be limited to disasters. Any cooperation on issues of mutual interest ought potentially to set in motion the same dynamic of trust building.

Over the years policymakers in both Havana and Washington have shared the presumption that negotiations on small, narrow issues might lead to a diplomatic breakthrough. In 1977, when President Jimmy Carter issued Presiden

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