Written by Ayan Islam
The U.S. and Cuba share a distinct commonality that cannot be denied – the pursuit to maintain their respective national sovereignty and security interests. Both countries recognize the value of normalized relations in light of ever-changing security issues, such as migration, trafficking, counter narcotics, and more. Moreover, both nations seek cooperation for enhanced military and security information sharing to tackle sensitive security risks.
Although each country interprets and accepts international law under varying circumstances, national sovereignty constantly trumps the conflict that inherently exists between international law and national sovereignty. Until the U.S. and Cuba have an appreciation of the nuances of their distinctive legal and operational systems, as well as their distinct viewpoints on international law versus national sovereignty, issues could arise in the efforts toward improved security cooperation.
For example, the Founding Fathers historically recognized the importance of asserting national sovereignty; particularly once the U.S. had gained independence from England. The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677 (1900), is a prime example of the U.S. exercising the basis of its Constitution, Article III, Section II of the U.S. Constitution, in relation to international law, and protecting U.S. sovereign rights by having the judicial branch determine the outcome of a foreign claim. Whereas the Cuban legal system, in contrast, relies heavily on domestic statutes and gives weight to international law for foreign claims, as long as international law does not conflict with national sovereignty. While Cuba and most nations have a fundamental understanding of our rule of law, thanks to precedents like Paquete Habana, there are expressed knowledge gaps with regard to Cuba’s rule of law system and vice versa for Cuba’s detailed knowledge of our system.
With Cuba being an unmonitored zone close to the U.S. and would serve as a critical ally in the war against drug and human trafficking, there is an increased imperative to further the cooperation between the two nations who mutually share security interests. This begs a fundamental question – how can Cuba and the U.S. navigate the legal and political differences arising from matters that touch on national sovereignty and self-preservation while furthering security cooperation? More specifically, how can there be mutually agreed upon approaches to various types of security matters when issues such as economic reparations (from Cuban Americans on seized property and Cubans on the embargo), the closing of Guantanamo Bay, and many other disputes, are constantly present?
With the president’s term coming to a close, only time will tell whether there will be continued normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations to foster security cooperation and information sharing processes that could be impeded by the current lack of information exchange. The need to possess an understanding of the divergent operational and legal systems is a necessary strategy in U.S.-Cuba relations and national security.