Military

 


U.S. Policy In Central America: Time For Decisive Action

AUTHOR Major J. M. Hughes, USMC

CSC 1989

SUBJECT AREA - Foreign Policy

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

U.S. POLICY IN CENTRAL AMERICA:

TIME FOR DECISIVE ACTION

I. Purpose: To show that the Marxist government of

Nicaragua has had ample opportunities to implement measures

to return to democracy.

II. Problem: Central American countries are vital to

America's national defense; yet our national strategy lacks

a feasible plan for protecting democracy and its future in

Central America.

III. Data: The importance of Central America and the

adjoining Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea is of extreme

importance to the United States, let alone the Western

Hemisphere. Nicaragua itself has strategic importance by

possessing at least one port on each coast capable of

handling merchant, cargo, tanker, and/or roll-on, roll-off

vessels. By becoming the only Central American nation with

a military designed for offensive purposes, Nicaragua

threatens its democratic neighbors and democracy itself in

Central America. Since taking power 10 years ago, the

Marxist Sandinistas have made public statements promising to

return to democracy but have yet to begin to take the first

steps toward that goal. Massive amounts of aid from the

Soviet Union and other Communist/anti-American governments

has allowed Nicaragua to become a potent and visible threat

to the region. Despite Nicaragua's broken promises and the

infusion of military equipment and weapons well beyond their

defensive needs, the U.S. has still to annunciate a firm

policy towards the Sandinistas.

IV. Conclusions: The United States must take immediate and

decisive steps to thwart the growing threat in Marxist

Nicaragua. We must support the cause of freedom and

democracy in Nicaragua and Central America-- for freedom once

lost, is rarely regained.

V. Recommendation: None.


U.S. POLICY IN CENTRAL AMERICA: TIME FOR DECISIVE ACTION

OUTLINE

THESIS STATEMENT: Central American countries are vital to

America's national defense; yet our national strategy lacks

a feasible plan for protecting democracy and its future in

Central America.

I. Importance of Central America, Gulf of Mexico,

Caribbean Sea

A. Principal route to Europe for NATO reinforcement

of U.S. troops, supplies

B. Half of U.S. imports/exports transported through

Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea

C. 2 out of 3 ships transiting Panama Canal carry

goods to or from U.S.

D. More than half of imported petroleum required by

U.S. passes through Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea

E. Nicaragua has two strategic ports; one on each

coast

II. Communist/anti-U.S. governments aid Nicaragua

A. Provide millions of dollars in military aid,

equipment

B. Also send advisors

III. Why should U.S. be concerned with Nicaragua?

A. Marxist government antithesis to democratic

Central American governments

B. Massive military buildup far beyond its defensive

needs

C. Sandinistas encouraging assassination/terrorism in

other countries

IV. Benefits of Marxist Sandinista government

A. Inflation soaring-past 30,000 percent

B. Currency was 11 to one dollar, now at 4.2 million

to one dollar

C. Harassment of citizens because of Christian faith

D. Intimidation


V. U.S. provided economic aid when Sandinistas came to

power in 1979

A. Supported efforts to replace Somoza

B. Provided $25 million in emergency food and medical

aid

C. Offered assistance relevant to development of

democratic institutions

D. Supported Nicaragua's request for loans from

international institutions

VI. Sandinistas have had opportunity to make democratic

reforms

A. Organization of American States promise

B. 1984 "Arias Plan"

C. 1988 Esquipulas II accords

VII. Freedom fighters looked towards U.S. as ally

A. U.S. has dismal record of supporting third

country allies

B. Cuba, Iran, Vietnam, People's Republic of China

VIII. Questions remain

A. Will Bush administration show political courage?

l. Humanitarian aid

2. Military aid

B. Will Congress support bill for humanitarian

and/or military aid?

C. Will U.S. support freedom in Central America?

l. History will judge

2. Freedom once lost is rarely regained


U.S. POLICY IN CENTRAL AMERICA: TIME FOR DECISIVE ACTION

Since President Bush's inauguration on January 2, 1989,

he has had to deal with many crisis on the national and

international fronts. But there is one crisis which

forebodes long-term trouble, needs immediate attention, and

decisive action: Nicaragua. Central American countries are

vital to America's national defense; yet our national

strategy lacks a feasible plan for protecting democracy and

its future in Central America.

The importance of Central America and the adjoining Gulf

of Mexico and Caribbean Sea is of extreme importance to the

United States, let alone the Western Hemisphere.

For example, the narrow straits of Florida, which pass

by Cuba and are considered the strategic crossroads of the

Western Hemisphere, would be the principal route to Europe

of U.S. troop and supply ships carrying 60% of the

reinforcements and resupplies to NATO during a European

emergency. About half of U.S. imports and exports are

transported through these waters, and two out of ever three

ships transiting the Panama Canal carry goods to or from the

United States. More than half of the imported petroleum

required by the United States passes through these waters.1


Nicaragua itself has strategic importance by possessing

at least one port on each coast capable of handling

merchant, cargo, tanker, and/or roll-on, roll-off (RO/RO)

vessels. Corinton, located on the Pacific side of

Nicaragua, can accommodate conventional merchant/cargo ships

and RO/RO vessels. The main pier is 380 meters long and the

port can accommodate ships up to 20,000 dead weight tons.

The port is large enough to allow the largest Soviet surface

combatants (the KIEV-class V/STOL carrier) to dock. Corinto

could also accommodate limited numbers of Soviet missile or

attack submarines, together with submarine support ships.2

El Bluff, located on the Atlantic/Caribbean side of

Nicaragua, can accommodate limited numbers of cargo, tanker

and RO/R0 vessels. The Sandinistas are in the process of

adding two new wharves of 180 and 200 meters in length.

When complete, the port will be able to accommodate vessels

of up to 25,000 dead weight tons. Cargo handling facilities

will include R0/R0 ramps and liquid cargo handling

equipment. The port can now accommodate limited numbers of

Soviet frigates and smaller vessels, including patrol boats

and intelligence collectors, but probably not submarines.3

Rama, located up river from El Bluff, serves as the way

station and distribution point for goods received at El


Bluff destined for the interior of Nicaragua. Rama can

accommodate limited numbers of cargo and R0/R0 vessels and

could accommodate Soviet frigates and smaller vessels, but

not submarines.4

Turning to their airfield capabilities, the

Sandinistas, with Cuban assistance in 1982, began

constructing the Punta Huete airfield. With its 10,000

foot runway, Punta Huete can accommodate any aircraft in

the Soviet inventory. Soviet reconnaissance planes flying

out of Punta Huete would be able to fly missions along the

U.S. Pacific Coast just as they now reconnoiter the U.S.

Atlantic Coast from Cuba.5 (For airfields capable of

supporting military operations by fixed wing aircraft and

helicopters, see Figure 1.)

All Soviet tactical fighter-bombers, intermediate-range

bombers and long-range bombers could use Nicaraguan

airfields, although some aircraft would be restricted to

use of those airfields with runways over 6,500 feet in

length. No aircraft in the current Nicaraguan inventory is

capable of flying combat missions against targets in the

U.S. If introduced into Nicaragua, Soviet tactical

fighter-bombers could attack targets in the Central

American and Caribbean area, including the Panama Canal,


the Gulf of Mexico and south Atlantic sea lanes.6

Soviet intermediate-range or long-range bombers

operating from Nicaragua would threaten the continental

United States, with the combat radius of the TU-95 Bear

covering all of North America. (See Figure 2, "Soviet

Aircraft Characteristics.") The potential for Soviet

military use of Nicaragua complicates U.S. defense

planning. In a crisis situation the United States could be

compelled to divert resources to counter such a

possibility. 7

If any nation has understood the strategic importance of

Central America and its surrounding waters, it has been the

Soviet Union.

In 1984 the United States Ambassador to the United

Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick, wrote, "By 1957 the Soviet

theoretical journals were writing about opportunities for

tying down the United States in the western hemisphere and

rendering us less able to act in such remote places as

Europe and Asia." 8

The Soviets have basically acknowledged the strategic

importance of Nicaragua. Within months of the Sandanista

regime establishing itself, they began receiving military

aid form the Soviet Bloc in the amount of $10 million


dollars. Since then, the Sandinistas have received a total

of 143,800 metric tons of military equipment with an

estimated value of almost $2.7 billion U.S. dollars from

Soviet bloc nations.9

Known Communist and/or anti-U.S. governments which have

provided military and economic assistance to the Sandinistas

include not only the Soviet Union but the following

countries: Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Cuba, Vietnam, East

Germany, Poland, Romania, Peoples Republic of China, Libya,

PLO, and North Korea.10 Additionally, a spokesman for the

Soviet Foreign Ministry said that Moscow has no plans to

reduce or suspend millions of dollars in military aid to the

Sandinistas. The Soviets also deny any move on their part

to reduce arms shipments form Moscow to Nicaragua.11

Along with money, some of the above listed countries

send advisors to support the Sandinista military

establishment, principally in the fields of combat arms,

intelligence, internal security and

supply/maintenance/logistics functions. The Cuban advisor

effort (about 1,000-1,500) is the largest: the Soviet Union

provides 50-75 advisors with another 200+ coming from the