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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

The Cuban Threat to U.S. National Security

(6 May 1998)

Nota Bene: The 22 September 2001 arrest of Ana Belen Montes --  the Defense Intelligence Agency's senior intelligence analyst for Cuba -- raises questions about the assessment of Cuba's military threat to the United States as outlined in the following DIA report. According to the Miami Herald, "After her trip to Cuba in early 1998, Montes helped the Pentagon settle on a reassessment concluding that Cuba was too weak after the fall of the Soviet Union to present a military threat to the United States. Montes' conclusion in the reassessment was toughened up at the Pentagon. "The original version was much softer,'' said a source on a Capitol Hill intelligence committee." See Tim Johnson. "Cuba spy suspect was rising into senior intelligence ranks." The Miami Herald. September 27, 2001.

This report has been prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency in coordination with the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of State Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the National Security Agency, and the United States Southern Command Joint Intelligence Center pursuant to Section 1228 of Public Law No. 105-85, 111 Stat. 1943-44, November 18,1997

Cuban Armed Forces Significantly Weakened

The disintegration of the Soviet bloc in 1989 triggered a profound deterioration of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), transforming the institution from one of the most active militaries in the Third World into a stay-at-home force that has minimal conventional fighting ability.

  • The end of Soviet economic and military subsidies forced Havana to cut the military's size and budget by about 50 percent after 1989.
  • In 1989 Cuba was the largest Latin American military on a per capita basis. Today the FAR is estimated to have about 50,000 to 65,000 regular troops and is comparable on an active duty per capita basis to countries like Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, and El Salvador.
  • Severe resource shortages have forced the FAR to reduce training significantly.
  • A substantial portion of the FAR's military heavy equipment is in storage. Cannibalization of equipment is used sustain active duty equipment and make up for shortages of spare parts.

Economic support and sustainment tasks have become as important as protecting the national territory, further weakening the FAR's conventional capabilities.

  • The FAR must now grow its own food and raise money to pay for some of its own expenses. Significant numbers of active duty forces are devoted to agricultural, business, and manufacturing activities that help feed the troops and generate revenues.
  • The military has also increased the level of economic and social services it provides to the civilian sector. The FAR now supplies more construction, engineering, manufacturing, health, and transportation services than it did in past years.
  • These tasks diminish conventional military training efforts and further weaken the FAR's conventional capabilities.

Residual Strengths

The FAR retains some residual combat support strengths that are essentially defensive in nature.

  • The military's intelligence and counterintelligence systems directed at the United States appear to have suffered little degradation. Cuba has shared intelligence with other countries including U.S. adversaries.
  • Cuba has an agreement with Russia which allows Moscow to maintain a signals intelligence facility at Torrens also known as Lourdes which is the largest such complex outside the Commonwealth of Independent States.
  • Cuba's military early warning radar systems are aging but remain generally intact.
  • The military leadership is combat-experienced and disciplined.


The ground forces remain primarily armor and artillery units. Their readiness level is low due to severely reduced training.

  • The FAR generally is not capable of mounting effective operations above the battalion level.
  • Most equipment is in storage and unavailable on short notice.


The Navy has no capability to sustain operations beyond its territorial waters and focuses on defense of the Cuban coast.

  • Cuba no longer has any functioning submarines in its inventory.
  • Perhaps a little over a dozen of its remaining surface vessels are combat capable.
  • The Navy retains a weak antisurface warfare capability using fast attack boats that carry S-TYX surface-to-surface anti-ship missiles. The Navy also retains an extremely weak antisubmarine warfare capability. The Cuban Navy can pose a more substantial threat to undefended civilian vessels.

Air Force

The Air and Air Defense Forces are now incapable of defending Cuban airspace against large numbers of high-performance military aircraft. Slower or less sophisticated aircraft, however, would be vulnerable to Cuban air and air defense systems.

  • The Air Force probably has less than 2 dozen operational MiG fighters.
  • Pilot training is judged barely adequate to maintain proficiency.
  • Fighter sorties have declined significantly in recent years.
  • Cuba would rely on its surface-to-air missiles (SAM) and its air defense artillery to respond to attacking air forces.

Special Operations Forces

Cuba's special operations units are smaller and less proficient than they were a decade ago, but they can still perform selected military and internal security missions.

  • The FAR retains a battalion-size airborne unit and other special operations forces.
  • Special operations training continues, albeit on a smaller scale than in the past.

Unconventional Forces

Cuba's paramilitary units -- the Territorial Militia Troops, the Youth Labor Army devoted to agricultural production, and the naval militia -- have suffered considerable degradation of morale and training over the last seven years. However, their core personnel still have the potential to make an enemy invasion costly.

Negligible Conventional Military Threat to the United States

Cuba's weak military poses a negligible conventional threat to the U.S. or surrounding countries.

  • The Cubans almost certainly calculate that any attack on U.S. territory or forces would draw a swift, forceful U.S. reaction.
  • Cuba could theoretically threaten small, undefended countries in Latin America. However, such action would run counter to its efforts in recent years to improve relations with neighboring countries. There are no current indications that Cuba would undertake any such action.

Biological Warfare Threat

Cuba's current scientific facilities and expertise could support an offensive BW program in at least the research and development stage. Cuba's biotechnology industry is one of the most advanced in emerging countries and would be capable of producing BW agents.

Threat of Mass Migration Currently Low

The threat of another government-sanctioned mass migration from Cuba is assessed as low as long as domestic political conditions remain stable.

  • The 1994 accord indefinitely permits 20,000 Cubans per year to enter the United States, the largest legal annual number since the U.S. airlifts of 1965-1971. The Cuban government uses such a safety valve to help minimize social tension prompted by the poor economy.
  • The 1995 accord, which provides for the return of illegal migrants to Cuba, also deters many Cubans from leaving unlawfully. The perception by the Cuban populace that Washington can and will repatriate most illegal migrants has sharply reduced the flow of rafters and will remain a key determinant of migration volume.
  • Moreover, mass illegal migration discourages tourism and foreign investor confidence, two factors that Havana--now dependent on dollars from abroad--urgently needs to keep its economy afloat.

Nonetheless, pressures for migrants to flee to the United States despite Cuban and U.S. prohibitions would increase substantially if Cuba's economy--currently growing slowly--resumed a downward spiral, if the government was perceived to relax its position on illegal departures, or in the event of sustained political upheaval.

Potential for Internal Strife

The prospects for widespread civil unrest in Cuba that involves U.S. citizens, residents, or armed forces currently appear to be low.

  • There is undoubtedly widespread desire for greater economic and political freedom and weariness with continuing hardship, deprivation and repression. Nonetheless, relatively few Cubans now appear willing to risk the consequences of pressing for sweeping political changes.

Over the longer term, stability is likely to depend on the circumstances under which Castro leaves the scene. Pressures for change are likely to grow that the regime may find difficult to manage.

Threat of Attacks on U.S. Citizens and Residents

Cuban attacks on U.S. citizens or residents while they are engaged in peaceful protest in international airspace or waters currently appear unlikely.

During exile commemoration ceremonies since Cuba shot down two unarmed U.S. aircraft in international airspace in February 1996, the Cuban government has acted with restraint.


At present, Cuba does not pose a significant military threat to the U.S. or to other countries in the region. Cuba has little motivation to engage in military activity beyond defense of its territory and political system.

Nonetheless, Cuba has a limited capability to engage in some military and intelligence activities which would be detrimental to U.S. interests and which could pose a danger to U.S. citizens under some circumstances.


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