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March 1, 2021

What does Fidel Castro know?

A question numerous experts are still trying to give an answer to is: Will North-Korea wage war? Last week, the country raised the bar in the nuclear crisis even higher, involving not just the smaller or bigger local actors, but the entire international community. It is obvious that a war starting there, even conventionally, carries the risk of turning into a nuclear holocaust. In order to get the full size of the threat, one needs to note that Pyongyang not only announced it considered itself as being at war and alerted its armed forces, but also moved its intermediate-range ballistic missiles to the Eastern part of its territory, with the intention of making its threat credible to US army bases in Japan and the Pacific.

On the other hand, voices can be heard in the US saying pressure should be put to speed up the collapse of the North-Korean communist regime, which is quite understandable after its irresponsible conduct in the international arena not just in the context of the current crisis, but also in the last few years since it embarked on its nuclear adventure.

But this probability itself – the collapse of the North-Korean regime as a result of the international pressure – raises questions as it would pose some huge problems. An American expert with the  Brookings Institution, reviewing probable scenarios for the end of the North-Korean regime, comes to the conclusion that the matter is extraordinarily complex, much more than the preparation of a PK mission, as there are very complicated possibility of development: competition for succession to the leadership of the state between the various post-communist factions with the involvement of parts of the North-Korean army; subsequent political and economic anarchy; huge waves of refugees to neighbouring countries where they may cause major housing, food as well as security crises; installation of the South-Korean army’s control over North Korea would take a long time, and surprises are not excluded; a huge effort required under the circumstances for keeping the nuclear arsenal secure and avoid any surprises.

Of the multitude of studies and analyses published in the international mass media on the crisis, probable developments and consequences, there is one that draws attention in particular – by Cuba’s communist leader Fidel Castro (he gave the supreme power to his younger brother a few years ago, because of his poor health). The attention to the content of that article comes – at least as far as I am concerned, from two reasons. On the one hand, the Cuban leader was one of the protagonists of a similar crisis – by comparison virtually equal in respect of the risk of a nuclear holocaust – in the Cold War period: the October 1962 .missile crisis’. That on involved the two super-powers, the USA and the USSR, but also Cuba, where the Soviets had deployed some 45 nuclear warhead missiles of its own arsenal of over 300 such vectors. On the other hand, Castro is, no doubt, one of the most experienced connoisseurs of the mechanisms of the tools of a totalitarian communist regime, mainly when it comes to supreme decisions, and the communication between communist leaders even today has very subtle channels and networks of information, relevant to those who are familiar with it. In brief, Castro is one of the best diagnosticians of the way in which this crisis could end., both as an actor of a similar crisis that took place forty years ago and as a communist leader who, until recently had held the supreme power, similar to his North-North Korean ally. The fact that the only guarantor (counting ally) of Cuba in the 1962 was USSR and that Pyongyang’s one today is China adds to Castro’s diagnostician quality even a higher value. Castro is an ally of the North-Korean regime – something he openly admits to in his article – however not one tat could decisively determine its decision. Castro’s position published on April 5 by the communist newspapers in Cuba happens after almost 10 months of ‘silence’, which could be an indication as to his perception of the urgency of what he felt he had to communicate.At least based on what we now know on the Cuba missile crisis of October 1962, Castro seems to have been one of the major decision-makers on the Soviet-Cuban side that chose an eventual beginning of hostilities with the USA, therefore the maximum possibility of having a nuclear Armageddon as an alternative to what he believed to be a surrender. Soviet envoy A. Mikoyan, tasked by the USSR leadership in November 1962 with letting Castro know about the withdrawal of the nuclear missiles from Cuba had to invent convincing arguments to cause him to change his view. A detailed proved by documents needs to be remembered: when Castro suspected the withdrawal was part of a Soviet-American deal at the expense of Cuba, he insisted that the Soviet nuclear missiles should stay. His insistence for keeping and deciding on how to use them made Mikoyan overstep the boundaries of his mandate. During a four-hour discussion with Castro, on November 22, 1962, Mikoyan invoked an allegedly secret Soviet law that never existed in reality which – he claimed – did not allow the transfer of nuclear missiles into foreign hands, not even Castro’s. That was the only argument that convinced Castro to obey and that avoided an escalation of the crisis between the two super-powers.In his message published on April 5, 2013, Castro is sending a very direct signal to the North Korean leader, calling to prudence and advocating peace: ‘Now that you have demonstrated your technical and scientific advances, we remind you of your duty to the countries that have been your great friends, and it would not be fair to forget that such a war would affect … more than 70 percent of the planet’s population’, Castro states.

He also has a similar message for the American President: ‘President Barack Obama’s government ‘would be buried by a flood of images that would present him as the most sinister figure in US history. The duty to avoid (war) also belongs to him and the people of the United States.’Castro’s emerging out of silence practically shows two things – he fears a war the North Korean leaders suggest would not only devastate his country, but also its allies, which can be understood from the reference to ‘70 per cent of mankind’ and the response in force of the USA would historically charge the Obama Administration with a negative load. But does Castro know the North Korean leader will not hesitate to unleash the nuclear cataclysm and so he’s advising the US to be prudent? Does he know that based on his own experience or does he enjoy credible information? Obviously, from the point of view of the Cuban communist leader, the current crisis in the Korean peninsula is extremely serious for the international security.

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