Fact Sheet

Cuba Overview

Cuba Overview

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Cuba is not known to have nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons programs, and is a participant in many of the major nonproliferation treaties and regimes. Gradual rapprochement with the United States appears to be slowly ending Cuba’s longtime economic and diplomatic isolation. It is unclear how this will affect the country’s future policies.

Fidel Castro spearheaded a revolution that removed President Fulgencio Batista from power in 1958. Relations between the United States and Cuba deteriorated soon thereafter, and in 1961, the United States officially severed diplomatic relations with Cuba. Additionally, the United States influenced the decision to dismiss Cuba from the Organization of American States in January of 1962, and imposed a total trade embargo on Cuba a month later. The 1996 Helms-Burton Act strengthened the embargo and included provisions to prevent states from helping Cuba finance the construction of nuclear power plants. 1

The Obama administration has significantly changed the direction of U.S.-Cuban relations. Prisoner exchanges and the easing of restrictions on travel, banking, and remittances in late 2014 set the stage for growing rapprochement between the two countries. President Obama and President Castro met at the April 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama for the first formal talks between U.S. and Cuban leaders in over 50 years. 2 The United States then proceeded to remove Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, a designation that has been in place since 1982 due to the country’s support of communist rebels in Africa and Latin America. 3 The restoration of full diplomatic relations and the reopening of embassies followed. 4 President Obama visited Cuba in 2016 after lifting more restrictions on travel and commerce. While executive actions have eased sanctions, fully repealing the embargo would require Congressional approval, which seems unlikely. 5


Cuba does not possess nuclear weapons, and is not known to be pursuing them. In 2002, Havana acceded to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), ratified the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco), and deposited an Additional Protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In the 1980s, Cuba raised international safety and proliferation concerns with the construction of the Jurangua nuclear power plant in the south-central province of Cienfuegos, approximately 180 miles south of Key West, Florida. The project commenced in 1976 when the Soviet Union and Cuba signed a formal agreement to build two 440-megawatt pressurized water reactors to provide electricity for Cuba’s growing energy needs. Construction began in 1983 and was suspended in 1992 due to the termination of Soviet financial aid to Cuba after the collapse of the USSR. Cuba and Russia failed to find international financing to revive the project and on January 17, 1997, then Cuban President Fidel Castro announced its “indefinite postponement”. Russia retained interest in completing the nuclear plant until December 2000 when President Putin visited Cuba and was told by President Castro that Cuba was no longer interested in completing the twin 440-megawatt reactor plant. 6


While there have been numerous past allegations concerning a Cuban secret biological warfare program, these allegations remain unsubstantiated. Cuba signed the Biological and Toxin Convention (BTWC) in 1972 and ratified it in 1976.

Since approximately 1981, Cuba has developed a powerful biotechnology capability, which is possibly the most advanced among developing countries. Certainly, Cuba’s biotechnological and medical industries are the largest and most sophisticated in Latin America, as demonstrated by its large-scale production of pharmaceuticals and vaccines. This capability is being used to develop and produce products for export, and the income from these exports might be larger than all other income-generating endeavors, with the exception of sugar and tourism.


Cuba has never been known to possess chemical weapons; it signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993 and ratified it in 1997.


Cuba is not suspected of having acquired or produced long-range ballistic missiles.

In October 1962, Cuba was the stage for the most dangerous confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In May 1962, Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev secretly began deploying R-12 Dvina (GRAU: 8K63; NATO: SS-4 Sandal) medium range ballistic missiles (MRBM) to Cuba as a means to counter the U.S. lead in strategic missiles and protect Cuba from an U.S.-sponsored invasion. Presented with photographic evidence of missile installations under construction, President John Kennedy chose naval blockade as the course of action against Soviet ships. The strategy proved to be successful and on October 28, Khrushchev announced that he would dismantle the installations, expressing his trust that the United States would not invade Cuba. 7 Unbeknownst to the United States at the time, Khrushchev had also transferred almost 100 tactical nuclear weapons to Cuba, including 80 nuclear-armed Front Cruise Missiles (FKR-1; NATO: SSC-2A); 12 nuclear warheads on Luna (GRAU: 2K6; NATO: FROG-3/5) short-range artillery rockets; and 6 nuclear bombs for IL-28 bombers. These weapons were also removed in the wake of the crisis, even though they were not part of the negotiations. 8 The Soviet Union intended to deploy R-14 Chusovaya (GRAU: 8K65; NATO: SS-5 Skean) intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBM) on the island; however, the U.S. blockade prevented the missiles from reaching Cuba.

Cuba has allegedly helped North Korea dodge sanctions impeding that country’s import and export of missile technologies in the past. In July 2013, the North Korean armed forces’ chief of staff met with Cuban military leaders and president Raúl Castro. 9 Shortly thereafter, Panamanian authorities intercepted a North Korean ship travelling from Cuba carrying 240 metric tons of military equipment, including one S-75M Volga (NATO: SA-2 Guideline) and one S-125 Pechora (NATO: SA-3 Goa) anti-aircraft missile complex, nine missiles in parts and spares, two MiG-21bis fighter jets; and 15 motors for the MiGs. The Cuban Foreign Ministry issued a statement claiming the equipment was being sent to North Korea for upgrades, and that the North Koreans would have returned the equipment to Cuba. 10 The international community has not intercepted further weapons shipments since 2013, but trade linkages between North Korea and Cuba remain strong despite Cuba’s warming relationship with the United States. 11

In 2014, the United States inadvertently shipped one of its Hellfire anti-tank missiles to Cuba. While there are concerns that Cuba may have shared intelligence about U.S. military technology with Russia and/or North Korea, the Cuban government returned the missile to the United States in 2016 as the two countries worked toward restoring diplomatic relations. 12

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Nonproliferation: Measures to prevent the spread of biological, chemical, and/or nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. See entry for Proliferation.
Nuclear power plant
Nuclear power plant: A facility that generates electricity using a nuclear reactor as its heat source to provide steam to a turbine generator.
Punitive measures, for example economic in nature, implemented in response to a state's violation of its international obligations.
Nuclear weapon
Nuclear weapon: A device that releases nuclear energy in an explosive manner as the result of nuclear chain reactions involving fission, or fission and fusion, of atomic nuclei. Such weapons are also sometimes referred to as atomic bombs (a fission-based weapon); or boosted fission weapons (a fission-based weapon deriving a slightly higher yield from a small fusion reaction); or hydrogen bombs/thermonuclear weapons (a weapon deriving a significant portion of its energy from fusion reactions).
Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)
The NPT: Signed in 1968, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is the most widely adhered-to international security agreement. The “three pillars” of the NPT are nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Article VI of the NPT commits states possessing nuclear weapons to negotiate in good faith toward halting the arms race and the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. The Treaty stipulates that non-nuclear-weapon states will not seek to acquire nuclear weapons, and will accept International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards on their nuclear activities, while nuclear weapon states commit not to transfer nuclear weapons to other states. All states have a right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and should assist one another in its development. The NPT provides for conferences of member states to review treaty implementation at five-year intervals. Initially of a 25-year duration, the NPT was extended indefinitely in 1995. For additional information, see the NPT.
Treaty of Tlatelolco
The Treaty of Tlatelolco: This treaty, opened for signature in February 1967, created a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Treaty of Tlatelolco was the first international agreement that aimed to exclude nuclear weapons from an inhabited region of the globe. The member states accept the application of International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards on all their nuclear activities. The treaty also establishes a regional organization, the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America (OPANAL), to supervise treaty implementation and ensure compliance with its provisions. For additional information, see the LANWFZ.
Additional Protocol
The Additional Protocol is a legal document granting the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) complementary inspection authority to that provided in underlying safeguards agreements. The principal aim is to enable the IAEA inspectorate to provide assurance about both declared and possible undeclared activities. Under the Protocol, the IAEA is granted expanded rights of access to information and sites, as well as additional authority to use the most advanced technologies during the verification process. See entry for Information Circular 540.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
IAEA: Founded in 1957 and based in Vienna, Austria, the IAEA is an autonomous international organization in the United Nations system. The Agency’s mandate is the promotion of peaceful uses of nuclear energy, technical assistance in this area, and verification that nuclear materials and technology stay in peaceful use. Article III of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires non-nuclear weapon states party to the NPT to accept safeguards administered by the IAEA. The IAEA consists of three principal organs: the General Conference (of member states); the Board of Governors; and the Secretariat. For additional information, see the IAEA.
Nuclear power plant
Nuclear power plant: A facility that generates electricity using a nuclear reactor as its heat source to provide steam to a turbine generator.
Biological weapon (BW)
Biological weapons use microorganisms and natural toxins to produce disease in humans, animals, or plants.  Biological weapons can be derived from: bacteria (anthrax, plague, tularemia); viruses (smallpox, viral hemorrhagic fevers); rickettsia (Q fever and epidemic typhus); biological toxins (botulinum toxin, staphylococcus enterotoxin B); and fungi (San Joaquin Valley fever, mycotoxins). These agents can be deployed as biological weapons when paired with a delivery system, such as a missile or aerosol device.
Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC)
The BTWC: The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction (BTWC) prohibits the development, production, or stockpiling of bacteriological and toxin weapons. Countries must destroy or divert to peaceful purposes all agents, toxins, weapons, equipment, and means of delivery within nine months after the entry into force of the convention. The BTWC was opened for signature on April 10, 1972, and entered into force on March 26, 1975. In 1994, the BTWC member states created the Ad Hoc Group to negotiate a legally binding BTWC Protocol that would help deter violations of the BTWC. The draft protocol outlines a monitoring regime that would require declarations of dual-use activities and facilities, routine visits to declared facilities, and short-notice challenge investigations. For additional information, see the BTWC.
Ratification: The implementation of the formal process established by a country to legally bind its government to a treaty, such as approval by a parliament. In the United States, treaty ratification requires approval by the president after he or she has received the advice and consent of two-thirds of the Senate. Following ratification, a country submits the requisite legal instrument to the treaty’s depository governments Procedures to ratify a treaty follow its signature.

See entries for Entry into force and Signature.
Chemical Weapon (CW)
The CW: The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons defines a chemical weapon as any of the following: 1) a toxic chemical or its precursors; 2) a munition specifically designed to deliver a toxic chemical; or 3) any equipment specifically designed for use with toxic chemicals or munitions. Toxic chemical agents are gaseous, liquid, or solid chemical substances that use their toxic properties to cause death or severe harm to humans, animals, and/or plants. Chemical weapons include blister, nerve, choking, and blood agents, as well as non-lethal incapacitating agents and riot-control agents. Historically, chemical weapons have been the most widely used and widely proliferated weapon of mass destruction.
Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)
The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) requires each state party to declare and destroy all the chemical weapons (CW) and CW production facilities it possesses, or that are located in any place under its jurisdiction or control, as well as any CW it abandoned on the territory of another state. The CWC was opened for signature on 13 January 1993, and entered into force on 29 April 1997. For additional information, see the CWC.
Ballistic missile
A delivery vehicle powered by a liquid or solid fueled rocket that primarily travels in a ballistic (free-fall) trajectory.  The flight of a ballistic missile includes three phases: 1) boost phase, where the rocket generates thrust to launch the missile into flight; 2) midcourse phase, where the missile coasts in an arc under the influence of gravity; and 3) terminal phase, in which the missile descends towards its target.  Ballistic missiles can be characterized by three key parameters - range, payload, and Circular Error Probable (CEP), or targeting precision.  Ballistic missiles are primarily intended for use against ground targets.
The positioning of military forces – conventional and/or nuclear – in conjunction with military planning.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a military alliance that was formed in 1949 to help deter the Soviet Union from attacking Europe. The Alliance is based on the North Atlantic Treaty, which was signed in Washington on 4 April 1949. The treaty originally created an alliance of 10 European and two North American independent states, but today NATO has 28 members who have committed to maintaining and developing their defense capabilities, to consulting on issues of mutual security concern, and to the principle of collective self-defense. NATO is also engaged in out-of-area security operations, most notably in Afghanistan, where Alliance forces operate alongside other non-NATO countries as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). For additional information, see NATO.
Dismantlement: Taking apart a weapon, facility, or other item so that it is no longer functional.
Tactical nuclear weapons
Short-range nuclear weapons, such as artillery shells, bombs, and short-range missiles, deployed for use in battlefield operations.


  1. U.S. Congress, “Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996,” U.S. Treasury Department Resource Center, 1996, www.treasury.gov.
  2. Danielle Renwick and Brianna Lee, "U.S.-Cuba Relations," Council on Foreign Relations, 15 April 2015.
  3. Julie Davis, “U.S. Removes Cuba From State-Sponsored Terrorism List,” The New York Times, 29 May 2015, www.nytimes.com.
  4. Karen DeYoung, “Cuba and U.S. Quietly Restore Full Diplomatic Ties After 5 Decades,” The Washington Post, 20 July 2015, www.washingtonpost.com.
  5. Danielle Renwick, “U.S.-Cuba Relations,” CFR, 24 March 2016, www.cfr.org.
  6. Patrick E. Tyler, "Cuba and Russia Abandon Nuclear Plant, an Unfinished Vestige of the Soviet Era," New York Times, December 18, 2000, www.lexisnexis.com.
  7. "Cold War: Cuban Missile Crisis," Revelations from Russian Archives, Library of Congress, www.loc.gov; Laurence Chang and Peter Kornbluh, "The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962," The National Security Archive, George Washington University, www.gwu.edu and "Cordon of Steel The U.S. Navy and the Cuban Missile Crisis," Department of the Navy, Naval Historic Center, www.history.navy.mil.
  8. Svetlana Savranskaya, "Cuba Almost Became a Nuclear Power in 1962," Foreign Policy, 10 October 2012.
  9. "Raul Castro Greets North Korean Military Delegation," ACN (Cuban News Agency), 2 July 2013.
  10. James Hardy, "Cuba confirms ownership of materiel found on North Korean ship," IHS Jane's 360, 16 July 2013; "Declaración del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores," ACN (Cuban News Agency), 16 July 2013.
  11. Samuel Ramani, “The North Korea-Cuba Connection,” The Diplomat, 7 June 2016, www.thediplomat.com.
  12. “Cuba Returns to the US ‘Wrongly Shipped’ Hellfire Missile,” BBC, 13 February 2016, www.bbc.com.


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