The United States and Cuba took definitive steps to end a half-century of animosity and icy relations this holiday season, after reportedly 18 months or so of back-channel discussions between high-level representatives of each country’s presidential administration, as well as the Vatican.  The two countries used the swap of intelligence assets and an American aid worker to move forward in the initial phases of what looks to be an inevitable rapprochement between Cuba and the United States.

As noted in the Washington Post, the secret diplomacy took place largely in Ottawa, Canada, which has friendly relations with Cuba, and with the help of Pope Francis at the Holy See, and revolved around the exchange of intelligence assets being held by each country.  It is no surprise that the talks centered on the intelligence world, as relations between the two countries have largely existed solely in that milieu for decades now, with each country tirelessly trying to keep eyes and ears on the other in order to constantly gauge intentions.

As I briefly argued on back in October, in discussing the need for a new American Grand Strategy, re-establishing ties between the United States and Cuba is in America’s strategic interests for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, the ideological battle between American capitalism and Marxism/communism is as decisively over as that between round- and flat-Earthers.  Can you guess which one represents Marxism/communism?

America need no longer fear a communist country on its doorstep.  Rather, we should fear an isolated, economically disadvantaged neighbor forced to coddle up to Russia, North Korea, and Iran, given that it has no relations with its larger, more prosperous northern neighbor.  In other words, we should not allow an ally of Russia to be 90 miles from our shore, if simple diplomacy can prevent it.

A rapprochement with Cuba gives the United States the ability to begin to shape the country into an American ally — granted, this will take some time — and shift it away from its friendly ties with antagonistic regimes.  This alone makes the effort worth it, if for no other reason.

Re-establishing ties with Cuba will also help the United States more effectively isolate hostile regimes dealing in South and Central America.  America will be able to entice Cuba away from its cozy relations with not only Russia, but Venezuela, in particular, thus decreasing diplomatic support for those two countries (and others, such as Iran and North Korea), who routinely attempt to thwart American diplomatic efforts throughout the world.

An end to American antipathy for Cuba will also benefit our relations with the rest of South and Central America, which largely opposes and sees as antiquated the U.S.-Cuban hostility.  This step will help show our southern neighbors that America has entered a more mature phase in its relations with them, and will give the United States even more diplomatic clout in the region.  It removes a barrier to U.S.-Latin American goodwill and political sympathy.

Finally, and not insignificantly, closer ties between America and Cuba, including the re-opening of the U.S. embassy in Havana, provides the United States with abundant intelligence gathering opportunities against third country intelligence operatives to whom it has been historically difficult to get close.  In other words, if there are Russian, Iranian, North Korean, Venezuelan, Syrian, and Chinese embassies in Cuba, then there are those countries’ intelligence operatives located there, as well.  You can’t dance with a girl if you aren’t allowed to the ball, after all.  A functioning U.S. embassy in Havana will provide all kinds of diplomatic and intelligence opportunities that do not exist today, given the current lack of diplomatic ties.