The Yale Undergraduate Research Journal


In the study of International Relations, there is growing research and consideration of the significance of empathy in political communications and nation-to-nation relationships. This article examines cognitive empathy, the ability to understand the perspectives and feelings of another, in the case of the Cuban Thaw, the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and The United States. It traces President Obama’s use of empathy in publicly communicating intentions towards Cubans and Americans, a rhetoric that marks a contrast from the previous U.S. administrations’ attitudes toward Cuba. This article then analyzes the efficacy of that rhetoric, finding that though there are indications of positive effects, it is difficult to understand the long-term impact of his actions at this time. This case provides context as to the positive transformative power of empathy in IR, and the efficacy of empathetic rhetoric in shifting public attitudes and encouraging cooperation between previously antagonistic nations. Empathy as a tool faces a number of practical limitations, all of which deserve greater research and attention.