181. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Brown to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Panama Canal: Follow-On Issues

As you recall, we discussed at lunch yesterday two issues arising out of the Panama Canal treaties which had previously been agreed upon by Secretary Vance and myself but which the bureaucratic process has kept open for the President’s decision.

The first issue concerns whether the Secretary of the Army, acting under the Secretary of Defense, should have oversight responsibility for [Page 447] the Panama Canal or whether instead the Department of Transportation should have that responsibility. State and Defense, as well as the Department of Commerce, agree that this responsibility should be continued in the Department of Defense where it has been for the duration of the Canal’s existence. Indeed, until this issue was recently raised, both Defense and State have been operating on the premise that the Canal would be a DOD responsibility. That assumption was conveyed on numerous occasions to the Congress in the course of the debate surrounding ratification.2 To change course now would put the treaty implementing legislation at serious risk and would substantially add to the managerial problems of integrating the Canal’s operation and its defense.

The second issue concerns the authority of the Ambassador over the Panama Canal Commission. Secretary Vance and I have long agreed that, even though the Ambassador has a legitimate interest in how the Canal is operated, he should not have operational responsibility over the Panama Canal Commission. Here too the Congress was led to believe during the ratification process that DOD would not only have oversight responsibility over the Canal Commission but also operational control.

I expect you will be able to take appropriate steps to see that these joint views of the Departments of State and Defense are brought to the attention of the President if that is necessary.

Harold Brown
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Trip File, Box 13, President, Panama, 6/16–17/78: Cables and Memos, 5/12/78–6/13/78. No classification marking.
  2. An unknown hand underlined this sentence.