40. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Brown) to Secretary of Defense Brown1


  • Defense of the Panama Canal (U)

1. (S) It is the view of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that a new treaty which modernizes the US-Panamanian relationship and provides a basis for development of a friendly relationship between the two countries is of significant importance in insuring that the Panama Canal will continue to be available to the United States when needed.

2. (S) After discussion and review of the US military interests in the Panama Canal, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have determined that the primary military concern is in use of the canal, not ownership. Therefore, as a minimum, in order to provide reasonable assurance that access to and security of the Panama Canal are protected in time of war and peace, the United States and Panama should agree in the new treaty to the following provisions:

a. That the United States will operate and have primary responsibility for the defense of the canal through 1999.

b. That there be established in the treaty a permanent joint US-Panamanian guarantee that, upon termination of the new treaty, the canal will remain open to all world shipping at reasonable tolls, without discrimination, in accordance with specific rules of neutrality agreed to in the guarantee and that Panama would take no action that would hamper the efficient operation of the waterway.

c. That each country commits itself to protect and defend the canal after the termination of US operation.

3. (S) It is critical to safeguarding US security interests that the universally recognized historical precedent that the neutral character of the Panama Canal is defined by treaty rules unique to the waterway be perpetuated.

4. (S) With these minimum acceptable provisions, US military interests should be adequately protected by US defense rights and military presence through 1999, a sufficiently lengthy period of time to assure [Page 145] the formation and institutionalization of the US-Panamanian partnership essential to the long-term US use of the canal. After 1999, legal and political arguments could be made to support a unilateral US intervention in the event any nation, including Panama, threatened the nondiscriminatory operation or security of the canal in time of war or peace.

5. (U) The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that the views stated above be conveyed to the US Negotiators by the Panama Canal Negotiations Working Group in a memorandum substantially like that contained in the Appendix.2

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

George S. Brown
Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files, FRC: 330–80–0017, Panama 821 (Mar-15 July 1977). Secret. A stamped notation on the memorandum reads: “20 May 1977 Sec Def Has Seen.” Brown wrote on the memorandum on May 20: “ISA—Please prepare forwarding + endorsing memo to NSC staff and negotiating team—I understand that the negotiations are in general going in the way JCS suggest, and are close to fruition.” Brown initialed the memorandum.
  2. Appendix attached but not printed. A “Statement of JCS views Concerning the Defense of the Panama Canal” conveying the views stated in the Appendix draft memorandum and in this May 20 memorandum was forwarded to Bunker and Linowitz on June 1 under a covering letter from Dolvin and Ford, who wrote that Defense “supports and endorses the JCS views.” (Washington National Records Center, OSD Files, FRC: 330–80–0017, Panama 821 (Mar-15 July 1977)