|CONTROLLING THE CANAL|
|Does handing over the Panama Canal pose national security dangers to the United States? William Ratliff of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and John J. Tierney of The Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C., respond to your questions.|
of Chicago, IL, asks:
I think it would be dangerous for the U.S. not to turn the Panama Canal over to Panama. My reasoning is that the U.S. is the most powerful country in the world and must take the lead in promoting international peace.
In turning over the canal to Panama, the U.S. would set an example that states are sovereign within their borders and have the right to control their own destiny. This U.S. gesture of international peace would go farther towards national security than controlling the canal. Is this thinking too naive?
At this point the canal must be turned over to Panama, ideally with much more dignity than we have so far managed. By going ahead with the transfer the United States is indeed setting an example of one way to resolve or at least reduce political tensions between nations. We should remember George Washington's warning that it is foolish "to expect or calculate upon real favor from nation to nation," but it is also foolish to deliberately provoke -- by action or inaction -- bad rather than good relations. In this respect, President Clinton's absence from the formal handover ceremonies at the Miraflores Locks on Dec. 14 was inexcusable. His refusal to attend was further evidence of his administration's ignorance of and indifference to Latin America generally and an example of flagrant domestic political expediency. It sacrificed the long-term political interests of the United States in the region to the short-term interests of a single political party in an election year.
Your question focuses on a very important issue of international relations
that seldom occurs to most Americans as it does to people in other countries.
Turning over the canal according to the treaty would send a very weak
signal about U.S. respect for national sovereignty because during this
past year the Clinton administration so clearly demonstrated its contempt
for such sovereignty by leading a 78-day bombing campaign against sovereign
Yugoslavia. With this event just months behind us -- and repercussions
inevitable for years to come - the handover of the canal as a demonstration
of U.S. respect for national sovereignty would have drawn only snorts
of "Bah, humbug" from most of the world. Still that is no
excuse for Clinton's failure to be in Panama for the transfer; the last
thing we need to do is underline this attitude toward sovereignty.
J. Tierney responds:
J.R., your sentiments are noble but, in your own words, "too naïve."
The transfer of ownership of the Panama Canal may well serve the cause that "states are sovereign within their borders," buy why do you take such great comfort with this phenomenon? Why do you connect sovereignty with "international peace" when sovereign nations have been destroying each other for centuries? Now we have another one, replete with a history of political instability, coup d' etat and extreme nationalism, about to take over the world's chief international waterway.
This may satisfy some emotions, but the issue of sovereign control is obscure to the real problems and Panama will hardly "set an example" in the implementation of sovereign rights. The real issue is strategic: what will happen when the loss of the guiding hand of American power and purpose is felt? Who will fill the vacuum?