On Jan. 15, William F. Buckley Jr., Ronald Reagan and an assortment of "advisers" on both sides debated the Panama Canal treaties for two hours on WETA-TV. What follows are excerpts from the remarks of Mr. Buckley, Adm. Elmo Zumwalt (Ret.), Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker, James Burnham and George Will for the affirmative; and Mr. Reagan, Adm. John McCain (Ret.), Roger Fontaine and Patrick Buchanan for the negative.
Buckley: What we are maintaining is that the United States, by signing these treaties, is better off militarily, is better off economically and is better off spiritually.
Why militarily? The question needs to be examined in two parts.
If there is a full-scale atomic war, the Panama Canal will revert to a land mass, and the first survivor who makes his way across the isthmus will relive a historical experience like stour Cortez, when, with eagle eyes, he stared at the Pacific and all his men looked at each other with a wild surmise, silent upon a peak in Darien.
In a situation of hostility short of the exchange of missiles, we would desire mobility through the canal. That mobility is more easily effected if we have the cooperation of the local population. As matters now stand, 75 per cent of the work force in the canal is Panamanian.
It is frequently asserted that the natural economic interest of Panama is sufficient to keep the Panama Canal open and operating. Those who come too readily to that kind of economic reductionism fail to take into account great passions that stir not only in the breasts of members of the Third World, but also in our own.
The same man who built the Panama Canal once spoke of millions for defense but not one cent for tribute. Theodore Roosevelt would not have been surprised by the closing of the Suez Canal in 1967, even though the loss of revenues to Egyptians was roughly comparable over such a loss to Panamanians.
The Panama Canal is responsible for 12 per cent of the gross national product of the Republic of Panama. Subtract 12 per cent and you have 88 per cent left over, plus national pride.
I hope that Gov. Reagan will not tell us tonight that Panamanian pride is not involved in the matter of the treaties. He may tell us that Panamanian pride must, in this case, be subordinated to the national interest. And if he convinces me that the national interest requires the subordination of Panamanian pride, I shall side with him. But he must not tell me that pride does not count. He must not tell us that the Panamanians should not be expected to share those passions which moved Egyptians only a decade ago to undertake huge sacrifices, closing their canal. And he ought not to suggest that American pride is one thing and Panamanian pride quite something else.
I take it, then, that the cooperation of the 2 million people in whose territory the canal lies, whose personnel already do three-quarters of the work required to keep the canal open, is, to put the matter unobtrusively, desirable.
At the same time, I deem it essential . . . that the United States should continue to exercise responsibility for maintaining access to the canal. And I note, therefore, with satisfaction that the first treaty reaffirms the absolute right of the United States to defend access to the canal and to continue to garrison our troops in Panama until the year 2000. And I note with satisfaction that the second treaty reaffirms the right of the United States to defend the canal and to guaranty access to it, even after the canal itself shall have become the physical property of the Republic of Panama.
It is appropriate to reflect at this moment on the words of William Howard Taft, reiterated by Theodore Roosevelt in another context. Taft said: "We do not want to own anything in Panama. What we want is a canal that goes through Panama." . . .
Reagan: In the rhetoric surrounding the discussion of the proposed canal treaties, there's been a tendency to make the issue one of either these treaties or the status quo. Perhaps tonight we can make it plain that rejection of these treaties does not mean an end to further negotiations, nor an effort to better our plans for the people of Panama. We're debating these specific treaties, whether they are in our best interest and the best interest of the people of Panama.
In my opinion, they are not. They are ambiguous in their wording, they are fatally flawed.
One is, you've been told, to cover the transfer of the total ownership, control and operations of the canal to Panama, effective December 31st, 1999. The other is to guaranty the permanent neutrality of the canal, beginning in the 2000. The fatal flaw I mentioned is that the transfer would not be gradual, as it would seem when we look down the road to 1999.
Under the present treaty, the Hay - Bunau-Varilla Treaty of 1903, the United States has "all the rights, power, and authority which the United States would possess and exercise if it were sovereign in the territory, to the exclusion of the exclusion of the exercise by the Republic of Panama of any such sovereign rights, power or authority."
Ratification of the new treaty would immediately cancel that treaty of 1903. The Canal Zone would cease to exist. We would simply be a foreign power with property in Panama. There would be nothing to prevent the government of Panama from expropriating our property and nationalizing the canal, as they have already nationalized the transit company and the power system. International law permits expropriation by governments of foreign-owned property within their borders. But the United Nations Charter, which supersedes all other treaties, prohibits a member nation from using armed force to prevent such expropriation. This rules out the practice of force majeure, the idea that because we have the size and strength, why we could just move.
In 1956 Nasser broke Egypt's treaty with Britain and seized the Suez Canal. They also broke the treaty which guaranteed the right of all nations to the use of that canal. When Britain, France and Israel moved armed forces against Egypt, the United States took the lead in declaring that we must - or, they must - not violate the U.N. Charter; and they backed away. Suez became Egypt's, and the neutrality of the canal was no more. No traffic was allowed by ships to and from Israeli ports.
If we were to become victims of expropriation, as England was in 1956, would we take the action we refused to let them take? I don't think so.
The second treaty, which comes into effect in the year 2000, when Panama has become the sole owner and operator of the canal, promises complete neutrality for all users. This treaty is so ambiguous in its working as to be virtually meaningless.
Nowhere in this second treaty, or the accompanying protocol, is the word "guaranty" used. "Guaranty" is a word of art. It carries the assurance that there is a guarantor. Our negotiators had capable lawyers advising them. The admission could not have been an oversight. "Guaranty" must have been left out, at Panama's insistence, with full knowledge of the consequences.
What is there for us to cheer about in being granted, in word only, neutrality of the canal we built and which is presently - which presently we have in reality? . . .
Buckley: Why it is so that our security is enhanced by this treaty?
Zumwalt: The situation, in thumbnail, is the following:
The United States has surrendered strategic nuclear superiority to the Soviet Union. This means that conventional war is likelier. The United States and NATO have surrendered conventional military superiority in Europe to the Warsaw Pact. This means that war in Europe is likelier. The United States Navy, the odds are, would lose a war with the Soviet Union at sea, and this makes a war at sea likelier. It means that, as both you and Gov. Reagan have said, the need for the Panama Canal is vital. We must be able to deploy ships from one ocean to another. In choosing which of our allies we will save - because we can't save them all - the best security, the best certainty, the likeliest probability of being able to use that canal is to have a friendly regime in support of the operation rather than a hostile regime.
Those of us who have had to deal with insurgencies, as I did in Vietnam, can tell you that it is impossible to defend that canal, as all the Joint Chiefs have agreed, against a hostile insurgency, and that the odds are greatly increased that that insurgency would occur if the United States fails to ratify these treaties. . . .
Buchanan: In 1980, Panama will have full control, as I understand it, of both sides of the Canal Zone.Is that correct, Ambassador? In 1980, if it's passed, in 30 months Panama gets full control of both sides of the Canal Zone.
Buchanan: Jurisdiction, right.
Buchanan: Suppose they say, in response to a call of the General Assembly, that this canal is to be closed to all vessels that travel to and from South Africa. Do you think the United States would really act under those circumstances, having left Panama under the circumstances under which we're leaving right now, which is in response to riots in '64, to threats of sabotage and threats of guerrilla warfare?
Bunker: Well, Panama has jurisdiction over the Zone, will have jurisdiction over the Zone. But we will have - we will have rights to use the lands and waters necessary to protect the canal.
Buchanan: Do you think we would - again, in response to my question, do you think the United States would send in the Marines under those conditions, given the conditions under which we've departed?
Bunker: I think they would, yes. . . .
Reagan: I don't believe that in Latin America we would do anything to strengthen our position by, again, yielding to this unpleasantness in this treaty. I think, if anything, we would become a laughing-stock by surrendering to unreasonable demands. And by doing so, I think we cloak weakness in the suit of virtue.
This has to be treated in the whole area of the international situation. The Panama Canal is just one facet of our foreign policy. And what do we do to ourselves in the world and to our allies? Will they, as Mr. Buckley says, see that as the magnanimous gesture of a great and powerful nation? I don't think so, not in view of our recent history, not in view of our bug-out in Vientnam, not in view of an administration that is hinting that we're going to throw aside an ally named Taiwan. There are other things that we're doing. Our policy in Africa.
I think that the world would see it as, once again, Uncle Sam put his tail between his legs and crept away rather than face trouble. [Applause.]
I think Prof. Fontaine was right to question the ability of the Panamanians to run this. This particularly administration of Panama has started three sugar mills, a hydroelectric project, an airport, a public transportation system, the Contedora [?] resort island, an agricultural development program and an exploration for natural resources, and has failed in every one of them. They're all failures and back on the shelf.
So again, I say that there are alternatives by which we could benefit the people of Panama. And I believe this treaty is aimed at benefiting the dictator of Panama. And if someone can suggest a way other than the right of sovereignty, but if it means retaining that as the only way that we can keep our responsibility, then I say that we have to do that. . . .
Buckley: I think that Gov. Reagan put his finger on it when he said the reason this treaty is unpopular is because we're tired of being pushed around. We were pushed out of Vietnam because we didn't have the guts to go in there and do it right. . . . [Applause.]
We're preapared, as it was said, to desert Taiwan because 3 1/2 Harvard professors think that we ought to normalize our relations with Red China. [Applause.]
We are prepared to allow 16 semi-savage countries to cartelize the oil that is indispensable to the entire industrial might of the West because we don't have a diplomacy that's firm enough to do something about it. And therefore, how do we get our kicks? How do we get oru kicks? By saying no to the people of Panama. [Laughter and applause.]
I say that when I am in a mood to say no, representing the United States, I want to be looking the Soviet Union in the face and say no to the Soviet Union next time it wants to send its tanks running over students who want a little freedom in Czechoslovakia. I want to say no to China when it subsidizes genocide in Cambodia on a scale that has not been known in this century, rather than simply forget that it exists. I don't want to feel that the United States has to affirm its independence by throwing away its powers to distinguish, by saying we must not distinguish between the intrinsic merits of rewriting the treaty in Panama and pulling out of Taiwan because it is all a part of the same syndrome. . . .
We ought to be mad not at the Panamanian students, who are asking for nothing more than what our great-great-granparents asked for. We ought to be mad at our own leaders for screwing up the peace which they have screwed up during the last 25 years. But do we want to go down and take it out on people who simply want to recover the Canal Zone? What we have done to Panama is the equivalent of taking the falls away from Niagara. Is it the kind of satisfaction that we really feel we are entitled to or to proceed on that basis in order to assert a sovereignty which is, in any case, not a part of the historical tradition on the basis of which the Panama Canal was opened? No. Let's listen to reason. Let's recognize, as Adm. Zumwalt has so effectively said, that we are so impoverished militarily as a result of so many lamentable decisions that we need the Panama Canal and that we need the Panama Canal with a people who are residents of the Panama Canal, who understand themselves as joined with us in a common enterprise, because when they look at the leaders of the United States, they can recognize that not as a result of our attempt to curry favor with anybody, but as a result of our concern for our own self-esteem, we are big enough to grant little people what we ourselves fought for 200 years ago. [Applause.]