Suez and Panama - still strategically significant?

Bismarck

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
2,847
rangiora
Two of the most used waterways in the world and both are the result of some extraordinary feats of engineering.

The British Tory govt of the 1870's felt that if they did not purchase a controlling share of the Suez Canal then one day Britain would be obliged to take it by force. As recently as 1953 they were prepared to fight for its control.

I presume the americans are in a similar situation with Panama, except that their control has been much more covert over the years. I noticed that after Pearl Harbour the US High Command was more concerned about the defence of Panama than they were about LA, or San Diego.

Are these canals as strategically significant as they were 50 years ago, or 100 years in the case of the Suez?

Can Egypt and Panama choose to close the canals if they should so wish? Or is control still in the hands of western powers?
 
Oct 2008
136
Melbourne
Are these canals as strategically significant as they were 50 years ago, or 100 years in the case of the Suez?
Hell yes. So much of the world's cargo is still carried by sea, not to mention things like oil...

Can Egypt and Panama choose to close the canals if they should so wish? Or is control still in the hands of western powers?
Egypt did close the canal during the Suez Crisis, and from 1967 to 1975. However, now De facto control is in the hands of the West, as both governments are Western allies (or client states, depending on your view). Should either state - relatively poor countries sustained to an extent by Western aid and cannot afford to be internationally isolated - try to close the canals now, in peacetime, they would face intense pressure to reopen them, sanctions and threats of regime change (or an actual one in the case of Panama - Egypt's army is quite strong).
 

diddyriddick

Historum Emeritas
May 2009
14,692
A tiny hamlet in the Carolina Sandhills
I agree with V here. The economic impact of having to carry cargo around either the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn are huge!

As to military implications...The US still considers the size of the locks of the Panama canal when they are building warships in case they need to transit rapidly from Atlantic to Pacific or vice-versa. That speaks volumes.
 

Cicero

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,829
Tennessee
I agree with V here. The economic impact of having to carry cargo around either the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn are huge!

As to military implications...The US still considers the size of the locks of the Panama canal when they are building warships in case they need to transit rapidly from Atlantic to Pacific or vice-versa. That speaks volumes.
I agree with V and Diddy.

One of the reasons that shipping companies put up with Somali Pirate Foolishness is that it is too expensive to go around the Horn of Africa
 
Feb 2010
48
Slovenia
I agree with V here. The economic impact of having to carry cargo around either the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn are huge!

As to military implications...The US still considers the size of the locks of the Panama canal when they are building warships in case they need to transit rapidly from Atlantic to Pacific or vice-versa. That speaks volumes.

True true, and if you think now that some ships are to big for Panama canal, they have plans to widen it.
To answer the first question - It clearly shows that in the case of Panama canal, not only that the canals importance didn't diminish but it grew. And acknowledging this and how important it is, USA gave control of the canal to Panama on 31. December 1999.
 

tjadams

Ad Honoris
Mar 2009
25,362
Texas
Airplanes now can deliver supplies & resources, but both canals are still vitally important in saving time with shipping.
 

diddyriddick

Historum Emeritas
May 2009
14,692
A tiny hamlet in the Carolina Sandhills
Airplanes now can deliver supplies & resources, but both canals are still vitally important in saving time with shipping.
From a miltary standpoint, that is true and not. Troops can be Xported by air, but heavy equipment can't. To refresh your memory, in the first Gulf War, we had troops on the ground in Saudi Arabia without equipment which took another 60 days or so, IIRC.
 
Jan 2010
1,316
They're both of tremendous econonmic and strategic value - air freight is nowhere near as viable on a large scale as sea freight. I just spent a week at the Cario Marriot which was built on Zamalek island in the centre of the Nile by Khedive Ismail for the inauguration of the Suez canal. The Empress Eugenie and Napoleon III stayed there and there are full mural sized portaits of each of them and a belle epoque ball room in the main body of the hotel.
 
Jan 2010
599
London
The British Tory govt of the 1870's felt that if they did not purchase a controlling share of the Suez Canal then one day Britain would be obliged to take it by force. As recently as 1953 they were prepared to fight for its control.
To be boring and Historical, the government was actually not in favour if I recall. Disraeli went over Parliament's head to buy the shares in the canal (using his conection with the Rothschilds to raise the money). Having done it, and realising what a coup he had made, they let him get away with it. For Parliament, I may be wrong, because he may have purchased them during the summer recess, and so waiting untill autmn to put it to them would have been too much of a delay. Either way I am sure I am not completley wrong...

As for strategic value, British military strategy always presumed that in the event of war, the canal would not be usable, and so they always assumed that they would still have to go via the Cape (in South Africa).

As for the modern era, everyone has summed the issue up I think, though it might be worth adding that the owners of the canals make a fair amount of money in operating them (I could be incorrect here though).
 

Pedro

Forum Staff
Mar 2008
17,153
On a mountain top in Costa Rica. yeah...I win!!
I often see it said that the Panama Canal operations are managed by a company with close ties to the Chinese government. This is an error.

It is the Panamanian government, through the Panama Canal Authority, that operates the Panama Canal, not a company with ties to the Chinese government as I often see at various places around the net.

I know this issue hasn’t come up yet but it is bound to, so I would like to put the correct facts out there. This fact also relate to Bismarck’s initial question of security.

A further reason for bringing up the issue of Panama Canal operations revolves around military tensions on the Colombia/Venezuela border, which could lead to a war in close proximity to the Panama Canal -- a strategically important asset to the United States and other Western powers.

More to the point, the U.S. is a staunch ally of Colombia, while China is allied with Venezuela. Concerning the Canal, China has interests there, too.

While actual Canal operations are in the hands of the Panamanian government, a Hong Kong-based company, Hutchison Whampoa Ltd., which reportedly has ties to the government of the People's Republic of China and its military, operates the port facilities on either end of the Panama Canal. They also operate other port facilities in this hemisphere.

These are facts that give many concern for the potential disruption of Panama Canal traffic should the U.S. or its allies come into military confrontation with China. How likely is this? I couldn't say, but it would be exceedingly easy for Chinese agents working through Hutchison Whampoa to halt, slow, or otherwise disrupt Panama Canal shipping traffic if it came to that. The potential is there.

The Panama Canal is of the utmost strategic importance to the United States, as it enables the U.S. Navy to transfer its forces rapidly between the Pacific and Atlantic theaters. The potential for Canal disruption is of dire concern to U.S. military authorities.

And if you side with U.S. interests you can take comfort knowing that, according to the treaty (ies) signed by Torrijos and Carter in 1977, if the Panama Canal is in danger due to war or any other similar acts, the United States has the priority over the Panama Canal to protect it if it is needed, the United States is therefore the potency providing security and protection to the Panama Canal. One treaty was signed which turned over the Panama Canal to Panama in1999 and the second one was signed that grants the United States the priority to act and be present (as I recall it) in case of any danger to the Panama Canal.


I hope this satisfactorily answers Bismarck’s question about control.