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Operation Just Cause: Panama

Operation Just Cause: Panama published on

Authored by Joint Chiefs of Staff

In the summer and fall of 1989, while American attention focused on events in Eastern Europe which heralded the end of the Cold War, developments in Panama raised the possibility of combat much closer to home. Operations in Panama would test the changes to the U.S. military command system brought about by the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986. Panama would also try the team at the head of that system-President George H. W. Bush, Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney, and the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS), General Colin L. Powell, U.S. Army. Strengthened by personal relationships formed during earlier administrations, this team would, in a large measure, determine the operational success of the Goldwater-Nichols reforms.

Questions about the effectiveness of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and the system of unified commands had been raised at intervals since the Vietnam War. In 1982 the retiring Chairman, General David C. Jones, U.S. Air Force, proposed increasing the authority of the Chairman and the commanders in chief (CINCs) of the unified commands and strengthening the joint staffs supporting them. Fueled by reported shortcomings in service cooperation and interoperability during the 1983 invasion of Grenada and by the role of a cumbersome chain of command in the deaths of 241 U.S. Marines in a terrorist bombing in Beirut, criticism of the Joint Chiefs of Staff system prompted lengthy congressional deliberations and eventual enactment of the changes Jones had proposed.

Widely viewed as the most significant defense legislation since the National Security Act of 1947, Goldwater-Nichols sought to streamline the command and control of U.S. military forces engaged in contingency operations. After designating the CJCS as the President’s principal military advisor, the Act made the Chairman specifically responsible for the preparation and review of contingency plans-a function he performed in conjunction with the CINCs. It further allowed the President to direct that communications between the National Command Authorities and the commanders of the unified commands be transmitted through the Chairman. The CINCs were, in turn, given full combatant command authority over their service components allowing them to control the organization and employment of these forces. Operation JUST CAUSE would demonstrate the effect of these changes.

In 1988, as relations with Panama deteriorated, the commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), General Frederick F. Woerner, Jr., U.S. Army, had developed a strategy which gradually increased the strength of U.S. forces in Panama to deter the dictator, General Manuel

Publication Date:
Dec 04 2014
1505364566 / 9781505364569
Page Count:
Binding Type:
US Trade Paper
Trim Size:
8.5″ x 11″
Black and White
Related Categories:
History / Military / General


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