The Panama Canal, named one of the "seven wonders of the modern world" by the American Society of Civil Engineers, is turning 100. The engineering feat had its debut on August 15, 1914, and today it gives passage to 38-40 ships daily, carrying some 5 percent of world maritime trade.
As the Panama Canal celebrates its 100th anniversary, a terrorist group is attempting to ruin the festivities and take over one of the most vital links of international trade.
To stop this dire threat on “one of the seven wonders of the modern world,” the military powers of countries from the globe have descended on the Central American nation in an effort to ensure peace and security in Panama.
But it’s all in name of fun, sort of. The U.S. Southern Command is sponsoring war games that focus on ensuring the defense of the Panama Canal during the Western Hemisphere’s in PANAMAX 2014, which brings together the United States and other countries to Panama. The games are designed to prevent an attack at the nexus of global trade.
“The U.S. is obligated to defend the neutrality of the canal in times of peace and times of war under the Panama Canal Neutrality Act,” the U.S. Air Force said in a press release. “The region's economy and political stability largely depend on the safe transport of several hundred million tons of cargo through the canal each year. PANAMAX 2014 is designed to ensure plans are in place to respond to requests from the Panama government to protect the canal.”
Members of the civil, naval, land and air forces from Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and the U.S. – acting in cooperation with the United Nations – are participating in the war games and using the training as a way to trade expertise and tactics in the event that an attack on the Panama Canal someday does happen.
"Training with our partner nations at every possible opportunity is integral to mission success," said Col. Bruce Smith, who serves as the commander for Air Force Forces and is the Combined Forces Air Component commander for PANAMAX. "Working and training with one another strengthens our bonds and allows us to be more efficient and more effective in responding to regional threats and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief operations as one united front."
The first PANAMAX exercise took place in 2003 through coordinated efforts among Chile, Panama, and the United States.
This year’s effort will be led by Chile. Brazil and Colombia headed the operation in 2012 and 2013. This year’s war games will use B-52 bombers to support maritime detection and monitoring, marking the first time in three years a live military asset is employed during exercise scenarios.
"This is a big opportunity for us to participate with other countries because we are so far away from the actual PANAMAX exercise," said. Col. Cristian Eguia, the Chilean air force liaison officer at 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern). "This exercise gives us an outlet to share what we do in our country and to show what we are doing in the PANAMAX exercise to protect the canal and it's a great opportunity to learn."