Publication Date



Open access

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


International Studies (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Bruce M. Bagley

Second Committee Member

Ambler Moss

Third Committee Member

Ruth Reitan

Fourth Committee Member

William Smith

Fifth Committee Member

Carla Pousa


This study focused on how Panama as a small state defended and enhanced its national security within the sphere of influence of a hegemonic state. More specifically, it addressed the degree of state sovereignty and relative autonomy Panama had and how it adjusted to and dealt with hegemonic demands. To come to grips with the security issues and options presently confronted by Panama, first and foremost, required an understanding of Panama's history, economy, and society, and the region within which the country is located. Second, it was essential to understand U.S. interests in the Panama Canal, especially after the events of September 11th, 2001, which not only framed but dictated the security agenda of the region and of Panama specifically. Third, this study looked at three issue areas: the Panama Canal, Panama's border with Colombia, and the Colon Free Trade Zone and the banking sector's cases of securitization. Interviews in the form of open-ended questions to political leaders, journalists, professors, and public employees helped determine why these issue areas were of primary interest. Their responses were also crucial in demonstrating the leadership or the lack thereof behind the securitization or desecuritization of all three areas studied. To understand national security from a small state's perspective, this study used the approaches of realism, liberalism, and constructivism. It was determined that using a single approach was insufficient, and that a multilevel analysis was better suited to explaining not only why Panama was successful at securitizing its Canal but also why it failed at securitizing both its border with Colombia and the Colon Free Trade Zone and the banking sector. It was also determined that Panama is not part of a regional security complex or a subregional security complex and as such it was labeled an insulator state. Not being part of Central America or South America gave Panama an advantage in negotiating alliances in the region. It would be interesting to look at other insulator states, especially those with chokepoints like Panama's, to study whether these enjoy a similar leverage to enhance and defend their national security.


Small States; National Defense; Panama; Panama Canal