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Self-defense is the most prominent rationale for the U.S. invasion of Panama. President Bush informed the Congress on December 21, 1989 that the "deployment of U.S. Forces is an exercise of the right of self-defense recognized in Article 51 of the United Nations charter and was necessary to protect American lives in imminent danger."

The strength of the President's claim depends upon the facts. Upon close inspection, the factual record of events preceding the invasion discloses two keen surprises. The problem of violence faced by American armed services personnel and civilians in Panama was longstanding and more serious than was generally reported in the press. Thus, the task of crafting an appropriate American response was not easy. Yet, it is not clear that the United States fully exercised a number of available measures short of armed invasion to protect Americans from the problems of low-level violence. This passivity undermines any legal justification for the invasion based upon self-defense.

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