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Huw Thomas 13DT

Report on the Suez Crisis of 1956

The 1956 Suez Crisis is one of the most important and controversial events in British history since the Second World War. Not only did Suez result in deep political and public division in Britain, it also caused international uproar. It has come to be regarded as the end of Britain's role as one of the world powers and as the beginning of the end for the British Empire.

Background information:
After the First World War, Britain declared Egypt a protectorate and was destined to incorporate Egypt into its sphere of influence. However, due to an increase in Arab nationalism throughout the Middle East, Britain granted nominal independence to Egypt in 1922. Although the granting of independence took many years to finalise, an agreement was achieved with the signing of the AngloEgyptian Treaty, in which Egypt took the form of an independent sovereign state. However, historians highlight that the treaty incorporated clauses that allowed for British troops to be stationed in the Suez Canal zone to ensure that Britains financial and strategic interests were protected.

Main causes of the Suez Crisis of 1956

The Suez Crisis of 1956 has its roots in the post-war upsurge of nationalism in Egypt. Indeed, throughout this era, military historians refer to the persistent attacks on British garrisons by political freedom fighters as prime examples of surges in Arab nationalism. Moreover, in 1951, Nahas Pasha leader of the recently elected nationalist Wafd party revoked the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, an article that gave Britain and France unrestricted access to the Suez Canal, with the capability to use military force to control the essential trade route. Additionally, there were reports of violent riots that erupted throughout the streets of Cairo, with protesters angered by the British control of the Suez Canal. The canal instantly became strategically important; it provided the shortest ocean link between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. The canal eased commerce for trading nations and particularly helped European colonial powers to gain and govern their colonies. The Anglo-French-Israeli attack followed the President of Egypt Gamal Abdel Nasser's decision of 26 July 1956 to nationalize the Suez Canal, after the withdrawal of an offer by Britain and the United States to fund the building of the Aswan Dam, which was in response to Egypt's new ties with the Soviet Union and recognizing the People's Republic of China during the height of tensions between China and Taiwan. Other historians refer to the personality of Anthony Eden as being a key factor in the British response to Colonel Nassers action in taking over the canal. Eden was often praised for his political prowess in the area of foreign policy and he still believed in Britain as a dominant imperial power. As an individual that severely opposed the policy of appeasement, Eden quickly assumed Nasser to be, an evil dictator who could not be allowed to get away with unprovoked

Huw Thomas 13DT aggression. Indeed, Eden and his close advisers believed that Nasser would be a danger to the stability of Britains imperial ambitions in Africa. As such, most of Edens cabinet, including the Chancellor, concluded that drastic military action was needed in Egypt to protect the vital financial and strategic interests Britain held in the Suez Canal region.

The protagonists and causes of the Suez Crisis and reasons why the Suez Canal was so important:
The Suez Crisis was a diplomatic and military confrontation in late 1956 between Egypt on one side, and Britain, France and Israel on the other, with the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Nations playing major roles in forcing Britain, France and Israel to withdraw.

In 1854 Ferdinand de Lesseps, a French former diplomat, persuaded the Viceroy of Egypt, Mohamed Said, to permit the construction of a shipping canal through the 100 miles of desert between Africa and Asia. A prospectus was circulated and on 20 December 1858 the Universal Company of the Suez Maritime Canal was constituted. Indeed, this shows that French interest was key to the construction of the Suez Canal as the, jugular vein of the Empire, enabled ships to shorten journey times and avoid the volatile seas around the tip of Cape Hope. This inevitably would allow the French government to control the flow of oil/trade throughout the region. The French, long resentful of Egypts support of Arab nationalists, were increasingly willing to join Anthony Edens government in their attempts to dispose of Nasser from power. This is because the French government was fearful of Nassers influence undermining French colonies in North Africa. Through the appointment of Guy Mollet as French President in January 1956, Mollet looked to pursue a policy of bringing peace to the French colony of Algeria, currently in the throes of a nationalistic uprising. However, his policy was halted as the presence of over a million French settlers in the country meant that withdrawal from the former French colony was politically impossible. Furthermore, Mollets attempts to resolve the situation escalated the situation across the Middle East.

The Suez Canal provided Britain with a shorter sea route to its empire and, as the 20th century dawned and oil grew in importance, it provided a short sea route to the oilfields of the Persian Gulf. Britain was therefore committed to protect the canal, as it was one of their main foreign policy priorities. On 19th October, 1954, a political treaty was signed between British foreign minister Anthony Nutting and Egyptian nationalist leader, Nasser, in which it was agreed that British troops were to be withdrawn from Egyptian soil by June 1956. Moreover, British Military bases were to be run jointly by British and Egyptian technicians, with Egypts ruling nationalist party to respect the freedom of navigation through the canal. Lastly, clauses within the agreement also stated that British troops would be permitted to return if the Suez Canal was threatened by an exterior power. Despite the continuous withdrawal of British troops from Egyptian territory, Prime Minister Anthony Eden denied the sales of military arms to Egypt. Instead, bi-lateral relations between Britain and Egypt

Huw Thomas 13DT began to crumble as reports surfaced that Nasser had recently approved the imports of arms, military weaponry and tanks from several Soviet bloc countries. Many military historians agree that Egypts military capabilities had been increased to the extent that Nasser could pursue his aim of destroying Israel.

Meanwhile, Israel, greatly concerned about Egypts rearmament and involved in a series of border clashes with Egypt, was purchasing aircraft and weapons from France. The French government had been meeting secretly with Israel and invited Britain to join the negotiations for a planned invasion of Egypt. Due to Nassers financial policies of sponsoring raids into Israel by the Fedayeen, Israel was keen to make a pre-emptive military strike against Egypt as part of the on-going struggle for survival.

United States:
The United States had emerged from World War Two as a global superpower and, as a former colony itself it was committed to overseeing the decolonisation of the globe. Furthermore, the spread of Communism fostered by the Soviet Union, was seen by the US as a threat to Western democracy. At the same time, the United States was attempting to woo Nasser into an alliance. The central problem for American policy in the Middle East was that this region was perceived as strategically important due to its oil, but the United States, weighed down by defence commitments in Europe and the Far East, lacked sufficient troops to resist a Soviet invasion of the Middle East Despite Nasser being promised financial loans from the USA for the construction of the Aswan Dam, America withdrew all monetary aid after it was revealed that Nasser had also approached the Soviet Bloc nations for financial help with the construction of the Dam. Nasser officially recognised the People's Republic of China, a move that angered the U.S. and its secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, a keen sponsor of Taiwan. This move, coupled with the impression that the project was beyond Egypt's economic capabilities, caused Eisenhower to withdraw all American financial aid for the Aswan Dam project on 19th July.

In 1954, Colonel Gamel Abdul Nasser replaced General Neguib. He had three goals: to make Egypt independent by ending British occupation; to build up Egyptian forces for a successful attack on Israel; to improve Egypts economy by constructing a high dam at Aswan to irrigate the Nile valley. By nationalising the Suez Canal, Nasser looked to eradicate all French/British control over the strategic passage, but more importantly, raise the vital funds needed for the Aswan Dam. Through the eyes of Anthony Eden and French President Guy Mollet, British/French control over the Suez Canal could only be retained through the process of brute force.

A brief description of the joint attack plan:

Eden declared that such a man as Nasser could not be allowed, to leave his thumb on Britains windpipe, a reference to the threat to the essential oil supplies that came to Britain from the Middle East through the canal. Edens extreme distaste for Nasser prompted him to enter secret discussions

Huw Thomas 13DT with France and Israel, to formulate a military invasion to secure the Suez Canal and topple Nasser from power. The strategy, finalised in mid-October 1956, was that the Israelis would attack Egypt across the Sinai. Britain and France, after allowing sufficient time for the Israelis to reach the canal, would then mount a joint assault on the canal region from the North, under the pretence of forcing Egypt and Israel to observe a ceasefire. On 29th October, the Israelis duly attacked across the Gaza Strip; on 30th October the Anglo-French ultimatum was delivered and on the following day, the two European allies began their invasion of Egypt.

A detailed description of the events of the Suez campaign:

The Suez Crisis was an incident that first commenced on the 29th of October 1956, in which Israeli military forces entered the Sinai Peninsular and attacked Egyptian positions, driving them back. By the next day, Israeli forces had reached the Suez Canal, after taking a majority of the Sinai Peninsular. Britain and France then both issued an ultimatum, for both Israeli and Egyptian forces to withdraw from the Suez Canal, citing its safety from the violence of war as extremely important. After Gamal Abder Nasser, Egypts President at the time, rejected the ultimatum, on the 30th of October, British and French troops parachuted into Egyptian territory, made amphibious landings at Port Said, and maintained a steady flow of air attacks from land bases and aircraft carriers stationed nearby. By the 6th of November, it was estimated that the entire Suez Canal would have been captured in no more than a day after. However, under huge international pressure, and the threat of economic sanctions by the United Nations and military retaliation by the Soviet Union, the British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, declared a ceasefire on the 6th of November 1956, and began a withdrawal of troops from Egypt.

Did Conservative and Labour politicians support or criticise the Suez invasion?
As expected, there was staunch opposition from the Labour Left. Many Labour politicians firmly upheld the opinion that Britain should abandon all of its imperial ambitions and focus more on solving the countrys economic and domestic woes. Indeed, Britain was solely reliant on American aid for its economic survival and Labour leadership persistently attacked the Conservatives during House of Common sessions and even in press releases. On the other hand, the majority of the Conservative Party, in particular, Edens cabinet, supported the British invasion of Egypt in order to protect the nations strategic and economic interests abroad. Alternatively, many left and right winged extremists within the Conservative Party strongly objected to the planned invasion of Egypt.

Soviet, American and U.N reaction:

Soviet reaction: Despite the Soviet Union being initially distracted by its own problems arising from the Hungarian struggle for independence, the Anglo-French-Israeli attack on Egypt prompted the USSR to make its biggest move yet over Egypt. On 5th November, the USSR issued a formal Note to Britain, in which

Huw Thomas 13DT the nation condemned Anthony Edens government for its involvement in the Anglo-French invasion of Egypt. More importantly, the Note warned that the USSR was prepared to use rockets against the Western invaders: We are fully determined to crush the aggressors and restore peace in the Middle East through the use of force. American/ United Nations reaction: The United Nations immediately entered into an emergency debate in which the Americans, infuriated by Edens having totally ignored them, led the condemnation of Israel and its two allies. Over the special telephone hotline that linked the US President and British Prime Minister, Eisenhower swore at Eden in four word expletives. Britain, deprived of US backing, used its veto for the first time to defeat a UN resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire. Eisenhower, kept completely in the dark, felt utterly betrayed by his erstwhile allies. I've just never seen great powers make such a complete mess and botch of things, he told his aides. He determined to put a stop to the whole enterprise. America struck at Britain's fragile economy. It refused to allow the IMF to give emergency loans to Britain unless it called off the invasion. Faced by imminent financial collapse, as the British Treasury saw it, on November 7th Eden surrendered to American demands and stopped the operation, with his troops stranded half way down the canal. The French were furious, but obliged to agree; their troops were under British command. America also proved adept at working through the UN. On November 2nd an American resolution demanding a ceasefire was passed by a majority of 64 to five, the Russians voting with the United States. And to sidestep Anglo-French vetoes at the Security Council, for the first time the General Assembly met in emergency session (where no country held a veto) and took up a Canadian suggestion to assemble an international emergency force to patrol the canal and monitor the ceasefire.

Reasons for British withdrawal:

Receipt of the Soviet Note and the possibility of USSR intervention in Egypt undoubtedly helped to concentrate Edens mind. The strength of opposition amongst the British people; Gaitskell and Bevan made withering attacks on what they described as, Edens mad venture. The fury of President Eisenhower and the Americans at not being consulted about the AngloFrench invasion of Egypt. Britains failure to gain international backing. Condemnation of Britain at the UN. The reluctance of all but a few of the Commonwealth countries to support Britain The international run on sterling, which threatened Britain with economic collapse with no prospect of the USAs being willing to bail Britain out. The run on sterling was a catastrophic fall in Britains currency reserves caused by large withdrawals of deposits by international investors.

Huw Thomas 13DT

The political, economic, domestic and foreign consequences of the Suez fiasco on Britain and Europe & an evaluation of whether failure in the Suez campaign meant that Britain was no longer a major world power:
Political: The Suez crisis, as the events of the following months came to be called, marked the humiliating end of imperial influence for two European countries, Britain and France. It cost the British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, his job and, by showing up the shortcomings of the Fourth Republic in France, hastened the arrival of the Fifth Republic under Charles de Gaulle. It showcased America's supremacy over its Western allies. It thereby strengthened the resolve of many Europeans to create what is now the European Union but more importantly, led many British politicians to believe that the United Kingdom should look to involve itself more in European affairs, economically and politically. The crisis exploded Britain's lingering imperial pretensions, and hastened the independence of its colonies. Economic: Economically, the Suez Crisis was a disaster for the British Economy. Faced with an increased balance of payments deficit, heightening levels of inflation and the prospects of America ending all financial support to the country, Eden had no other option than to withdraw from the Suez Canal. With the dampening current account that Britain possessed, economists agree that the only strategy for survival was to pursue a process of decolonisation. Indeed, Britain was no longer considered a great economic world power as it was tied to American loans to prevent severe financial collapse. Domestic: The Suez crisis divided families and friends in Britain, with a degree of bitterness that would not be seen in a foreign policy dispute until the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Many European politicians still believed their countries had a right to run the affairs of others. Many were also scarred by memories of appeasement in the 1930s. With increasing levels of unemployment and crime throughout Britain, there were calls from the Labour Left to abolish the Empire and focus Britains finite resources on solving domestic issues. Following the resignation of Anthony Eden, the British political scene changed dramatically, with more focus on implementing vital social reforms- the days of imperialism were over. Foreign: The Suez Crisis strained Anglo-American relations, but as Cold War Allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) they continued to cooperate, and by 1962 Britain had adopted the US Polaris missile system. Nonetheless, the real balance of power in the post-World War Two world had been starkly demonstrated and Britain's prestige was dealt a severe blow. Conclusively, political historians agree that Britain was no longer viewed through the eyes of many as a superior world power as it was economically indebted to the USA; its survival was purely based on American loans and the countrys inability to pursue its imperialistic foreign policies signalled an end to an era of British colonialism. Coupled with a rise in Arab nationalism, economic uncertainty

Huw Thomas 13DT and political backlash from the Labour left, Britain failed in its objective to re-capture the Suez Canal but more importantly, highlighted the underlying fact that it was no longer a major world power.