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Suez Canal Crisis, 1956

(Suez Canal, 1956)

Suez Canal Crisis, 1956

       When Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser claimed control of the Suez Canal on July 26, 1956, he sparked an incident which changed the geo-political landscape forever in the Middle East and elsewhere; undermined remaining vestiges of the British Empire around the world; reinforced the positions of the United States and the Soviet Union as world powers; and utilized the United Nations for the first time in a peacekeeping mission (Department of State, 2021, pg. 1, 2).

       Although the Suez Canal was built on Egyptian territory, construction was facilitated by “the Suez Canal Company, the joint British-French enterprise which had owned and operated the Suez Canal since its construction in 1869” (Department of State, 2021, pg. 1).  President Nasser wanted to end British and French control over Egyptian interests.  He offered financial compensation for the company, but the British and French governments did not accept the offer (Department of State, 2021, pg. 1).

       President Eisenhower wanted a diplomatic solution to the conflict.  “On September 9, 1956, U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles proposed the creation of a Suez Canal Users’ Association (SCUA), an international consortium of 18 of the world’s leading maritime nations, to operate the Canal” (Department of State, 2021, pg. 1), which did not succeed.  Behind the scenes, Britain and France prepared a military plan with Israel’s help “to invade Egypt and overthrow its president” (Department of State, 2021, pg. 1, 2). 

       On October 29, 1956, Israel – which had been denied all access to the Suez Canal – invaded Egyptian territory.  British and French forces arrived two days later, taking control of the zone around the Suez Canal.  In response, Nikita Khrushchev condemned the military action and threatened nuclear war with Europe (History, 2021, pg. 2).

       President Eisenhower warned the Soviets against the use of nuclear bombs and condemned the British-French-Israeli coalition for the invasion.  He threatened to impose severe economic sanctions on the three countries.  Britain and France withdrew all troops by December, 1956.  Israel followed suit in March, 1957.  For the first time, the United Nations assembled a peacekeeping force, the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF), to oversee all troop withdrawals (History, 2021, pg. 2, 3).

       In 1954, Egypt and Britain had agreed upon a new treaty which would force all British troops off Egyptian soil in twenty months.  After Winston Churchill resigned from office in 1955, he was succeeded by another pro-Empire British official, Anthony Eden.  It was after all British troops had withdrawn from Egypt in July, 1956 that “Nasser abruptly announced the nationalization of the Suez Canal Company” Brown, 2001, pg. 2).  Outraged, Eden planned the invasion of Egypt.

       In the meantime, diplomatic negotiations failed to ease tensions between the offended nations.  Finally, Nasser rejected international interference in Egypt’s control of the Suez Canal, and the British-French-Israeli coalition proceeded with the invasion (Brown, 2001, pg. 2, 3).

       A ceasefire arranged by the United Nations, under pressure by the United States, halted the conflict.  Nasser ordered the destruction of forty-seven ships and blocked the Suez Canal (Brown, 2001, pg. 3).

       The invasion diminished the standing of both Britain and France on the world stage.  Israel emerged as one of the “most potent force[s] in the Middle East” (Brown, 2001, pg. 3).  The Soviet Union and the United States consolidated their positions as world powers, with the Soviet Union condemning continued “western imperialism” (Brown, 2001, pg. 4).  Prime Minister Eden resigned from office on January 9, 1957.  President Nasser became a hero in his own country.  And countries around the world gradually shed the yoke of English and French control (Brown, 2001, pg. 3-5).

Who should have Controlled the Suez Canal

       In my opinion, Egypt had the right to control the Suez Canal, based on its location.  But the British and the French already had legal ownership and control of the Canal, a privilege they had enjoyed since 1869.  Instead of suddenly announcing that he was taking possession of the Canal and Suez Canal Company, Nasser should have negotiated with Britain and France for that control.  He could have brought in the United Nations and the United States to help with a diplomatic solution.  Nasser’s aggressive stance inflamed tensions in the Middle East and ultimately led to a military confrontation.  Furthermore, Egypt had deliberately blocked Israel from access to the Canal since the establishment of the Jewish state.  This act of anti-Semitism brought Israel into the military conflict (Brown, 2001, pg. 3).

       [Philosopher] Immanuel Kant enthusiastically supported both the American and French revolutions.  He would have agreed that British and French imperialism should come to an end so that sovereign nations could chart their own destinies (Orend, 2018, pg. 169).  The British and French had not violated Egypt’s rights since they had legally owned and operated the Suez Canal since 1869.  It was President Nasser’s personal ambition for Egypt to control the Canal.  Once he took control of the Suez Canal Company, he violated the rights of its British and French owners and threatened British and French interests.  When the British-French-Israeli coalition invaded Egypt, however, Egypt had a right to exercise Kant’s principles of “the defense, protection, and vindication of the fundamental rights of political communities and their citizens” (Orend, 2018, pg. 170).  Either Britain and France should have accepted cash reimbursement for the Suez Canal Company, or the three countries should have continued to negotiate with the help of the United Nations and the United States.

       [Just war ethicist Michael] Walzer did not support the invasion of Iraq and would not have supported the invasion of Egypt, because he does not believe “in regime change as a motive for intervention” (Brown, 2018, pg. 213).  He would have supported Egypt’s right of autonomy and right to control the Canal since President Nasser had offered to buy that control.

A Shift in the International Order

       President Eisenhower was angry at Britain for not revealing its intention to invade Egypt, so he did not support the action or take Britain’s side (History, 2021, pg. 2).  He also worried about Soviet intervention in the conflict, so he tried to settle the dispute through diplomatic channels.  The British-French-Israeli coalition was determined to take military action and to overthrow Nasser’s presidency, however, and proceeded without the backing of the United States or United Nations (History, 2021, pg. 2).

       The United States was not directly threatened by the conflict and had no obligation to get involved.  Walzer’s position, in my opinion, is that Egypt was a sovereign nation, and the British-French-Israeli coalition had no legal right to invade the country – let alone overthrow Nasser’s presidency – since “Egypt possess[ed] political sovereignty and territorial integrity . . . [and] attacks on the latter are acts of aggression which the victim is entitled to resist, to enlist the aid of others in so doing, and later to punish the aggressor” (Brown, 2018, pg. 207, 208), which Nasser did by blocking the Canal with sunken ships.  Even today, the United Nations Charter only stipulates self-defense as a legitimate basis for war.

       Even though Immanuel Kant was eager to see the old regimes fall in his own lifetime and would have been pleased to see the end of British and French imperialism in our own time, his basic belief was that self-defense was the primary just cause for war.  He would have supported a peaceful resolution to the conflict.                                                                                                                                       

       It’s clear that President Eisenhower was interested in avoiding a larger conflict.  Egypt had a right to the Canal since it was located on Egyptian territory, and President Nasser had offered to make full restitution to the British and French owners of the Canal.  But Britain and France were both invested in keeping at least some of their colonial territories and were not willing to give up such a valuable possession.  They were protecting their own interests while ignoring President Nasser’s ambition to make Egypt independent of British and French influence (Brown, 2001, pg. 1-5).

       President Eisenhower was wise to end the conflict and support Egypt’s autonomy even though it meant the temporary closure of the Suez Canal.

References

Brown, C. (2018). Michael walzer (1935-Present). In D.R. Brunstetter & C. O’Driscoll (Eds.),

       Just war thinkers: From cicero to the 21st century (205-215). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge

Brown, D. (2001, March). 1956: Suez and the end of empire. The Guardian. Retrieved from

       http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2001/mar/14/past.education1

Department of State. Office of the Historian. (2021). Milestones: 1953-1960: The suez crisis,

       1956. Department of State. Retrieved from

       http://www.history.state.gov/milestones/1953-1960/suez

Orend, B. (2018). Immanuel kant (1724-1804). In D.R. Brunstetter & C. O’Driscoll (Eds.),

       Just war thinkers: From cicero to the 21st century (168-180). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge

History, The Editors. (2021). Suez crisis. History. Retrieved from

       http://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/suez-crisis

~

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

December 11, 2021; August 24, 2022

Copyright 2021-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

25 Comments »

Allied Bombing of Dresden, 1945

(Destruction of Dresden, 1945)

[NOTE: A week ago, my father’s ashes were interred with full military honors in a military cemetery in California. The ceremony included a three gun salute, a bugler playing “Taps,” and the flag-folding ritual. Although my father served during the Korean War, he never saw live action. Instead, he was sent to Cuba on a reconnaissance mission. My brother is also buried in a military cemetery and died of cancer at the age of forty. He was an Army medic and became a paramedic and German teacher after leaving the military. Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer here in the United States. We honor all of our dead this weekend, but especially, those who have served, fought, and died protecting our country. War is hell, as any soldier will tell you, but sometimes, it is a necessary evil. Just ask the people of Ukraine, who are fighting for their lives, their country, their freedom, and their sovereignty as a nation. Please take a moment to remember all the soldiers who have given their lives to protect YOUR country.]

Allied Bombing of Dresden

The British RAF began dropping bombs on Dresden, Germany on February 13, 1945. Over the next few days, British and American Allies dropped approximately 4,000 tons of bombs onto the city, killing 25,000 people, and destroying the center of the city (Luckhurst, 2020, pg. 2).

Prime Minister Winston Churchill questioned the attack, saying, “The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing” (Luckhurst, 2020, pg. 2).

But, was the bombing justified?

Summary of Theories and Concepts of Pufendorf and Vattel

Pufendorf claimed that the enemy’s aggression “allows me to use force against him to any degree, or so far as I may think desirable” (Glanville, 2018, pg. 152). He explained that the people fighting a defensive war may use any force to put an end to the threat against them, receive reparations, or “secure guarantees for [their] future security” (Glanville, 2018, pg. 152). It was not, he explained, a priority to gauge proportionality but to ensure “the defense and assertion of [their] safety, [their] property, and [their] rights” (Glanville, 2018, pg. 152). The people on the defensive, therefore, may use whatever means necessary to defeat the enemy.

Vattel, on the other hand, believed that “now the laws of nature being no less obligatory on nations than on individuals, whatever duties each man owes to other men, the same does each nation, in its way, owe to other nations. Such is the foundation of those common duties – of those offices of humanity – to which nations are reciprocally bound towards each other” (Christov, 2018, pg. 159). But he also allowed for the possibility of nations that would violate the law of nations and violate all the civilized rules of warfare: “If there were a people who made open profession of trampling justice under foot, — who despised and violated the rights of others whenever they found an opportunity, — the interest of human society would authorize all the other nations to form a confederacy in order to humble and chastise the delinquents . . .the safety of the human race requires that [such a nation] should be repressed” (Christov, 2018, pg. 160).

Was the Allied Bombing of Dresden Justified?

At the time of the bombing, the Eastern Front – “where Nazi Germany was defending [itself] against the advancing armies of the Soviet Union” – was only 155 miles from Dresden. According to Luckhurst (2020), Dresden “factories provided munitions, aircraft parts and other supplies for the Nazi war effort” (Luckhurst, 2020, pg. 3). It was a major city through which German “troops, tanks and artillery traveled through . . . by train and by road” (Luckhurst, 2020, pg. 3). The attack was intended to bolster Soviet efforts on the Eastern Front (Luckhurst, 2020, pg. 3).

RAF planes were equipped with both “high explosive and incendiary bombs: the explosives would blast buildings apart, while the incendiaries would set the remains on fire, causing further destruction” (Luckhurst, 2020, pg. 4). The United States Air Force completed the attack with daylight bombings which were directed at the city’s railway yards” (Luckhurst, 2020, pg. 4).

The Nazis denied that Dresden had any military function and exaggerated the death toll at 200,000 civilians. They claimed that Dresden “was only a city of culture” (Luckhurst, 2020, pg. 7).

Worldwide, Dresden was considered a tourist attraction. British Members of Parliament questioned the attack, and the Associated Press accused the Allies of using terrorism against the people of Dresden (Luckhurst, 2020, pg. 7).

Allied military leaders defended the attack as necessary to further cripple Nazi Germany and end the war. A 1953 report done in the U.S. determined that “Dresden was a legitimate military target” (Luckhurst, 2020, pg. 9), and the attack was no different from previous attacks on other German cities.

The debate continues, with some people viewing the bombing as immoral – possibly a war crime – and others defending it as necessary to help end the war with Germany (Luckhurst, 2020, pg. 9).

My own view is that Pufendorf’s and Vattel’s theories both justify the bombing of Dresden. Pufendorf is correct when he says that the side waging a just war (in this case, the Allies) may use any means necessary to secure the peace and “secure guarantees for . . . future security” (Glanville, 2018, pg. 152). Nazi Germany was a rogue nation that had invaded other countries, murdered millions of people, and imposed authoritarian rule against the will of the people. They were guilty of “trampling justice under foot . . . [and] despised and violated the rights of others” (Christov, 2018, pg. 160), in Vattel’s own words. So, Vattel is also correct when he says that “the interest of human society [should] authorize all the other nations to form a confederacy [in this case, the Allies] in order to humble and chastise the delinquents . . . the safety of the human race requires that [such a nation – the Germans] should be repressed” (Christov, 2018, pg. 160).

Is Preservation of Cultural or Artistic Enemy Cities Relevant in War – Or are they Secondary?

My personal view is that preserving cultural and artistic enemy cities is secondary because defending the safety of Allied nations, property, and human rights takes precedence and aligns with both Pufendorf’s and Vattel’s theories of just war and the right of self-defense. Germany was the aggressor. It was not the duty or priority of Allied forces to save their cultural and artistic centers (Christov, 2018, pg. 160; Glanville, 2018, pg. 152).

Is it Justifiable to Bomb a City to Weaken the Enemy Civilian Morale – Even if the City has Marginal Industrial Significance?

Although the Nazis claimed that Dresden was only a cultural center, the Allies considered it an important transportation center for the Nazis and sought to help Soviet forces on the Eastern Front by destroying it (Luckhurst, 2020, pg. 3). The bombing weakened civilian morale but also undermined the Nazi’s efforts on the Eastern Front. Since civilians in Dresden supported the Nazi cause, they were also enemies of the Allied forces and subject to punishment by Allied war efforts. In my opinion, Vattel would have seen the bombing of Dresden as necessary “in order to humble and chastise the delinquents” (Christov, 2018, pg. 160).

Works Cited

Christov, T. (2018). Emer de vattel (1714-1767). In D.R. Brunstetter & C. O’Driscoll (Eds.),

       Just war thinkers: From cicero to the 21st century (156-167). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge

Glanville, L. (2018). Samuel pufendorf (1632-1694). In D.R. Brunstetter & C. O’Driscoll (Eds.),

       Just war thinkers: From cicero to the 21st century (144-155). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge

Luckhurst, T. (2020, February). Dresden: The world war two bombing 75 years on. BBC.com.

       Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-51448486

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

November 10, 2021; May 27, 2022

Copyright 2021-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

29 Comments »

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