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The Significance Of The Suez Crisis

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Published: Thu, 11 May 2017

The sources I have selected for my coursework concentrate on the impact that the Suez crisis had on the British Empire and its significance in contributing to its downfall. Here there is some dispute as some see the crisis as a minor event that was insignificant or limited whilst others would argue that it was the main reason that the British government lost its position as world leader. However they largely agree that the Suez crisis showed the flaws in British attitudes as a colonial power.

In Egypt, France and Britain were the major shareholders in the company that ran the canal and British troops occupied its banks. When Gamal Abdul Nasser came to power in 1954, his main objective was to remove the British from Egypt. This was due to the American and British decision not to finance the construction of the Aswam dam. He took matters into his own hands and took control of the Suez Canal by nationalizing it. The events that occurred after this were extremely quick, Britain and France were hasty to show their discontent in the matter and choose to try to attack Nasser in the hope of getting him replaced and taking control of the Suez once again. The financial importance of the canal was too great for France and Britain to let it be controlled by Egypt alone. So when they attacked Egypt it came as a shock when the United States condemned their actions and made it very clear that they would not support the war against Egypt.

The significance of the Suez crisis was that at this point America was asserting its power and influence on Britain for the very first time in history, the balance of power had changed and the United States was now in charge.

This would be portrayed years later In Britain as the Suez crisis would be thought of as the symbol, which marked the end of imperial rule. The Suez crisis sent a signal to nationalists in the British Empire that the hour of freedom had arrived but the Americans and not the nationalist chose the hour. The secondary work of [1] Niall Ferguson in British Empire supports this as he sates that United States were responsible for dismantling the British Empire due to their reaction to the Suez crisis and causing the uprising and rebellion of the educated class in Africa, which would have a vast influence on British and American politics. As a year after the Suez crisis Ghana got her independence from Britain this could be seen as a direct result of the crisis as it weakened British prestige. It must be distinguished, however , that Ghanaian independence began as early as 1951 when the British had allowed elections for a prime minister , which puts into doubt the importance of the Suez crisis on growing nationalism however it can not be disregarded that it was a catalyst for the majority of African leaders at the time.

Niall Ferguson also suggests that this was significant short-term effect as it was the turning point as America was now in power. As well exposing the empires flaws to the nationalists who were eager to be free from British rule.

Furthermore A letter from Eisenhower to Eden dated the 8th of September 1956 illustrates USA asserting its power on Britain. Eisenhower states that; [2] ‘The use of military force against Egypt under present circumstances might have consequences even more serious than causing the Arabs to support Nasser it might cause serious misunderstanding between their two countries because frankly there is as yet no public opinion in this country which is prepared to support such a move and the most significant public opinion that there is seems to think that the united nation was formed to prevent the very thing.’

Eisenhower was trying to imply that any war against Egypt would result in the USSR swooping in and offering alliance to Nasser, which would have a direct impact on the influence of the Russians in the Middle East and this, would consequently harm American interests. Eisenhower knew that the Russians who had developed the port of Alexandria on the coast and also funded the Egyptian economy. He understood that the only reason they did this was to raise the stakes in the cold war, as Russia’s aim was to expand her influence in the Middle East. So a newfound relationship in North Africa would result in a bigger Russian threat, which America could not take the risk with.

Brian Lapping also points out that the main objectives that Egypt and Russia shared was the defeat of colonialism. However this can be interpreted differently as it can seem that the real objective they shared was seeing the downfall of the British rule and prestige rather then just colonialism.

Eden and Eisenhower did not share the same opinion about Nasser as he also wrote to Eisenhower regarding the crisis he stated that he was concerned that the seizure of the Suez Canal he saw it as the opening gambit in a ‘planned campaign designed by Nasser to expel all western influence and interests from Arab countries’. You may feel even if we are right it would be better to wait until Nasser unmistakable reveled his intensions. But this is the argument which prevailed in 1936 and which we both rejected in 1948′

The letter shows the difference in American and British thought regarding the Suez crisis. Eden seems to want to get back British colonial power once again and also he does not want to lose more influence and territory in the area. His belief that Nasser should be controlled was his own attempt of regaining control and power.

Eden had old fashion views that Middle Eastern politics should always favor Britain and it was due to these believes that France and Britain went to war against Nasser

It shows that Britain along with France could no longer act alone in the world stage something that startled Eden. This change was due to the short term significance o

3Macmillan would learn not to repeat Eden mistakes as he made his main objective to restore the morale and reliability of the conservative party something that Eden had lost. In addition Macmillan did not posse the old fashion views on empire that Eden did, this helped him progress in his political career.

The short-term significance of the Suez crisis would have profound effects that would remain in British politicians conscious as they now knew they were seen as a nation to be inferior. American secretary of defense Clark Clifford highlights this as he made this statement ‘The British do not have the resources, the back up a hardware to deal with any big world problems… they are no longer a powerful ally of ours because they can not afford the cost of an adequate defense effort’

Clark Clifford supports this idea as he down plays Britain’s power and dismisses her from resolving any world issues. This shows the extent in which the Suez crisis had on Britain’s image and influence. Also Dean Rusk the United States Secretary of State pointed out this was the end of an era for the Britain and her rule over her colonies

4President Nixon was quoted saying, ‘For the first time in history we have shown independence of Anglo-French policies towards Asia and Africa which seems to us to reflect the colonial tradition. That declaration of independence has had an electrifying effect throughout the world’

This shows that the president Nixon was proud and pleased with is countries choice. He portrays America as being a savior

In my judgment the Suez crisis remains the turning point in British politics and power.

The crisis meant that America was able to assert authority on Britain for the very first time and public view on the empire changed dramatically as it was no longer seen as a prestigious and influential. The crisis had an impact not only on Britain as country but on key individuals that were involved. The Suez crisis had a dramatic effect on Eden’s career as in 1957 he resigned as Prime Minister after being publicly criticized at home, in later years he would be remembered not for the great things he did before 1956 but for his failure during the Suez crisis. Furthermore Suez crisis changed Nasser from a little known colonel into a great leader who was fighting to help end colonialism. The crisis helped his prestige and hold over his people. The historian Brian Lapping states that the due to the Suez crisis Cairo became the home of many refugee leaders of African anti colonial movements this showed directly that Nasser was defining the British in a insulting and direct way by welcoming the African nationalists into his country and giving them benefits and luxuries that helped them in their fight for freedom, such as free air tickets to travel anywhere.

The Suez crisis would change British politics as new Prime Minster Harold Macmillan decided that in any future events that his party would side with America. He did this because he knew it was the only way he could be popular and not repeat the mistakes of Eden. He also made the effort to get to know very well John Kennedy. Britain Since then has been very hesitant to resist any US policy. This is a direct result of the Suez crisis and the balance of power no longer being in the favor of Britain

Conversely some historians have the view that the Suez crisis had made problems such as the political and economical issues that was present before 1956 more perceptible and for this reason the Suez crisis was not a turning point but rather just reveled with staggering clarity the pressures facing the British empire at the time plus if it was not the Suez crisis it would have being another event that would have brought the end of the empire as cracks were beginning to develop.

Overall I believe that the Suez crisis did have a massive impact on the British Empire as it changed peoples perceptive of imperialism and made way for the nationalist movement, which would result in the collapse of the empire. Consequently the events of 1956 would be known as the catalyst, which sparked the end of British power and brought the end of the most prestigious empire in history.

Gorst and Johnman, as well as Woodward, that Suez somewhat reflected the already-weakening position of the empires, rather than helped engender its demise.

(1829 words )


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