Lester B. Pearson and the Suez Canal Crisis

The Suez crisis was a conflict that could have easily turned into a third World War. With a battle between the Israelis and Egyptians at Sinai, the British and French invasion of Egypt, and nuclear threats from the Soviet Union, all of the elements were present to escalate the conflict and pull other countries into the fray. Canada had no direct ties to the Suez crisis, in terms of control or economic interest. However, Canadian Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Lester B. Pearson, persuaded the UN General Assembly to send in the United Nations Emergency Force. Even though
Lester B. Pearson dismayed the Commonwealth with his measures for peace, Canada was recognized for starting the first ever United Nations Peacekeeping mission. In the 1950s the Middle East was affected by four different conflicts; each one separate, but relating in many ways. The first was the rush for geopolitical dominance between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The Middle East was one of the regions that were disputed. The second confrontation was between a various Arabian nationalists against the two residual Imperial powers of Britain and France.
The third was the ongoing Arab-Israeli dispute, and the fourth was the push by many Arab nations for the control of the Arab world. The tension over the Suez Canal began long before the actual combat. These four conflicts all came into focus during the Suez Canal crisis. Long before the Second World War, Britain saw a bright economic future for the Middle East, mostly due to its valuable oil reserves. The Canal was a vital trade route in the eastern world, as cargo ships could pass though the Suez, from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, without circumnavigating Africa.

The Suez Canal’s eo-strategic importance during the Cold War prompted Britain to strengthen its position there. However, it became a topic of controversy in the English and Egyptian relations. On June 23, 1956 an ultra-nationalist by the name of Gamal Abdel Nasser is voted into power, winning 99 percent of the vote. This does not concern Anthony Eden, the Prime Minister of England, as Egypt was always part of Britain’s world of influence in the Middle East. As the British Broadcasting Corporation quoted, “Even though Egypt became independent in 1922, Egyptian kings and presidents have always done what
British leaders have told them to do. ” However, Eden was unaware of the radical change in Egyptian government, which wanted nothing to do with the oppression of the British. In the 1950s, France was quick to assist its Imperial ally Britain in the occupation of the canal. France was to supply Israel with fghter Jets and weapons in a secret plan to invade and overthrow the dangerous radical government. To Egyptian President Nasser, it looks like a very powerful enemy is at the gate of his country. In light of this, Nasser looks abroad for arms. Just like the loan for the Aswan Dam, he looks upon the
United States tor the supply ot weapons. Nasser knew i t US Presi en d t Dwight Eisenhower rejected this request, he could turn to their enemy and ask the Soviet Union for weapons. Once the Soviet Union did agree to help, Eisenhower and Anthony Eden saw Nasser as communist for cutting such a deal with the Soviets. As a result, they punished him by putting sanctions on Egypt, cutting off military supply and cancelling the financing of the Aswan dam, in attempt to destroy Nasser’s dream of building an independent state. Nasser nationalizes the Suez Canal on July 26, 1956.
This infuriates Eden and he wants to invade Egypt. Nasser then issues a statement claiming that he did this to generate revenue for the construction of the Aswan dam. False intelligence relayed from M16 to Anthony Eden tells him what he wants to hear, saying that Nasser is a pawn of the Soviet Union and the Egyptian people would welcome his overthrow. Diplomacy between US, Soviet Union, Britain, France, Israel and Egypt failed, and in the fall of 1956, Britain, France and Israel secretly plan to attack Egypt. Israel, as planned, made the first assault through the Sinai region to the east of Egypt, on
October 29, advancing in a single day to within 42 km of the canal. The Israeli advance towards the canal is a fake to show the world that Egypt in danger of being overthrown by the Israelis. The British and French then dissimulate as peacekeepers, trying to diffuse then tension between Egypt and Israel. They offer Nasser an ultimatum: “Israel and Egypt are to cease fighting or the two Western powers will intervene”. On the 31st of October this ultimatum expires and France and Britain attack, bombing Alexandria and sending in thousands of troops. Russia then threatens Britain and France with Nuclear weapons.
At this point it looks as though the world is on the brink of another World War. Canada had no interest to the Suez crisis, in terms of control, economic or military interest, but Lester B. Pearson saw an opportunity to intervene. While the Cabinet in Ottawa debated about the attack on Egypt, the UN Security Council met in New York. Even though Canada did not have a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, Lester B. Pearson and the Foreign Affairs delegation of Canada worked towards building an agreement for the proposal to the I-IN, on the Suez Crisis.
Encouraged by the US, Yugoslavia makes a “Uniting for Peace resolution”, which enables a debate to be moved to the General Assembly. The I-JK and France do not block this, however, negative votes would not constitute a veto. The Suez Canal debate is then moved to the general assembly. This is critical moment for Pearson as Canada can now get involved in the debate. Pearson’s team began to work on November 1st and labored desperately for four straight days. The first proposal made by Pearson was to change the French and British soldiers in Egypt into actual peacekeepers with a UN mandate.
However, the fury of the General Assembly would not allow this to happen. Pearson met with US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, and they discussed many ideas but it was Pearson’s idea of the International police force that they would finally agree upon. Dulles tells Pearson to propose it to the I-IN, and on November 4th, 1956 Pearson d the first ever nited U Nations Peacekeeping torce. The UN General propose Assembly gave support to the proposal made by Pearson as 57 nations voted for and no country voted Against. Lester B. Pearson would deliver this quote in his proposal “We eed action not only to end the fghting, but to make peace…
My own government would be glad to recommend Canadian participation in such a United Nations Force, a truly international peace and police force”. After two weeks The UNEF units come into effect in the Suez region. The Peacekeepers would be placed between enemy forces until a cease-fire or settlement was worked out. The members of the UNEF were drawn from middle powers that had no individual interest in the dispute. The force was composed of 6000 soldiers, 1000 of which were Canadians including Major General E. LM Burns of Canada who commanded the UN Force.

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