The Atlantic Report on the World Today October 1956

Suez

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The new independents

Much of the West's problem in dealing with the new nationalisms has been that Western lawyers have too often been in charge, marshaling arguments which are fine for home consumption but which have no effect on the honor and dignity of proud new independents. Moscow's tactic, by contrast, has recognized better the psychological forces at work in these lands and played upon them.

Many students of Soviet affairs are now more convinced than ever that the most important foreign policy shift from Stalinism was the Kremlin's decision to accept a class of nations neither bound to the Communist orbit nor part of the Western community—a middle group of newly independent peoples suspicious of former colonial powers but equally undesirous of becoming Communist satellites. The Suez crisis has shown that the Soviets play this policy brilliantly. Because Britain and France cannot go so far, while they still have important economic imperial ties, especially in Middle East oil, Dulles skillfully tried to shunt aside this division between America and its major European allies and talked only of the business problem of the Canal itself.

No one appreciates better than Dulles that even the solution of Suez by a new treaty with Egypt would not end the problem or halt Soviet penetration into the Middle East. But whether the Eisenhower Administration will or can revamp our Middle East policy to avoid more crises remains a major question mark. Doubtless Western business interests will take out a form of reinsurance by stepping up the trend already started toward supertankers to move round the Cape of Good Hope. That, however, will not alter Western European dependence on Middle East oil for the next couple of decades, at least until atomic energy can provide a major replacement for today's massive dependence on petroleum. Europe could, of course, be supplied with oil from Canada, the United States, and Venezuela, but only for dollars, not sterling, and at the cost of European financial servitude to Washington.

If the London Conference outcome in. the end confines Middle East nationalism to a fairly orderly process, the West probably can count on holding its lucrative oil concessions for an indefinite period. For how long will depend on the future interplay of forces between the West and the Soviet Union and upon whether the West is willing to take the risks from too much encouragement Middle East nationalism.

Gunboat diplomacy

There has been much dispute London on Eden's willingness to go war over Suez. To Washington, both London and Paris seemed to be indulging in nineteenth-century gunboat diplomacy. Dulles knew that to use force to seize Suez would almost certainly mean the sabotage of Middle East pipelines and the nationalization of Western oil concessions, and that a war almost surely would be the result. A good many observers at the London Conference felt that Eden was bluffing, that he would not dare to use force, and that the British people, who are now enjoying a fair measure of the good things of life, would not back him despite the belligerent tone of the press and the initial support of the Labor Party leadership.

British officials say they were in fact prepared to use force in the first forty-eight or seventy-two hours after Nasser's seizure if Nasser had made the additional move of taking over the British multimillion-dollar installations left behind in the Suez Canal Zone after the withdrawal of the last British troops.

When Bulganin and Khruschev visited London last spring, Eden flatly told them that Britain would fight to prevent the loss of oil concessions, especially in the Persian Gulf at Kuwait. The Russians asked if Eden was threatening them with war. Eden said no, that he just wanted to let them know how strongly the British felt. The Russians said no more, but when Shepilov arrived for the London Conference, he let the British know that he had been apprised of that conversation.

The British and French, in the first hours after the nationalization of the Canal, thought they saw an opportunity to destroy Nasser. As Dulles played for and won time, however, London trimmed its hopes for cutting Nasser down to size. The French government, ironically headed by Socialists, became more and more unhappy as it became Dulles would not back any “destroy Nasser" idea; and while publicly going along with the United States, the French privately became increa­singly bitter over what they felt was another failure of the Americans to back France's legitimate interests.

The British press during the Conference was full of praise for Dulles, which must have sounded strange to the Secretary after a long series of scathing denunciations of him for his "brinkmanship" in Asia. Underneath this praise for his handling of the Conference, which was indeed most skillful, one could find criticism of the Secretary for his handling of the Egyptians in regard to the Aswan Pam aid offer. The British contend that they had first to win over Dulles to the idea of American aid to Nasser to build that Nile dam and then to get him to call it off.

Britain and America had privately agreed to withdraw the offer of aid, but the British say that the first time Eden knew that Dulles was doing so in a dramatic public manner—in a statement moments after the Egyptian ambassador in Washington called on Dulles to say that Nasser had decided to accept Western help instead of Russian help—was when the Prime Minister read it on the news ticker. Nasser said he nationalized Suez in retaliation.

What policy for Washington?

This sort of recrimination was muted during the London Conference, but sooner or later it will come to the surface unless there is erected a common British-American Middle East policy. The British officials say that this is now a major necessity. But Washington's way of looking on the Middle East is not the same as London's. Washington sees the Middle East as part of America's overall problem of relations with newly independent nations and colonies still remaining in Asia and Africa vis-à-vis Russian policies for the same areas. Hence Washington feels it cannot be tied to the British position in the Middle East, however much it recognizes Britain's and Western Europe's dependence on Middle East oil.

The London Conference outcome left the feeling that rampant nationalism, in the case of Nasser, might be channeled again. But few diplomats were willing to risk the prediction that nationalism would not be able to break the banks of the channel, aided by some Soviet spadework. If Nasser Is finally curbed in this case, will it be he or someone else next time?

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