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When Diplomacy Fails Podcast

1956 - The Suez Crisis #2.6: The Entente Rides Again!

1956 Episode 2.6 looks at the increasingly close cooperation between Britain and France in light of the signal defeat of Western imperialist ambitions in Egypt.


We open our episode with a defining scene – President Nasser’s nationalisation of the Suez Canal. The nationalisation of the Canal was not the moment that the world flocked to condemn Nasser’s regime, as Anthony Eden may have hoped. For a time, the Egyptian leader would be seen as unstable, aggressive and unreasonable, but this bad press would die down as the Egyptians proved themselves very capable in handling the new responsibilities which the Suez Canal Company presented.


After convincing himself that the nationalisation of the Canal represented a national humiliation for he and his government, Eden proceeded to cement the Anglo-French commitment in the days that followed. Only 24 hours after the nationalisation occurred, French government ministers and the French premier were talking of travelling to London.


Within a week, military plans were being developed. These plans would be carried out by WW2 era weaponry, under WW2 era ideas of strategy, and even in the same secret bunkers under the Thames which had been used by Churchill to plan a resistance to the Nazis. Yet, this latest iteration of the entente cordiale was to prove anything but glorious, since at its heart was the desire to turn back the clock, and preserve the systems and status quo which held the developing world in permanent bondage. This mission was to doom Eden’s career and lead to the deaths of so many lives, and its planning stage began here.


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  • 1956 - The Suez Crisis #2.17: Britain Knows Best

    35:01
    1956 Episode 2.17 looks at Anthony Eden’s furious efforts to shape the debate on the British intervention in Egypt in the first few days of November, 1956. Our story on 5th November where, just as British and French paratroopers were landing on Port Said, the British Government was fighting its own battle in the House of Commons. Selwyn Lloyd, the beleaguered Foreign Secretary, was tasked with standing up for British foreign policy in light of the emerging controversies. At this stage, the idea that there could have been collusion was vehemently denied, but for now, it was bad enough that Britain had acted without American support, defied the UN and failed to appraise all parties of the policy it planned to put forward.There seemed a great deal of secrecy underway, and while he couldn’t quite put his finger on it, Hugh Gaitskell, Labour Party leader, knew that something was up. Gaitskell wasn’t the only one; his Labour colleagues fired a succession of difficult questions at Lloyd, who by now probably wished he had stood up to Eden when he’d had the chance. Lloyd was able to open the debates of 5th November with some good news – the resolution on the UN Emergency Force had been approved in the UN General Assembly, meaning that a peace force could soon be sent to the trouble spot of the Middle East. What stood out from this resolution though was the fact that the British and French had abstained rather than vote for it in the UN. This stunned and deeply angered the opposition, who believed that yet another opportunity for peace had been lost.Hungary remained a topic on the lips of many, and few backbenchers on either side could ignore the fact that this crisis distracted perfectly from what was happening in Budapest. Still though, the Tories insisted – their intervention had been right, and peace would now be guaranteed. Eden’s government was now banking above all on a capitulation from President Nasser, which it was hoped would come once the Anglo-French forces landed in number on the following morning of 6th November. This victory would surely mask the terrible embarrassment which had preceded it, but here, it was made clear that not all were convinced. Something was afoot, yet even despite the objections of his peers, neither Eden nor Lloyd gave in. They had come to far to give up now. Might would make right, because in the confused international circumstances presented by the 1950s, it was only rational to conclude that Britain knew best… Remember history friends - you can get these episodes ad-free with scripts attached for just $2 a month - for a fiver you can access our PhD Thesis series, so come and nerd out with us!
  • 1956 - The Suez Crisis #2.16: My Canadian Friends

    32:41
    1956 Episode 2.16 introduces the fascinating Canadian element into our story. Eden’s efforts to control the discussion continued, as the Prime Minister sought to make the British people see things wholly his way. To some extent he would succeed, but much like his French counterparts, it was proving immensely difficult to control what people thought deep down about this strangely brave but also incredibly reckless action. For a few fleeting hours, it appeared as though Eden had judged correctly – it was nice to see the entente cruising into battle again without the American say-so. But this pride would evaporate once it became clear how alone Britain and France were in this plot.Seemingly to the rescue in this equation was Lester Pearson, Canada’s Foreign Secretary and a critically important statesmen in the early Cold War era. An advocate of a police force controlled by the United Nations, and an enthusiastic supporter of negotiations taking place in the General Assembly, where many smaller states were represented, Pearson quickly became the face of solving Suez. This, of course, was not to Eden’s wishes, who wanted to crush Nasser, not be bailed out of his country. But even the PM had to make a show of going along with his proposals for the sake of good press, and before long, a stunning proposal was gathering momentum. A United Nations Emergency Force was the solution proposed by Pearson, and even while proposals in the General Assembly were not legally binding, Pearson soon counted several supporters eager to contribute men to this force.The task of persuading the British and French to make peace and hold back while this force was assembled was another issue entirely of course. As we’ll soon discover, the art of backing down was something which Eden soon gravitated towards, as he moved to recast his country not as an interventionist power, but as one acting explicitly in the interests of the UN, and of course, of world peace. Until he had the opportunity to manipulate the truth though, the PM would have to rely on his Canadian friends to change the debate, and bring about a solution which even he could accept. It was destined to be a busy next few days.Remember history friends - you can get these episodes ad-free with scripts attached for just $2 a month - for a fiver you can access our PhD Thesis series, so come and nerd out with us!
  • 1956 - The Suez Crisis #2.15: Foiled Abroad

    31:00
    1956 Episode 2.15 resumes the story of Anthony Eden and his struggle to implement the once perfect plan upon his unwilling nation. Having been challenged passionately at home by a disbelieving political nation in the last episode, here we see this suspicion and fear transplanted to Britain’s supposed allies, and to the United Nations. It was within the UN that some of the sneakiest and indefensible behaviour took place, as Britain was forced to veto measures which would have ordered a ceasefire between Egypt and Israel. This put her forward, alongside France, as a disturber of the peace, and as the hypocritical Soviets rushed to condemn her actions, the American reaction also became apparent. Having operated on the ludicrous assumption that President Eisenhower would fall into line, Eden was faced instead with the quite predictable scene of a confused, hesitant and deeply suspicious President, who could not bring himself to believe that Eden had actually done what he had done. Evidently, the PM was operating according to his own interests, and had failed to consider the fallout of his schemes, yet Eden never seemed to have paused for a moment, before it all kicked off, to think about what would happen if anything went wrong.As further attempts were made to class the British act as legally justified, to the immense consternation of those legal officers who had insisted this was impossible, British foreign policy bungled its way through negotiations in the UN General Assembly, as John Foster Dulles came out strongly against the Anglo-French act. The news of an ultimatum had been delivered in the late afternoon of 30th October, according to their carefully laid plans. Now, the Egyptians would resist, the Israelis would compromise and make peace, and all would see that Egypt was the problem which only Anglo-French arms could solve. This delusional plan, while it had demonstrated several holes already, remained the hymn sheet of the British government. For better or worse, as Hungary was crushed under Soviet boots, and an Anglo-French flotilla approached the first military target in Egypt, everything must go according to plan.Remember history friends - you can get these episodes ad-free with scripts attached for just $2 a month - for a fiver you can access our PhD Thesis series, so come and nerd out with us!
  • 1956 - The Suez Crisis #2.14: Attacked At Home

    36:54
    1956 Episode 2.14 takes us to the scenes facing Anthony Eden in Britain in the final days of October.Having orchestrated an Israeli-Egyptian war, the plan now was to issue an ultimatum, and for Anglo-French forces to swoop into Egypt to separate the two belligerents. Such a noble act, Eden believed, would cloak the fact that Britain and France were really there to oust Nasser, recoup prestige and occupy the Suez Canal for Western benefit. It was a thoroughly imperialistic, backwards set of policy aims that moved Eden’s government forward, and what he seems to never have suspected during the time he spent crafting it, was just how the opposition in Britain would respond.Incredibly, the PM seems to have expected everyone to have just believed him and his bare-faced lies. The fact that they did not and that many were aghast as the British act in tandem with France and acting outside of the realm of the UN forced Eden to go on the defensive. The PM had completely underestimated the situation, and he was now put in a position where he would have to lie in order to defend himself.Amidst rumours which put it that he was largely to blame for the Crisis which was unfolding, Eden would insist that British forces were operating with France to keep the peace, and to protect the interests of the world, represented in the Suez Canal. What a noble set of goals, except of course, the claims were full of hot air. Under such circumstances were political and military disasters made, but the PM had made his bed, conspiratorial and confused as it had been. Now he would be forced to lie in it. Remember history friends - you can get these episodes ad-free with scripts attached for just $2 a month - for a fiver you can access our PhD Thesis series, so come and nerd out with us!
  • 1956 - The Suez Crisis #2.13: When A Plan Comes Together

    30:08
    1956 Episode 2.13 examines the final moments of peace between 25-29 October, as the conspiracy to attack Egypt and make it look like an accident developed further.In Britain, the focus was on the legal argument still, even despite the clear problems which Britain’s legal advisors in the Foreign Office had in painting any British attack on Egypt as legally justified. While some less informed Cabinet members, like the Lord Chancellor, insisted that there was grounds for claiming that British rights were involved and intervention justified, the majority of the legal profession disagreed. Anthony Eden meanwhile sought to lie and deceive his way towards the conflict, letting no hints drop in the meantime that what was to come would profoundly affect Britain’s position in the world.The French and Israeli governments were already actively mobilised for war, involved as each was in its own miniature struggle for supremacy which promised to tie into the Egyptian situation. For France, it was Algeria and President Nasser’s tireless support of the enemies of France. For Israel it was President Nasser’s threatening Pan-Arabism and his refusal to permit Israel to access the Suez Canal. While these schemes progressed, hints were dropped and Egyptian nerves were frayed.Surely though, it would not be possible to initiate such a conflict – surely the UN, or the US, or NATO or something would prevent such a 19th century approach to international relations from taking place? Indeed, in this strange transition period between world war, decolonisation and the increasing focus on domestic matters, here were three powers about to turn back the clock in policy and behaviour, in the name of a plan which was soon to shatter world opinion, and dramatically alter the debate. Our story is heating up, so make sure you don’t miss a minute of this incredible instalment here! Remember history friends - you can get these episodes ad-free with scripts attached for just $2 a month - for a fiver you can access our PhD Thesis series, so come and nerd out with us!
  • 1956 - The Suez Crisis #2.12: Collusion And Delusion

    33:27
    1956 Episode 2.12 takes us to the 22-24 October 1956, where the war plan that would create the Suez Crisis was created, developed and signed by Britain, France and Israel in an unassuming Parisian suburb.This process was, of course, far from straightforward or guaranteed to produce a result. It required the French reassuring both the Israeli and British representatives about the solid nature of their plan, and it also demonstrated the lack of tact which Selwyn Lloyd in particular seemed to possess. One of the most incredible scenes though comes near the end of the episode when, on the evening of 24th October, Britain’s representatives return home to Anthony Eden with a copy of the Sevres Protocol in hand, only to come under rhetorical attack for leaving this paper trail in the course of their top secret discussions.Eden was well aware that there could be no evidence of what had been done at Sevres, and he would send these men back to France to track down and destroy any pieces of evidence that remained. The Prime Minister, of course, was already planning ahead to what he would say when word of the Crisis got out. For the sake of plausible deniability, Eden wished there to be no evidence and no written record of the collusion. Thankfully for historians since, Eden’s wishes were not fulfilled. Here was the last piece of the Suez puzzle being set in place, so I hope you’ll give it a listen and enjoy!Remember history friends - you can get these episodes ad-free with scripts attached for just $2 a month - for a fiver you can access our PhD Thesis series, so come and nerd out with us!
  • 1956 - The Suez Crisis #2.11: A Protocol For War

    32:17
    1956 Episode 2.11 finally takes us to that controversial moment when Britain, France and Israel began to move closer together.The Sevres Protocol was neither developed nor signed in a day, and in the first two weeks of October, negotiations critically important to the later conflict were underway. At first, Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd hoped to make use of the UN Security Council to gain British satisfaction in Egypt, and for a time he was successful in this aim, because Anthony Eden was ill and unable to order his subordinate around. Once Eden recovered though, Eden ramped up the pressure, and Lloyd was encouraged, alongside his French counterpart, to torpedo the negotiations in the Security Council which had aimed at a peaceful resolution.While this peace effort was frustrated, a looming conflict aside from all these considerations began to develop. This involved Jordan, Britain’s firm ally in the Middle East, and he difficult relationship with Israel, the newly established ally of the French. Since neither the French nor British wished to see their newfound entente drift apart, the French government determined it would be better to spill the beans on what was being agreed with Israel rather than watch the different allies initiate an unwanted war in the region. Thus, the French travelled to Chequers, Anthony Eden’s swanky manor home, on 14th October 1956, to initiate the first step of the collusion which was to become infamous. At first hesitant, Eden was soon convinced of the genius of the plan – Britain, France and Israel would work together against the common Egyptian foe, and this partnership would surely sink President Nasser once and for all.Remember history friends - you can get these episodes ad-free with scripts attached for just $2 a month - for a fiver you can access our PhD Thesis series, so come and nerd out with us!
  • 1956 - The Suez Crisis #2.10: Israeli Sneaky

    30:26
    1956 Episode 2.10 takes us to the Commonwealth, seen as so vital to British interests, but fracturing over the question of the best course of action to take against President Nasser.The Canadian, Australian and NZ governments were all uneasy at the prospect of war, and some, like the Canadian Foreign Minister Lester Pearson, advocated a diplomatic approach. While Eden forged ahead with an aggressive policy, torpedoing another conference on the Suez Canal in the process, he increasingly began to alienate the Americans. The PM didn’t seem to care what other nations thought, though he was eager to make even better friends with the French throughout September. It was around this time in our story that things in France began to change – they were increasingly coming to provide weapons and support to a new ally – Israel.Largely because of French prodding and intrigue, the Israeli element of the story became all important. While the British were not yet let in on the plan, Franco-Israeli military cooperation and supply deals were paving the way towards a more trusting, beneficial relationship which could soon be exploited. The Israeli government, led by David Ben-Gurion, was also desirous of a war with Egypt, that nation which had threatened his own with destruction time and time again. The dilemma was that Israel could not be seen as the aggressor, but how was such a war then to be crafted and set in motion? Scheming heads were set together, and before long, a solution more incredible than anyone could have imagined was brought into being… Remember history friends - you can get these episodes ad-free with scripts attached for just $2 a month - for a fiver you can access our PhD Thesis series, so come and nerd out with us!
  • 1956 - The Suez Crisis #2.9: The Fix Is In

    37:54
    1956 Episode 2.9 looks at that moment which has become infamous in history – the collusion between Britain, France and Israel.We are almost ready to see these sneaky meetings take place, and for the infamous agreement take shape, but first, it is worth investigating another important and underrated angle of the Crisis. The key element of the Suez Crisis story that demonstrates how low Britain sank must be the manifest failure of the British Government to develop any legal argument in favour of their interventionist actions. In the past, formulating such an argument was simple – an act of aggression against British interests or allies was enough to provoke a war. Now though, the whole issue was a good deal trickier.For one, the Suez Canal Company may have been a British ‘interest’, but it was also by no means damaged by the nationalisation of late July 1956. Second, try as he might, Eden failed in his efforts to convince the opposition and many of his peers that legally, Britain had a case in Egypt. Not only was Nasser working hard not to give Eden any excuse at this stage, but he had even compensated British shareholders in the Canal Company in previous months. While many would argue that Nasser’s use of force to nationalise the Canal Company was unsavoury, it was not, in the strictest sense, illegal, because Nasser was only taking what was in his country, and thus his to take.In this episode we are introduced to Sir Gerald Fitzmaurice, a person of foremost importance thanks to his legal work in the British Foreign Office. Fitzmaurice’s task was to find legal justification for an Anglo-French war in Egypt. This, as Fitzmaurice was made aware, was an impossible task. It was to Eden’s immense frustration that Fitzmaurice’s integrity was greater than his ‘loyalty’ or ‘patriotism’ – the legal officer refused to give Eden the legal justification he desired.While on the surface this seems like an unimportant sequence of events, Fitzmaurice’s convictions here demonstrated clearly at the time, and speak loudly to this day, the fact that Eden’s interventionist policy in Egypt was baseless, and was devoid of the honour or noble intentions he would later claim. If the Prime Minister couldn’t even get his minion in the Foreign Office to see ‘sense’, then how on earth was he going to persuade the rest of the world? This question, as we’ll see, was far from Eden’s thoughts. If he couldn’t get legal approval, then he would move along with the plan regardless…Remember history friends - you can get these episodes ad-free with scripts attached for just $2 a month - for a fiver you can access our PhD Thesis series, so come and nerd out with us!