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Saturday, October 15, 2016

NATO, the EU, and the Curse of Suez

Almost exactly sixty years ago, France and the UK invaded an area along the Suez Canal. Egypt’s leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, had nationalized the canal a few months before, and for a variety of reasons London and Paris wanted to reverse this move. But the Franco-British military operation was halted within days, because the United States cut off emergency loans to the UK (France had to oblige because its troops were under British command).
The Suez Crisis had a number of very significant knock-on effects, ranging from the first deployment of UN peacekeepers to the promotion of pan-Arab nationalism. Plus, if there was any prior doubt, the episode proved that the United States was the undisputed leader of the Western world.
Suez also created a rift between London and Paris that has cursed NATO and the EU ever since, and that the impending British exit from the EU may only reinforce. Given the multitude of security challenges currently confronting transatlantic allies—from an unpredictable Russia to wars in the Middle East to a more assertive China—the West can ill afford diverging strategic outlooks between France and the UK, Europe’s leading military powers.
Since Suez, France and Britain have often fundamentally differed, in large part because they took diametrically opposing strategic lessons from that affair. The UK learned to never leave the side of the United States, giving the special relationship a renewed lease of life. The French learned to never trust the British nor rely on the Americans.

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