In October 1957, U.S. Ambassador to Canada Livingston Merchant wrote to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles with an assessment of Anglo-American relations in the context of recent world events. Although relations between the two countries had been quite positive for several decades, the “special relationship” between the United States and Britain had been strained by the recent “Suez Crisis.” This event was prompted by Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser’s July 1956 decision to nationalize the Franco-British Suez Canal Company, a French-British company responsible for operating the Suez Canal. The Eisenhower administration did not relish the prospect of a rupture with its British and French allies, but it also did not want to stand with European colonialism against Nasser’s increasingly popular nationalist, pan-Arab, and anti-colonial movement. Accordingly, U.S. officials attempted to bring the parties together to negotiate a settlement. However, British and French policymakers had little faith in these efforts, and they instead worked out a secret deal with the Israeli government to attack Egypt, depose Nasser, and wrest control of the Suez Canal from the Egyptians. On October 29, 1956, Israeli forces invaded Egypt, and days later British and French soldiers occupied the canal zone.
British and French officials significantly underestimated American opposition to their plan. President Eisenhower was angered by the failure of his NATO allies to consult with Washington, and he took swift steps over the next two weeks to undo the results of the scheme. Eisenhower helped organizeda United Nations (UN) brokered ceasefire and the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force to replace the belligerent armies. Eisenhower then pressured the British, French, and Israelis to accept the ceasefire.
In the aftermath of the crisis, British Prime Minister Anthony Eden resigned from office in January 1957. His successor, Harold Macmillan, had served alongside Eisenhower in North Africa during World War II, and the new prime minister quickly reached out to his old friend in hopes of establishing a dialogue and repairing London’s relations with Washington D.C. In this context, Ambassador Merchant shared his views on U.S. relations with Great Britain with an eye on upcoming talks between Macmillan and Eisenhower. -M.Loayza, Minnesota State University, Mankato
Nigel John Ashton, Eisenhower, Macmillan and the Problem of Nasser: Anglo-American Relations and Arab Nationalism, 1955–1959 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 997)
W. Scott Lucas, Divided We Stand: Britain, the US and the Suez Crisis (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1991)