Suez Dispute and Strategic Waterways

September 18, 1956

Report Outline
Suez Crisis: Implications for the Future
Rights and Interests in Vital Waterways
Emergency Measures and Future Alternatives

Suez Crisis: Implications for the Future

The current Suez Canal conflict raises international issues that go far beyond those immediately affecting the strategic waterway that connects the Red Sea with the Mediterranean, Egypt's nationalization of the Suez Canal Company and ensuing developments have turned attention to the status of other interoceanic canals and straits of importance to many nations. Precedents set in the final Suez settlement seem certain to have bearing on such other man-made and natural waterways as the Panama Canal, the Kiel Canal, the Dardanelles, and the Black Sea Straits.

The far-reaching implications of the Suez controversy were exploited at the outset by the Soviet Union. In responding to the British invitation to attend the London conference on Suez in August, the Soviet Union asked “Why is the Suez Canal singled out of a number of not less important sea straits and canals?” Without referring by name to any specific waterway, the Russian note of Aug. 9 declared that problems connected with freedom of navigation in a number of vital straits and canals should be taken up within the framework of the United Nations. The scope of the United States rights at Panama has since been called into question in other quarters and can be expected to figure in U.N. debates if the Suez dispute goes to the Security Council.

Egypt's Nationalization OF Suez Canal Company

The decision of the Egyptian government to nationalize the Suez Canal Company was announced, without prior notice to other nations, in a political speech last July 26 by President Gamal Abdel Nasser. The nationalization law, signed by Nasser the same day, transferred to Egypt “all property and rights” of the internationally-owned Universal Suez Maritime Canal Company, froze the company's assets in Egypt, and dissolved its administrative organizations and committees.

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Waterways and Harbors