A devotion to peace: the Suez Crisis

Article / November 6, 2017 / Project number: 16-1053

By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

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This is one in an ongoing series of articles recounting some of Canada’s most significant military engagements to mark the country’s 150th birthday.

Ottawa, Ontario — While Canada’s role in international peacekeeping missions has been reduced since the start of the Afghanistan mission in 2001, Canadians can continue to take pride in our instrumental role in the very first major United Nations peacekeeping effort.

Future Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson was Canada’s Secretary of State for External Affairs in 1956 when Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the French- and British-owned entity that operated the Suez Canal, a key route for shipping oil to England.

Nasser planned to use the revenue to fund construction of the Aswan Dam, with which he hoped to control floods along the Nile River and generate hydro-electrical power. With the covert support of Britain and France, and without consulting their other allies in NATO, Israeli forces advanced toward the canal on October 29. Fighting broke out two days later.

Amidst fears that a larger war could be sparked, a probable outcome considering Nasser’s forces had been armed by the Soviet Union, Pearson addressed the UN General Assembly, calling for the creation of a “peace and police force” to deal with the developing crisis.

When the UN General Assembly voted on the proposal on November 4, 19 member states abstained but there were no votes against it. British and French troops parachuted into the Canal Zone shortly after.

A ceasefire was achieved on November 6, however, and peacekeeping troops, including Canadian supply and logistics specialists, were on the ground by the end of the month. The UN Emergency Force was also led by a Canadian: Major General E.L.M. Burns.

Pearson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in 1957, saying, “I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given to participate in that work as a representative of my country, Canada, whose people have, I think, shown their devotion to peace.”

Since the Suez Crisis, more than 100,000 Canadians have served on similar missions under both the UN and NATO flags and more than 100 have lost their lives.

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