Suez Canal Crisis
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Suez Canal Crisis
Lester B. Pearson pulls the world back from the brink of war and wins the Nobel Peace Prize
In 1956, a brilliant diplomat named Lester B. Pearson led Canada into middle power respectability when he pulled the world back from the brink of war in the Middle East.
In 1956, the first large international peacekeeping force was dispatched to the Suez Canal area to keep the peace while the British and French removed their troops from Egypt. Pictured here, Canadian soldiers on Egypt-Israel Frontier in the late 1950s. (N
In 1956, the first large international peacekeeping force was dispatched to the Suez Canal area to keep the peace while the British and French removed their troops from Egypt. Pictured here, Canadian soldiers on Egypt-Israel Frontier in the late 1950s. (National Archives of Canada, PA-122737)

The son of a Methodist minister, Pearson grew up in Newtonbrook, Ontario and earned his diplomatic stripes with postings in wartime Washington and London. By the end of the Second World War, Pearson and the rest of the world faced a new diplomatic challenge, as the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union emerged.

The chill between the two superpowers left little room for Canada to have a voice in international relations. Now the External Affairs Minister in the Liberal cabinet of Louis St. Laurent, Pearson believed Canada could be an independent force for international peace and goodwill. But as the Cold War locked Canada into the American orbit, Lester Pearson feared his dream was threatened.

"We are constantly faced with the problem of trying to influence United States policy in a manner which will protect our own interests and our conception of what is good for the world, but which will not involve us in public quarrels with a great and friendly neighbour."

But in the mid-1950s events would unfold in the Middle East that finally gave Pearson a chance to realize his vision for Canada's place in the new world order.

In the post-war world, Egypt was growing closer to the Moscow and accepting Soviet arms.

In the summer of 1956, Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser seized control of the Suez Canal, a critical shipping route, which was run by French and British interests. Nasser had acted in response to the two countries withdrawing foreign investment funds to build a dam on the Nile River.

In October, despite American opposition, Britain and France, together with Israel launched attacks on Egypt. Nasser appealed to Soviet leader Khrushchev, who threatened to shower the west with nuclear weapons if the British and French didn't withdraw.
Lester B. Pearson was the Canadian Minister of External Affairs when he won the 1957 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in resolving the Suez Canal Crisis.  Pictured here, Pearson displaying the Nobel Prize.
(National Archives of Canada, C-094168)
Lester B. Pearson was the Canadian Minister of External Affairs when he won the 1957 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in resolving the Suez Canal Crisis. Pictured here, Pearson displaying the Nobel Prize. (National Archives of Canada, C-094168)

The world appeared to be on the brink of war.

At the United Nations, Pearson proposed a striking solution. The plan called for the British and French to withdraw but would allow for a United Nations force to remain in the area, stabilizing the situation.

"A United Nations force large enough to keep those borders at peace while a political settlement is being worked out."

The British were unhappy with the proposal, but when it was tabled, all 57 member nations voted for it. There were some in Canada who were critical of it as well, angry that Canada had not sided with Britain.

It was the first large international peacekeeping force. It included 6000 men from ten countries under the command of a Canadian General E.L.M. Burns. It helped to keep peace in the Middle East until Egypt demanded that it leave the area in 1967.

Pearson emerged from the Suez crisis as hero, winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his role. He had also fulfilled his dream to give Canada an independent place on the world stage.

Pearson would be elected Prime Minister in 1963 and Canada's peacekeeping operation would continue to grow and flourish under his leadership.

To date, Canada has been part of every major peacekeeping operation. About 80,000 Canadian servicemen and servicewomen have served in peacekeeping operations in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, and Latin America.


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