Was Gamal Abdel Nasser Successful in Balancing the Soviet Union and US Concerns?

Was Gamal Abdel Nasser Successful in Balancing the Soviet Union and US Concerns?

This review utilises the prime secondary sources that unravel the contentions and final settlement of power between America and Soviet Union during the Cold War era. The role of Abdel Nasser of Egypt alongside the then leaders of third world nations on the eve of the conflict, in conjunction with Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the United States are central in the development and accomplishment Cold War which almost invoked the cobwebs of yet another major atomic World War (Yezid and Shlaim, 2003). Notably, this review is set on the threshold of historical contexts, within which the crisis span before it was brought to a halt; mainly by the United States under the leadership of President Eisenhower.

Some scholars in the realm of Egyptian history present President Abdel Nasser as an authoritarian ruler who seized power through a Coup d’ Etat (Walt, 2009). Those who are concerned with the dynamics of his philosophies argue that Nasser was a tyrant in his tricks, who dared the expulsion of France and Britain in the Suez Canal which conjoins the continent of Asia and Africa, and which historically paved the way for the thriving of trade and movements of people to different parts of the globe. Remarkably, the Suez Canal in the context of history enabled the European powers to gain entry into Africa, and India while evading the long route via the Horn of Africa. The keen eyes of European powers sought to control this strategic economic pathway, with Britain indeed purchasing the shares for controlling the Canal in the year 1875 (Nasser et al., 2013).


With the resounding desires to control this affluent Egyptian rim, the Colonel and Army Ahmed Arabi in the year 1881 led a revolutionary revolt slogan “Egypt for Egyptians” which triggered that Egyptians be left to run their affair, the Suez Canal (Lahav, 2015). The European stake in demand for control increased, arguing that there was a probability that if Egyptians are left to run the Canal; they might default their debts, seize the canal and thus invert the status quo of the international trade which the powers deemed the canal controlled (Wohlforth, 1993). These rationales thus justified their quest for “an absolute necessity” to safeguard their fundamental interests. Consequently, in the year 1882, the British forces with aid from the Indian seized the canal, after defeating Arabi’s troops at the Nile Delta battle; and Queen Victoria gained control of Egypt with France failing to act decisively along the margins of her national strategic interests.

Many years later up to 1950s, Great Britain yet had substantial interest and control in the Suez Canal. In the year 1956, Israel declared war on Egypt for invading the Sinai Peninsula (Jackson, 2016). The invasion equally motivated the French and British governments to pressure the two states, both Israel and Egypt to stay ten miles away from the Suez Canal, which made them deploy their forces on the site, and in their attempt to regain the control. However, in the same year, president Gamal Abdel Nasser in the year 1956 decided to nationalise the Suez Canal, to accrue funds for the construction of the Aswan Dam. According to Barnett 1998, Nasser’s action was constructed on the foundations of vengeance against the French and British who had controlled the canal. However, President Nasser act invoked a global conflict over the operation and ownership of the Suez Canal. With the thrust exerted by the United States, the British withdrew most of their forces from the area. The United States continually appeared to exhibit a differentiated perspective in contrast to many European Powers, concerning the structural foundations underlying the Suez Canal (Hyde-Price, 2006).

Alongside the differentiated perceptions with Great Britain and France, the United States equally differed with the Soviet Union in the climax of Egypt’s strife to administer the Suez Canal. The War of the Suez Canal; according to Aburish (2004), became a battle of choice rekindled simultaneously by France, the United Kingdom, Israel against the conspired opposition by the United States to share similar interests. In the realms of global affairs, the invasion of Egypt aligned with the period in which Cold War was renting in Europe and the Western powers with the Soviet Union flexing the communism muscles in countries such as Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania.

Amidst the ultimatum and invasion of Britain and France in Egypt, President Eisenhower reacted resolutely and furiously; seeking immediate withdrawal of their troops off Egypt. Despite the thriving Cold War, the Soviet Union welcomed such demands. At the same time, the Soviet Union was waging for dominance in Hungary. The United States kept echoing for the withdrawal of Israelis, French and British forces from the Egyptian soil. The three countries abided by the United States, after international sanctions, and aggressive manoeuvres (Halliday, 2005).

President Eisenhower was dealing with the crisis in Egypt at a time when the Soviet Union was invading and occupying Hungary in the year 1956 which significantly escalated the crisis. This is argued from the premise that the United States was echoing the rule of law against her allies Britain and France; while at the same time curbing the violation of law principles by the Soviet Union at Hungary (Mearsheimer, 1990). It would have been awkward applying morals in the context of the Suez Canal realpolitik in Hungary scene. From this context, a vivid impression of President Nasser in balancing the concerns of the two powers can be reiterated. Consequently, the Suez Canal conflict and Moscow’s invasion of Hungary neutralised the impending discrepancies between the two states.

According to Schweller, and Wohlforth (2000), the Suez Canal conflict under the leadership of Gamal Abdel Nasser breeds forth important propositions on which states either balance against threatening or strong nations. The premise that countries will seek to collaborate and function as a unit in the quest to suppress the dominance of stronger powers rests on the concept of balance of power theory. Notably, on the eve of Egypt invasion by Britain and France, she sought to neutralise the impacts by equally aligning and joining forces with neutral countries, especially India and other Arabs states. The Soviet Union by then was a great rival of the United States because of the looming Cold War. President Nasser indeed had opted for the Soviet’s support on military grounds to expel the already united Britain, France and Israel.

States risks their ability to thrive and survive when they do not join forces early enough before the opponent become stronger. Notably, the perception that nations will incline towards allying with instead of against the dominant side is common throughout the pages of history. According to McNamara (2003), this tendency is termed as “Bandwagoning behaviour”, which is deemed to gather the nations on the side-lines. Through the alignments with the threatening forces, the bandwagoner state hopes to evade the attacks on self by diverting it elsewhere. Additionally, the country can orient with a stronger side to share the delicacies of the spoil. In view of this, the Egyptians’ quest to ally with the Soviet Union was intended to attain military support against the French and British, while the Soviet Union is seeking to ascend to eminence in the eve of the Cold War against the United States.

During the climax of the Cold War, the United States through military strategy and foreign policy committed to safeguarding the Western Europe countries from the raging Russian domination. The relentless US participation in seeking for the balance of power in the Europe continent was seemingly meant to induce international stability and prosperity in America. Contrary with the aggressive Soviets to spread their economist policies, the United States was not intent on the same, in seeking to cover the United States dominated system in Europe (Gordon, 1992). They were not clear on which method they wanted to support, and see it spread out to the entire European nations. However, they remained keen against the Soviets dominance, and perceived as a threat internationally and at home.

The engagement of the Soviets and the United States into Egypt affairs is better explained through the spectrum of two views, according to Skidmore. These two views are the extent of engagements and secondly the nature and characteristic of such interactions. According to the balance of power theory, influential powers intend to partner together as a balancing logistic. This premise can exemplify why the United States and the Soviets collaborated in having the French, British and Israelis withdrawn from the Egyptian realm during the Sues Canal crisis (Gerges, 1994).

From the perspective of the nature and characteristics of interaction of the Soviets and America in the affairs of Egypt; scholarly works and historians have maintained that each power was seeking high influence on both international and domestic parameters. The two nations operated on the ideology that the intensity and methodology of penetration into a country determined the local receptivity and welcoming gestures by the local government. The two states were keen to build a rapport for positive responsiveness by the Egyptians as a strategy to sell out their economic strengths (Hossein-Zadeh, 1989).

The available literature from the lovers of history has demonstrated an in-depth mastery of understandings of issues that indeed underlined the Cold War, which indeed had a potential to rekindle a spark of another great world war. This review substantially revolved along the contagious Suez Canal crisis to bring home the limelight of how Gamal Abdel Nasser interacted with the Soviets and the American concerns. From the review, it is apparent that Nasser did succeed in the balancing of power between the two states. The Cold War could have amidst the Suez Canal conflict during the 1950s under the presidency of Nasser and Eisenhower significantly balanced the dominance of the Soviets and Americans (Jackson, 2016). This perception is as valid and applicable to other third world countries by which contributed to the basketry of power balance.

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  • Aburish, S.K., 2004. Nasser: the last Arab. Macmillan.
  • Barnett, M. (1998). Dialogues in Arab politics. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Gerges, F.A., 1994. The superpowers and the Middle East: regional and international politics, 1955-67. Westview Press.
  • Gordon, J. (1992). Nasser's Blessed Movement. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Halliday, F 2005. The Middle East in international relations: power, politics and ideology, vol.4. Cambridge University Press
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  • Mearsheimer, J.J., 1990. Back to the future: Instability in Europe after the Cold War. International security, 15(1), pp.5-56.
  • Nasser, T., Abdel Nasser, T., Mosaad, S. and ‘Abd al-Nir, H. (2013). Nasser my husband. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.
  • Schweller, R.L. and Wohlforth, W.C., 2000. Power test: Evaluating realism in response to the end of the Cold War. Security Studies, 9(3), pp.60-107.
  • Walt, S.M., 2009. Alliances in a unipolar world. World politics, 61(1), pp.86-120.
  • Wohlforth, W.C., 1993. The elusive balance: power and perceptions during the Cold War. Cornell University Press.
  • Yezid. and Shlaim, A. (2003). The Cold War and the Middle East. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

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