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An Alternate Suez Outcome

What really happened.

The Suez Crisis of 1956 was a pivotal period in many ways. It was an early conflict of “proxies” in the cold war (ostensibly Communist backed Egypt under Nasser and the Western backed Israeli Defence Force). It was also the final shift of power from the traditional European behemoths (France and the UK) towards a world influenced by two superpowers (the US and the USSR).

The basics of the crisis are as follows:-

A military coup in Egypt overthrew an Egyptian monarchical regeme that was little more than a British puppet government. This coup had been preceeded by a gradual lessening of the traditional purpose of the Suez Canal – the lifeline between Europe and its Eastern colonies. With the dissolution of Empires in general, and the British in particular, the excuse that the canal should remain under a European sphere of influence was wearing rather thin.

Nasser, the man who oversaw the coup, immediately turned to the communist block for support. While not particularly socialist or communist himself, he was canny enough to recognise that the only way he could possibly stand up militarily to France and Britain was with soviet weapons. To this end he opened diplomatic relations with communist China in an effort to get that country to persuade the USSR and her puppets to supply arms to Egypt.

Nasser also nationalised the canal, which outraged France and Britain, who were the owners at the time. These two nations secretly met with Israel, and formed a plan for Israel to invade the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip, extending its borders to Egypt. Following this, Britain and France would intervene militarily to separate the warring nations, gaining control of the canal at the same time.

It was a plot that was pure 19th century power broking, and at first worked perfectly. Unfortunately it discounted the fact that this sort of action could not really exist in the polarised world of the early Cold War. This latter fact lead to the US forcing France and Britain to withdraw when the USSR threatened to intervene on Egypt’s behalf by launching an all out war on Europe, including threatening to use nuclear weapons.

The end result was the final nail in the coffin of the Egyptian-Israeli relations (which had actually been relatively cordial until the early 1950s). It also was a bad humiliation for France and Britain, firmly relegating them to the position of second tier players in the new world’s power structure. It also forced the resignation of the British premier, Sir Anthony Eden.

Point of Departure

Instead of obeying the US directive to withdraw from Suez, France and Britain stubbornly hold on to their military gains.

The Repercussions

The first and foremost would almost certainly be military action by the USSR and the Warsaw Pact. Considering that there were substantial British and French forces in the Eastern Mediterranean at the time (no less than 5 aircraft carriers with supporting forces), this escalation would almost certainly have involved a far more aggressive deployment in Egypt, supported by Israeli ground forces.

For its part, the Warsaw pact would have made moves in Europe. Considering that the USSR’s nuclear deterrent did not include ICBMs until 1957, we would see an effort for nuclear weapon equipped bombers to strike major Western European cities. I would think that some would get through, but given the extended ranges involved, I could very easily see a second Battle of Britain seeing off what few bombers managed to successfully traverse the gauntlet of bases in Western Europe.

I doubt London would have been hit with a nuclear weapon, but I think it is safe to assume that what few German cities were more or less intact by the late 1950s would have been hit, alongside several French cities, including perhaps Paris. There were a lot of US troops in Western Europe at the time, as well as increased mobilization in France and the UK. Germany would have been the weak link in the chain, hampered as it was by the harsh armament policies imposed by the victors after World War II.

So we would almost certainly see a European war sweep away the shattered remains of Germany. Battles would once more be fought along the Rhine, and whole army formations would disappear in tactical nuclear explosions while both sides expended their relatively limited arsenals. Then the turning point would come.

In our timeline, the USSR would not deploy an ICBM until the R-& was successfully tested in 1957. On the other hand, the US had working ICBMs several years earlier, and while they could not deploy large numbers until the early 1960s, they certainly had some available in 1956.

So, a United States which is furious with its European Allies but who is committed to making sure that the USSR does not sweep them away and gain control over Europe ships some ICBMs to Turkey, several years earlier than it did in our timeline. These ICBMs end up decimating several key Soviet cities from a range longer than anything else on the battlefield could equal.

The USSR immediately sues for peace, hoping to buy some time to finish off their own ICBMs, although the ruins of several of their major cities has demoralised the people and isolated rebellions break out from those who blame communism for yet more of their woes. Doubtlessly they would put down these rebellions in their own territory, but they may well lose control of fractious Warsaw pact members like Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

Thus we end up with continental Europe being devastated yet again, barely ten years after the end of World War II. Germany would cease to exist for all intents and purposes, possibly evening de-evolving into smaller states. France would have been badly mauled by tactical nukes, and thus would concentrate on rebuilding France its self, leaving Britain in de-facto control of what started the whole thing off – the Suez Canal.

The USSR would take a very long time to recover, but when it does, it could very well find itself in a world in which the US is once again aggressively isolationist after a third European war, a war caused by its “allies” France and the UK.

Long Term Picture

A world in which these things happened would be vastly different from our own. In some ways, it would have been far less polar. The USSR was broken, possibly for several years. Eastern Europe had breathing room in which to assert its self, possibly leading to Western-European friendly governments in several nations.

Germany may not ever recover, reverting to the old feudal states and alliances geographically. The US may tend towards a policy of non-intervention, possible allowing powers such as Britain to retain more of their world influence than in OTL. France would rise again, but the main powers in Europe would be Britain and its continental allies – Scandinavia and whatever Eastern European countries fought free of the USSR.

Israel and Britain would almost certainly end up as very close allies due to Arab anger at the war’s outcome. This may end up with a more “adventurous” period of neo-colonialism and a slower deterioration of the Imperial Remnants, with oil, not trade routes, as the spoils.

We would see an almost constant period of small scale warfare in the Middle East, possible warfare in the ruins of Europe as extremists of one stripe or another pop up all over the place. It is also likely that China would be the philosophical backer of the communist rebels of Africa and South America, not the USSR, since the latter would have enough of its own problems.

In retrospect, the Suez Crisis, no matter how embarrassing a period it is in British history, actually turned out for the better for all involved. No World War III in the 1950s, no exchange of nuclear weapons on a largish scale, and no neo-colonial period.

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