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Boston University School of Law




This article compares and juxtaposes constitutional war powers (deployed by the belligerents) and diplomacy (deployed by the US) as means of pursuing foreign policy during the 1956 Suez crisis.

In the fall of 1956 the United Kingdom, France and Israel launched a war against Egypt. It soon became clear that this was a coordinated effort. The war started a few days before the US presidential elections but the parties did not share their plans with President Eisenhower. The Hungarian rebellion and the Soviet invasion of Hungary occurred at the same time. Within weeks, the United States, in cooperation with the United Nations forced the belligerents to withdraw. France and Great Britain lost their dominant status in the Middle East. Israel gained navigation access to the Straits of Tiran as well as a demilitarized Sinai Peninsula, including the Gaza strip. None of the belligerents achieved their war aims.

This article situates the constitutional dimension of war powers in a dense description of the decision to go to war. It shows that while each country had a different constitutional process regulating the decision to go to war, a small circle in the executive branch was responsible for the fateful decision in each of the countries. The constitutional process was honored formally but substantively only minimal parliamentary or even cabinet deliberations took place. The article also offers summaries of the constitutional changes taking place in each of these countries in the aftermath of the war. The final part of the article reviews US constitutional presidential powers deployed to coerce the three belligerents to end the war and withdraw from Egyptian territory. In an effort to restore the status quo ante, the President of the United States used diplomatic means. His actions ended the age of colonialism in the Middle East and introduced the United States (and the Soviet Union) into Middle Eastern politics.


Boston University School of Law, Public Law & Legal Theory Paper No. 15-50

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