There are many reasons why the 1956 Suez Canal crisis was a pivotal moment in modern history. It symbolised the twilight of British imperial power, demonstrated the new force of Arab nationalism and created a rare breach between the governments of the US and Israel.
The Suez crisis was also a solitary example where sanctions have persuaded a government to withdraw its army from territory it had seized. When US President Dwight Eisenhower threatened to block crucial international loans to the UK, precipitating a run on the pound, the British, French and Israelis decided to pull out of the Suez Canal area that they had seized from Egypt.
After Russian troops moved into Crimea last month, the US and European governments warned that Russia would face tough international sanctions. The Obama administration has talked about “isolating” Russia from parts of the global economy, both as a punishment for the annexation of Crimea and as a warning about further military adventurism.
“Together, we are imposing costs through sanctions that have left a mark on Russia,” Barack Obama said in Brussels on Wednesday. “And if the Russian leadership stays on its current course, together we will ensure that this isolation deepens.”
Despite enthusiasm in the US, the history of sanctions since Suez demonstrates a decidedly mixed record in changing the behaviour of determined states, especially when it comes to military occupations. “Sanctions are not going to force Russia out of Crimea,” says Prof Daniel Drezner, at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and an expert on sanctions.
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