Three Egyptian fishermen watch British destroyer, HMS Monmouth, sail through the Suez Canal, 2001.
Three Egyptian fishermen watch British destroyer, HMS Monmouth, sail through the Suez Canal, 2001.
(Aladin Abdel Naby/Courtesy Reuters)

OF all the great roadways of the world, the sea road to India via the Isthmus of Suez is probably the most important, for it joins East and West, Asia and Europe-- that is, the two most thickly-populated continents having the most ancient civilizations. The Isthmus itself, by virtue of its geographical position, has always been a focal point, but its greatest significance dates from the opening of the Canal, in 1869, at a time when Europe was triumphantly expanding, thanks to the industrial revolution and steam navigation. The rapid pace of industrialization could not have been kept up without access to raw materials from the uttermost parts of the earth and the opening of new markets for manufactured goods. And the introduction of America to the Far East in the twentieth century further enlarged the rôle of this intercontinental route. If the Canal is blocked or its efficiency impaired the whole Western World is affected.

As an intercontinental crossroad Suez is so important that the great World Powers must, of necessity, either establish a foothold in it or at least make sure of its availability to them. If I knew who was to be its master 10 or 25 years from now, then I should know who had mastery of the whole world as well. Renan was not far from right when he said in his welcoming speech to Ferdinand de Lesseps upon the latter's admission to the French Academy:

The great sentence, "I came not to bring peace, but a sword," must have come often into your mind. Once the Isthmus was cut, it inevitably became a passageway, that is, a field of battle. So far, one Bosporus had made for quite enough trouble in the world, but you have created a second which overshadows it in importance, for it connects not merely two landlocked seas but all the great oceans. In the event of a naval war, this is the point which the contending powers would struggle most urgently to occupy. You have set your seal on one of the great battlegrounds of the future.

The necessity of organizing exchanges between East and West is common to all ages, but the products exchanged vary from one period to another, and so do the means of transporting them. The Suez Canal is an important factor in the balance of civilizations, living standards, communications and trade. For this reason its significance is different today from what it was in the nineteenth century, when Lesseps conceived and built it. And there is an even greater difference between the present conception of East-West trade and that held in ancient times and the Middle Ages.

In ancient Roman eyes, Asia was a fabulous source of riches and luxury. After Alexander the Great had swept away many of the dividing walls which separated one part of the Orient from another, trade on a truly international scale developed between three important centers of civilization: the Mediterranean, the Hellenistic Middle East and the Far East proper (India and China). The goods imported were luxury articles: perfumes, cloth, precious stones, spices and circus animals. Because Rome had little to offer in exchange (lead, pewter, glass and wine), she paid in gold for an unfavorable trade balance. Eventually, all the gold of the West found its way to Byzantium and India.

In the Middle Ages, the trade balance remained approximately the same. Spices, china, aloe-wood, camphor, pearls and perfumes were exchanged for other woods, cloth, metals and fur. Merchants from Genoa, Venice and Catalonia went to Alexandria and Pelusium, where they met their Arab counterparts from all sections of Africa and Asia. Egypt was the great meeting-place.

In the second half of the fifteenth century, two events of capital importance transformed the face of the globe. First, the Turkish capture of Constantinople (1453) cut off the ancient routes to Asia. And, second, Vasco da Gama (1498) opened a new sea route, around the Cape of Good Hope, to India. As a result, the Mediterranean was changed, for three centuries to come, from a passageway into a blind alley. The world center of gravity was displaced toward the shores of the Atlantic and the Great Powers which bordered upon it.

As long as the articles traded remained more or less the same, the Cape of Good Hope was a sufficient and preferable route. It was suited to sailing vessels and offered more security than the pirate-infested Mediterranean. But the relationship between Europe and Asia was radically changed when the industrial revolution came into full force and steam navigation swept the sailing ship from the seas. Industrialized nineteenth century Europe was no longer content with Eastern spices and other luxury products; it needed raw materials for its factories, and foodstuffs in wholesale quantities for an expanding population which it could no longer support. Its exports were transformed even more importantly: mass production goods, tools and machinery, all with a great appeal to an East roused by its new contact with the expanding Western economy.

Now the Orient appeared in quite a different light, not as the legendary and marvelous region of the past but as a no less precious reservoir of cheap raw materials, and, at the same time, a market for the West's increasing industrial production. A whole new system of exchanges came into being: Europe imported goods in the raw and sent them back manufactured. This was a healthy and mutually beneficial state of affairs, which made for nineteenth-century prosperity and all the benefits of free trade.

Another result, felt from the end of the eighteenth century to the First World War, was the indisputable and uncontested power of the European nations, based on their industrial monopoly. This power was incorporated in a worldwide system, to all practical purposes under British control. And along with it went a period of security in international relations and a system of free trade, utterly different from both the preceding mercantilism and the closed compartments of the present day.


Toward the middle of the nineteenth century, when the passage from England to India via the Cape of Good Hope required 140 days by sail and 90 by steam, a direct sea route between Europe and India became increasingly necessary. The Canal was to reduce the time of a journey to India by almost one-half, and of a voyage to the Far East by almost one-quarter. Even before the Isthmus was pierced, the Peninsular and Oriental line took passengers from England to Bombay by a combined sea and land route in 20 days, with transportation by rail between Alexandria and Suez. But freight still had to be carried around the Cape, and, according to Lesseps' calculations, this traffic came to 9,000,000 tons in 1869. The final factor needed to make an all-water route through a canal practical was the more complete development of steam navigation, for sailing vessels could not have coped with the windless waters of the Red Sea. Fortunately, the decisive victory of steam came in 1859, as the Canal was being cut.

It is instructive, after so much time has gone by, to analyze the problem of the Canal as Lesseps saw it in 1854, when he obtained permission to construct it from Mohammed Saïd, Viceroy of Egypt. This was a liberal century. In 1845 England had established the reign of free trade, and a few years later Napoleon III, in his turn, came under the influence of Richard Cobden. The economic ideology of the period tended toward large-scale international exchanges, and it was generally thought that, following the British example, lower tariffs and the elimination of customs formalities would soon be the rule. Free enterprise was in style, and everywhere it gave continuous proofs of the unlimited possibilities of capital, credit and competition. Lesseps was able to count on financing his project through a private company, to which savings from all over the world would contribute; and in that day of peace and limited wars he could be reasonably sure that in case hostilities did break out the underlying economic agreements would be maintained. There was widespread respect for international law then, and it was natural that the Canal should not be looked upon as the property of any single Power, but as an undertaking shared by all mankind. People were proud of the peaceful civilization which technical progress seemed to be bringing; they had wholehearted faith in it and never imagined that there could be such a thing as regression, or that the new and dazzling scientific discoveries could be used to destroy civilization. This was a time when men made long-range projects, based on the assumption that stability was legalized and permanent, and that progress would be continuous.

Ferdinand de Lesseps found himself in contact with an Egypt modernized by Mohammed Ali. This great sovereign had reestablished order and created a nation, calling in European experts and laying out a vast program of public works. Lesseps was on even closer terms with Mohammed Said, his successor. He knew that the Viceroy meant to follow in the footsteps of the founder of the dynasty, that he wanted the Canal built, and that he intended to fulfill the necessary conditions. No doubt Mohammed Saïd, and Ismail after him, preferred "the Canal to belong to Egypt rather than Egypt to the Canal," but they maintained a strictly neutral attitude toward the Company charged with constructing it--that is, they proffered no nationalistic arguments to interfere with the work of the engineers or the administrators. Lesseps never dreamed of asking for the establishment of a "Canal Zone," or a special body of police under his control. He had no fear that the Egyptian authorities would violate his contract with them, and indeed his only administrative vexation, which stemmed from the questioning of his right to employ fellah labor, was instigated not by the Egyptians but by a jealous England. Only in the twentieth century does violently anti-Western Egyptian nationalism appear. Lesseps never had to defend himself against anything of the sort, even in the time of Arabi Pasha. It must be admitted, of course, that before 1869 the Isthmus was a stretch of desert, detached from the main body of Egyptian territory, even though Egypt's political frontier was 150 miles to the east.

Under these conditions, Lesseps and Mohammed Saïd had no trouble in reaching agreement upon the fundamental idea of the enterprise. Its essential features, just as they exist today, are written into the original concession, signed on November 30, 1854. The concession was a personal arrangement with "our friend, M. Ferdinand de Lesseps," to whom was given full power to set up and direct a "universal" company for the piercing of the Isthmus and the exploitation of a Canal between the two seas. The adjective "universal," as applied to the Company, shows how free of any national bias it was intended to be. Rates were to be the same for all countries, with no chance for any one of them to obtain a special favor. The concession was made for a period of 99 years from the opening of the Canal. This means that it will terminate in 1968, when the Egyptian Government is to replace the Company, paying a sum, to be fixed by arbitration, for the installations and equipment.

Lesseps' real difficulties were neither technical nor financial (as turned out to be the case in Panama), but political--a quite different kind of political difficulty, however, than the Company and the interested Powers are up against today. The example is again instructive. In spite of the solemn declaration of the founders that the undertaking was international in character, England was profoundly mistrustful and feared that under cover of the slogan of aperire terram gentibus France was trying to obtain a monopoly of communications between Europe and Asia. In spite of the fact that Lesseps sought to raise his capital of 200,000,000 francs by public subscription, English hostility, instigated by Lord Palmerston, continued to the very end. The principles of availability to all and complete neutrality were not enough to suit the British Prime Minister, and Lesseps' attempt to obtain an international guarantee of neutrality was unsuccessful. Evidently England would be content with nothing less than a privileged position, asserted by reason of the fact that English traffic would be the Canal's mainstay.

One year after the opening, when Lesseps received a triumphal reception in London, The Times gallantly wrote:

M. de Lesseps has come to a country which did nothing for the Suez Canal, but which, since the opening, has sent more traffic through it than all the other nations of the globe combined. This country supplies most of the money which will be paid in dividends to the shareholders. May this be a compensation for whatever errors we may have made at the start.

Indeed, in the period 1870-80, 76 percent of the total tonnage was under the English flag, and France, which came next, had only 8.3 percent, while the United States, which had supplied up to 10 percent of the traffic going around the Cape, was insignificantly represented. Having been outstripped by France in the creation of the Canal, England proceeded to make up for lost time, first by buying out the 177,000 shares held by the Khedive Ismail, and thus entering the Company's administration; and second, by effecting a military occupation of Egypt in 1882, which gave her effective rule over the country, the Isthmus included. As a result, the neutrality of the Canal took on a peculiar character which to some extent still prevails.

Contrary to general belief, the purchase of Ismail's shares did not give England control of the Company, which had 400,000 shares outstanding; but with Lesseps' consent she achieved minority representation on the Board of Directors, on a basis of friendly and loyal coöperation. The English occupation of Egypt seriously modified the Company's position, however, since the Khedive no longer held the reins. Temporarily, at least, England accepted a status of neutrality, but at the same time she intended to take advantage of the privileges gained by military occupation. Under these circumstances, France all the more strongly desired an international covenant of some kind, and one was eventually adopted, under the name of the 1888 or "Constantinople" Convention.

The principles set forth were largely, but not entirely, based on a presupposition of neutrality, or to be more exact, of "free use." The Canal was to be kept open, in war as in peace, to warships and traders alike; no fortifications were to be built and no blockades allowed. The Khedive's Government, with, if necessary, the support of the Ottoman Government, to which it owed allegiance, was to insure the observance of these rulings. The validity of the Convention was not limited to the duration of the concession, but was indefinite. Obviously, by virtue of the military occupation England was the actual guarantor, as the signatories to the Convention saw quite clearly.

This system functioned until 1920 and the application of the Versailles Treaty. During all the period which we have surveyed, it was England's chief interest to keep the waterway to India open. But as a trading Power, England was equally concerned with the free and regular movement of communications among the continents. During the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, the freedom of the Canal was respected even by the belligerents, as it was during the Italo-Turkish war of 1911; even though the Canal was on Ottoman territory, Turkey did not oppose the passage of 12,400 Italian soldiers and three warships. This was a truly notable occurrence, and from it we can judge the respect accorded to international agreements in those days. In this regard the twentieth century has fallen far behind its predecessor.


In other words, up until 1914, a nineteenth century atmosphere prevailed. But in more recent times the problems of a waterway to India via the Mediterranean have changed their complexion. Middle-Eastern oil is a new and important factor in trade, while such modern weapons as the airplane and submarine have endowed war--whether hot or cold--with a degree of insecurity unknown in the past. The Cape route suddenly seems less vulnerable and has regained something of its former favor.

Since the Second World War, the political map of Asia has greatly altered. An independent India has slipped out of England's hands, while Communist China has abandoned the West entirely. In the days of European, or rather British, hegemony, India's tariff policy was determined in London and that of China through the International Customs Union, headed by the Englishman, Sir Robert Hart. More than 500,000,000 people were removed from the economic domain of the West when this system ended, while everywhere in the Far East there was a flare-up of nationalism, rendered excessive by the fear of a return to subservience. We forget that, during the nineteenth century, the world was a sort of international mercantile republic, with England at its head, in which business affairs were incontestably controlled by white men of European strain. An efficient administrative machine functioned, and guaranteed the stability and security of exchanges between the continents. The people of this period considered such a state of affairs normal and permanent. It seemed to them only logical that non-Europeans should deferentially accept their advice and instructions when it came to building or controlling vast enterprises of public works. When Lesseps dealt with the Egypt of Mohammed Saïd or Ismail, these things were taken for granted. Now the whole atmosphere has changed and every problem has to be examined from a different angle.

Since 1913 the tonnage carried through the Suez Canal has grown to an extraordinary degree: from 24,678,000 tons in the last prewar year to 83,448,000 tons in 1952. And its make-up is quite different from what it used to be. In 1913, traffic from north to south came to 11,320,000 tons, or 44 percent of the total; in 1952, it was 22,001,000 tons, or only 26 percent, whereas traffic from south to north has increased from 14,455,000 tons in 1913 to 83,448,000 tons in 1952. The character of north-to-south traffic has not changed for it is still composed of manufactured or semi-manufactured goods, mostly machines, railway equipment and tools, all directed to countries in the process of industrialization. Although traffic from south to north has considerably increased in volume, it still consists mainly of raw materials. In 1913, raw materials came to 45 percent and foodstuffs to 31 percent, with 5 percent of manufactured and semi-manufactured goods and 19 percent miscellaneous. In 1952, manufactured goods represented 7 percent, foodstuffs fell to 5 percent and raw materials came to 86 percent; but oil made up 83 percent of the raw materials and 74 percent of the total. The extraordinary decreases in volume and degree of foodstuffs are due to the population crisis of an Asia which cannot feed itself, and the increase in oil is, of course, a result of the sensational development of the Middle-Eastern oil fields (in which the loss of Abadan passes practically unnoticed). The excess of oil and oil products indicates an unhealthy situation, which the construction of pipe-lines leading directly to the Mediterranean should, to some extent, allay. Still, it is a fact that oil is the main commodity in south-to-north trade. In view of the decisive rôle played by oil products in both peace and war today, the freedom and security of communications through the Canal is becoming more and more important for Europe and for the United States as well.

The largest part of the tonnage is under the British flag--33.3 percent of the total in 1952. Even so this represents a great falling-off from the figures of 51.4 percent in 1939 and 76.1 percent between 1870-80. England still uses the Canal a great deal more than any other nation, and is therefore the Power most directly interested, from both a political and a commercial point of view, in its efficient functioning. Until 1939, hardly any traffic went under the American flag (0.15 percent of the total). The Second World War brought a considerable increase, however, and in 1952, 7.3 percent of the tonnage traveled under the American flag; indeed, if we count the American share in what is nominally Panamanian, Honduran and Liberian traffic, it is 17.1 percent. American imports through the Canal were 6,156,000 tons in 1952--largely oil and manganese; exports (amounting to 4,079,000 tons) were mostly grain (on the way to famine-stricken India) and petroleum products. The United States is present, now, in the Near East with an accumulation of economic and political interests. As a result, no problem concerned with the Suez Canal can be solved without American coöperation.


There are two sides to the military problem of the waterway to India: the question of the defense of the Canal, and of the maintenance of free passage through the other seas and straits along the route. The whole situation has radically changed since the First World War, for the Mediterranean background is not what it was at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. Although England still has nominal control of the Isthmus and the road to India, her position is precarious, and the whole sytem calls for revision.

The Constantinople Convention still stands, or rather, the principles which it implies hold good; but it has undergone important modifications. According to the text of 1888, the Ottoman Government, which then held sovereignty over Egypt, was supposed to enforce the Convention, but England, by virtue of military occupation, was in actual control and has been ever since, under a different title. Article 152 of the Versailles Treaty transferred to England the powers given to the Sultan by the Convention. And it is on the basis of an Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936 that England occupies the Isthmus. After passing in 1914 from the status of a vassal to Turkey to that of a British protectorate, Egypt in 1922 acquired self-government and has been intolerant of foreign military occupation ever since. In October 1951, Egypt abrogated the 1936 Treaty, but England still occupies the Isthmus and will not consent to withdraw until the present makeshift arrangement is superseded by a stable agreement guaranteeing the safety of a route which is indispensable to her status as a World Power. For the Canal is still a vital link in Britain's system of communications. And it must be admitted that British control has served the other users of the Canal well; thanks to the tradition of "fair play," there has never been any discrimination.

If it seems impossible, as things now stand, for the British will to prevail, it is because Egypt's insistence upon complete independence is buttressed by a surge of anti-Western feeling among all the Arab states. In 1882, there was, to be sure, the nationalist movement of Arabi Pasha, but Iraq, Pakistan and Syria did not exist, and neither did the United Nations through which they can now seek international support. The importance of the area where the Canal is located is more crucial than ever. There are trouble spots all around, and its security is vital not only to England but to the whole Western World, the United States included.

The two world wars have taught England that the hostility or even the hostile neutrality of a single one of the Mediterranean Powers can endanger the safety of the Canal. Any enemy that has a foothold on this narrow, winding body of water, so admirably suited to ambush and intrigue, can close it; indeed, to this end, control of the military installations (which England has never lost) is not necessary. The enemy can exercise a veto right, at least upon commercial traffic, and make passage impossible without an armed raid or a minor naval battle. Twice, in the course of the last wars, England has revived Vasco da Gama's abandoned route around the Cape of Good Hope. It is longer and more expensive, but safer, at least comparatively, from attack by airplanes and submarines. Can it be that Palmerston was right, after all? Certain Englishmen have wondered. In 1926 Sir John Marriott said in the House of Commons:

Looking back after a considerable lapse of time, I am not sure that the British statesmen who opposed the Suez Canal from the point of view of both diplomacy and power were not right . . . If the Canal had never been pierced we might find ourselves in a stronger position today. And if this is true, how necessary it is for us to keep the route around the Cape and to see that the African coast, to both East and West, is free of foreign domination!

This point of view has its limitations, however. Even in time of war the Suez route must be kept passable for warships at least, if not for mercantilism. And the Isthmus cannot be considered merely a passageway; it is an advanced position in the defenses of East Africa, West Asia and the Indian Ocean. The question is no longer one merely of the Canal, but of a strategic military base on the Isthmus where arms and armies can be concentrated. It serves the function of a hinge rather than a passageway. Neither Britain nor the United States can possibly withdraw from the Isthmus, any more than they can withdraw from the Mediterranean basin. But the nature of its defense must be changed to fit the political developments in Egypt, and also to fit the new techniques of war. For instance, the Isthmus might be protected, even without occupation, from a string of surrounding points: Cyprus, Cyrenaica and Kenya. It might be possible to set up an inter-Allied defense group, with Egypt as one of the partners. All these things are problematic, but the problems must be resolved if the security of the eastern end of the Mediterranean is to rest on a concord among Egypt and the Western Powers directly concerned. For it is no longer a strictly Anglo-Egyptian matter. Of course, England is not merely a "brilliant second" in a policy where the United States is concerned. But since the defense of the air and sea ways joining the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and the Far East is at stake the American interest is very strong. The United States cannot arbitrate between Great Britain and Egypt. Her position is not that of an arbitrator but of a fellow member of the great Western alliance.

In the time of Lesseps and indeed up to the Second World War, the completely free movement of traffic through the canal was never questioned. The first article of the Convention of 1888 established "free use of the canal in time of war as in time of peace," and the Company assured it. But, since the recent war in Palestine, the Egyptian Government has claimed a right to stop tankers on their way to Israel. This is a violation both of the original 1854 concession and the Convention of Constantinople, which is still valid; but protests by the other Powers have not caused the Egyptians to desist from their abuse of the Convention. They justify their action by Article 10 of the 1888 Convention, which states that other provisions of the Treaty "shall in no case occasion any obstacle to the measures which the Imperial Ottoman [read Egyptian] Government may think it necessary to take in order to insure by its own forces the defense of its other possessions situated on the eastern coast of the Red Sea." It was under the pretext of self-defense and the preservation of law and order that the Egyptian declarations of May 15 and 18, 1948, introduced the inspection of ships in Egyptian ports and the confiscation of goods destined to an enemy. We may argue that according to Article 11, the measures provided for in Article 10 "are not to prevent free use of the Canal." To which the Egyptians may in turn reply that they respect the idea of "free use" and that they object, not to the passage of ships, but to cargoes containing contraband goods sent to a hostile Power. Of course, this is a specious interpretation, for the free passage of a ship has no meaning unless it includes the passage of its cargo as well. Neither the Ottoman Government, in the course of the Italo-Turkish war, nor the Allies in 1914 and 1940, had recourse to any such arguments in order to twist to their advantage the text of an agreement truly international in spirit.

Actually, "free use" is threatened the very moment the Power through whose territory the Canal runs ceases to recognize the principle of the equal rights of all users. Here the problem of the Canal is a complex one, and military occupation of the Isthmus is no solution. For it is a question of defending the Canal not so much against outside invasion as against Egyptian undermining of the basic principles on which our system of world communications reposes. Even in the hands of a man as intelligent as General Naguib, the Egyptian Government does not seem to understand that although the Canal passes through Egyptian territory it has an essentially international character and cannot be run in any other than an international spirit. If British control, arbitrary as it may have been, was for so long accepted, it is because it impartially respected the rights of all users. Is there a chance that a strictly Egyptian control would work the same way? If we judge this unlikely, then obviously some sort of international control must be set up, in agreement with Egypt. And this means that the principles which inspired the original concession must be solemnly restated.

Here we have one of those "essential liberties" without which Western civilization ceases to be itself. Can anyone imagine the Republic of Panama doing what Egypt has done? What would be the reaction of the United States? Egypt's sovereignty over the Isthmus (and let us not forget that before Lesseps' time the Isthmus was no more than a desert) would be a precarious one if she were to use it in order to impede the functioning of a piece of international machinery so essential to the whole world. Neither Lesseps nor his immediate successors could have foreseen any such situation as the Canal is in today, for the international atmosphere of their time was infinitely more civilized than that of ours. The negotiations presently necessary in order to guarantee free use are infinitely more complex than those of the past, for they bring into play international sensibilities of a much more delicate kind. There is a world of difference between the psychology of Mohammed Said or Ismail and that of General Naguib, who is pushed by almost hysterical nationalistic forces. Is it really an advantage for Egypt, we may ask, to be geographically located at such an important center of communications? Actually, the position is fraught with perils as well as with responsibilities. In the past, Egypt has been fortunate enough to be guided through its hours of crisis by first-class statesmen. Now the need for such statesmen is greater than ever.


The Western Powers, looking into the future, wonder what will be the fate of the Canal in 1968, when the original concession will expire. It would be foolish to hazard any prophecies at this moment, for we have no idea what aspect the question will assume. What will conditions be in Egypt and the Near East? What will be the strength of England and France? What balance will there be among the oceans and continents, or, in other words, what will be the respective strengths of the United States and Russia? Will not India and China have something to say? The future régime of the Canal depends on an answer to all these questions. One thing is certain, however: there will be a struggle between Egypt and the users of the Canal, with the former aiming at complete mastery and all the advantages that could be derived therefrom, and the latter preoccupied with the maintenance of a satisfactory service. The Egyptian Government would be naïve to suppose that it can take over a piece of machinery with such an essentially international function without assuming any obligations in return. The Powers which rule the seas 15 years from now will insist upon having their say in regard to tolls, general procedure and managerial efficiency. A new concession may be given to the present Company or to another newly formed, but even if the Egyptian Government itself insists on taking possession, it will be called upon to provide an administration both technically adequate and respectful of the rights of international transit.

From both these points of view, the present Company has been beyond reproach. In its relations with shipping firms, it has always tended to lower its rates and in general to behave less like a commercial enterprise than like a public service. In the same way, even during these last years of the concession, it has conscientiously kept all the equipment of the Canal in good order. Seven improvement programs, undertaken since 1870, have increased the dimensions of the Canal and thus enabled it to meet the demands of sensationally increasing traffic.

The great international services of Panama and Suez have functioned so regularly that we have almost forgotten the conditions essential to their maintenance. We have not stopped to think that Western personnel (European at Suez and American at Panama) have kept everything up to standard--a standard derived from a combination of Western engineering technique and nineteenth century economic liberalism. If the management of the Suez Canal is to pass into other than Western hands, then the new managers--if they want to make themselves acceptable to the rest of the world--must give proof of the administrative efficiency and devotion to liberal principles of trade which have built up the incontestable superiority of the West during the past century.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now