On 8 October 1953, at the 166th meeting of the Permanent Commission of Western European Union (WEU), Sir Frank Roberts, Deputy Under-Secretary of State in the British Foreign Office, gives a progress report on the Anglo-Egyptian negotiations on the future of the Suez Canal bases. René Massigli, French Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, pays tribute to British efforts in the region and emphasises the importance of the principle of free transit through the Suez Canal. The Permanent Commission also discusses French policy in Tunisia and Morocco.
On 2 October 1955, Maurice Couve de Murville, French Ambassador to Washington, sends a telegram to Antoine Pinay in which he gives details of a conversation with Charles Shuckburgh, Assistant Under-Secretary of State in the British Foreign Office, on the consequences of the Egyptian-Soviet arms agreement. Charles Shuckburgh is concerned at the growing influence of the USSR in the region and outlines the various options available to deal with it. He particularly emphasises how importance it is for the Western powers to strengthen their position among the other Arab states.
On 14 October 1955, Harold Macmillan, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, presents a report on Middle East oil to the Cabinet. The document highlights that if United Kingdom fuel needs during the next 20 years are to be met, imports of oil must be trebled, and emphasises that the Middle East is the only source. The note stresses the danger that this region could slip away from the UK as a result of the growing efforts made by the Egyptians, the Saudi Arabians and the Russians to undermine the British position in the area. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs urges the government to endorse the principle that the British position in the Middle East is vital to the national economy and that the UK should be prepared to spend in the area on a scale more closely related to its essential interests there.
On 14 November 1955, Lord Reading, British Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, issues a note on the first Interim Report of the Working Party set up to examine what further action should be taken to safeguard the free flow of oil supplies from the Middle East. The memorandum from the Middle East Oil Committee emphasises the danger of the Soviet diplomatic offensive in the region. The document particularly outlines the economic measures that would be likely to counter the Soviet influence in the Middle East and ensure the defence of the United Kingdom’s strategic oil interests.
On 27 July 1956, the day after the announcement by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser that the Suez Canal Company will be nationalised, France’s Ambassador to Cairo, Armand de Blanquet du Chayla, sends a telegram to French Foreign Minister Christian Pineau. The Ambassador calls for an immediate and strong reaction from the rest of the world and proposes that efforts be made to stop Colonel Nasser in his tracks.
On 28 August 1956, the Foreign Office in London sends a telegram to the British Embassy in Paris in which it recommends that, when speaking to French Foreign Minister Christian Pineau, British diplomats should inform him of the advantage of also holding discussions on the Suez issue in the Western European Union (WEU) Permanent Council. The Foreign Office considers the WEU forum to be a more intimate setting that would allow for franker speaking.
On 11 September 1956, as France and the United Kingdom prepare to launch a military intervention in the Suez Canal Zone, the French daily newspaper Le Monde analyses the issues surrounding the Suez Crisis and sets out both the dangers of an armed military intervention with unforeseeable consequences and the risk of trusting in ineffective international legal bodies to settle the problem.
On 31 October 1956, after Israel’s military intervention in Egypt during the Suez Crisis, the Council of Western European Union (WEU) meets in London to analyse the situation in the Middle East. Given the present circumstances, Lord Samuel Hood, Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom, and his French counterpart Francis Huré outline their temporary joint action to bring hostilities to an end as soon as possible in the Suez Canal region and reaffirm the determination of the United Kingdom and France to restore peace in the Middle East. The two countries deplore the decision by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser to reject the French–British proposal for a ceasefire in the region.
General Sir Charles Keightley, British Commander in Chief Middle East Land Forces and Commander in Chief of Operation Musketeer, greets French paratroopers after the Franco-British intervention in the Suez in November 1956. On the right, French General Jacques Massu, Commander of the 10th French Paratrooper Division. On 5 and 6 November 1956, a Franco-British expeditionary force intervenes in Port Said and Port Fuad, at the northern tip of the Suez Canal, and regains control of the canal. But under pressure from the United States, which is demanding a withdrawal of Western troops, and with open threats from the USSR against London and Paris, the United Kingdom and France are forced to accept a ceasefire and to withdraw their troops.
View of the Suez Canal near Port Said obstructed by ships that have been damaged and sunk by the Egyptian authorities. In January 1957, an agreement between the United Nations and Egypt provides for the rehabilitation of the Suez Canal. Under the auspices of the United Nations, a fleet of salvage vessels begins to raise around 40 ships sunk by the Egyptians to block navigation in the canal. The canal is reopened in April 1957.
On 10 November 1956, the Directorate-General for Political Affairs in the French Foreign Ministry reviews the Suez intervention and analyses the consequences of the diplomatic fiasco that was the French-British campaign. It particularly emphasises that France’s allies must share a considerable part of the burden of responsibility and criticises the United Kingdom for its reluctance to act and its clumsy approach.
On 1 December 1956, the British Cabinet holds a meeting at 10 Downing Street. Two subjects on the agenda are oil prices and the aftermath of the Suez Crisis. Following the interruption of oil supplies through the Suez Canal and the Syrian pipeline, the cost of bringing oil to the United Kingdom has risen because of the higher freight charges involved in bringing supplies around the Cape, the rise in tanker rates and the higher prices which have to be paid for abnormal purchases of oil in the Western Hemisphere. The Cabinet agrees on the request made by the oil companies to raise the price of oil products. The Cabinet also discusses the final version of the draft prepared by the French Foreign Minister of an Anglo-French declaration of policy regarding the Suez Canal.
On 7 June 1957, in preparation for a Cabinet meeting, Selwyn Lloyd, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, issues a memorandum on the Persian Gulf in which he discusses the major question of the future of British policy in the region. The document explains the strategic importance of the Persian Gulf area for the UK and analyses the relations with the Gulf states, outlining future prospects.
On 2 June 1958, the Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs in the French Foreign Ministry outlines the oil policies pursued by France and the United Kingdom in the Middle East. The analyses focuses on the strategic interests for both countries in the region especially regarding the oil exploitation.
On 30 September 1958, prior to the next Cabinet meeting, Lord Mills, British Minister of Power, issues a memorandum on oil supplies in which he examines the question of the increase of oil stocks in the United Kingdom in the light of the recent events in the Middle East. The memorandum highlights the measures to be taken by the United Kingdom to cope with a sudden interruption in or cessation of the country’s oil supplies from the Middle East.
On 30 November 1960, given the increasing need for energy in Europe and with a view to ensuring the security of European energy supplies, the Assembly of Western European Union (WEU) adopts Recommendation 54 on the association of Great Britain with the energy policy of the Six.
On 18 May 1961, as debates are held on the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the Europe of Six, the Secretary-General of Western European Union (WEU) circulates a draft reply by the British delegation to Assembly Recommendation 54 on the association of Great Britain with the energy policy of the Six. The document notes that the British Government already cooperates with the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in the Energy Working Party set up by the Council of Association’s Coal Committee. The Council emphasises that the development of a coordinated energy policy largely depends on the action taken on a potential application for accession by the United Kingdom to the European Communities. It also points out that an adequate supply of energy is one of the main bases of economic security.
At the 234th meeting of the Council of Western European Union (WEU), held at ministerial level in The Hague on 25 and 26 October 1963, British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Richard Butler emphasises the role played by the Middle East as a source of European oil supplies. Given the disappointing results of the search for oil outside the Middle East, Richard Butler draws his colleagues’ attention to the fact that the British Government sees the protection of oil sources from the Middle East as a task of vital importance.
On 29 November 1963, the Secretary-General of Western European Union circulates to the WEU Council a paper from the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Richard Butler, on the British Government’s findings on the supply of Middle East oil to Europe. The figures indicate that in seven years’ time, Western Europe will be much more dependent on oil imports from the Middle East for its energy requirements and that, while maintaining significant stocks, it should also examine the question of diversifying sources of supply.
On 7 July 1967, prior to the next Cabinet meeting, George Brown, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, issues a memorandum on Arab attitudes and British economic interests in the Middle East. The note outlines the events in the region over the past 20 years that have threatened the United Kingdom’s oil supplies and general economic interests in the Middle East. It also analyses American, Soviet and Israeli policy in the area and the development of relations between Arab governments. The memorandum concludes by emphasising the UK’s strong interest in rebuilding its relations with Arab countries and suggests adopting a policy of ‘maximum practicable disengagement’ from the Arab/Israeli dispute, at least from an economic and military perspective.
On 13 September 1967, George Brown, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, issues a memorandum on the current situation in the Middle East. The document gives an overview of the Arab/Israel dispute, focusing on the question of Jerusalem, the Arab refugee problem and the recent diplomatic efforts for a settlement of the crisis.
On 27 June 1969, French Foreign Minister Maurice Schumann sends a telegram to Roger Seydoux de Clausonne, the French Ambassador to Moscow, on the opening of negotiations in Moscow between an Iraqi economic delegation and Soviet authorities. Maurice Schumann is concerned at the USSR’s growing influence in Iraq and is keen to prevent any new agreement between Iraq and the USSR concerning oil fields.
On 16 and 17 October 1973, the Arab oil-producing countries announce an embargo on oil deliveries to states supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur War. From October to December 1973, the price of a barrel of oil increases fivefold. This is the first oil shock. Although France is not subject to the embargo, in a televised address on 30 November 1973, Prime Minister Pierre Messmer announces a series of decisions to reduce energy consumption: a ban on illuminated advertising, lighting in shop windows and empty offices between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.; no television broadcasts after 11 p.m. except on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays; less heating; and speed limitations for vehicles. On this photo dated 30 November 1973, a cyclist rides along a street in Paris wearing a sign marked ‘Petrol please’.
On 16 and 17 October 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, the Arab countries in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) meet in Kuwait, where they announce an embargo on oil supplies to states that support Israel and a 25 % reduction in output. Oil therefore becomes an international weapon that is brandished against Israel and its allies. These measures and the fivefold increase in the price of a barrel of oil have a severe impact on Western economies, which depend strongly on oil supplies. Although the embargo does not apply to France, some petrol stations, such as this one in Lille on 30 November 1973, run short of fuel and are forced to close.
On 19 February 1974, the Secretary-General of Western European Union (WEU) circulates a draft reply, prepared by the French delegation to the WEU Council, to Assembly Recommendation 241 on oil and energy problems. Most of the draft is taken up in the final reply (C(74)63). In view of the oil crisis affecting several Western countries, the Council is aware of the link between secure energy supplies for Europe and its defence policy. The document emphasises that work is already under way within the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the European Communities on the oil question and the issues related to a common energy policy.
On 16 and 17 October 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, the Arab countries in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) meet in Kuwait and announce an embargo on oil supplies to states that support Israel. The oil crisis results in a fourfold increase in the price of a barrel of oil for five months, from 17 October 1973 to 18 March 1974, and has a severe impact on Western economies. On 18 March 1974, following the OPEC conference in Vienna and after months of standoff, the oil producing countries decide to lift the embargo on oil supplies. This photo, taken on 16 March 1974, shows the Arab delegation at the OPEC conference in Vienna. In the centre, smiling, is Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, Saudi Arabian Minister for Oil.
On 14 December 1979, at a meeting of the Council of Western European Union (WEU), the French and British representatives indicate that they would both be prepared to draft a reply to Assembly Recommendation 341 on the impact of the evolving situation in the Near and Middle East on western European security.
On 4 September 1956, the Council of Western European Union (WEU) meets for a special session on the development of the Suez Crisis. British representative Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick outlines the reasons that led his government, in close consultation with the French Government, to convene this meeting, emphasising the strong spirit of alliance within WEU. Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick justifies the urgency of the intervention in the Suez Canal area, maintaining that a refusal to act would result in the total removal of any Western influence on the ‘Arabian continent’. The French Ambassador to London, Jean Chauvel, reaffirms his government’s conclusions, which are completely identical in all respects to those of the British Government on the settlement of the current crisis. He outlines the considerations on which the French Government has based its approach and stresses the fact that the two countries are taking the matter extremely seriously.
On 7 November 1956, the Council of Western European Union (WEU) meets in London to analyse the developments in the situation in the Middle East following the Franco-British military intervention in the Suez Canal area in Egypt. At the meeting, United Kingdom Permanent Representative Lord Samuel Hood and his French counterpart Jean Chauvel welcome the joint action taken by their two countries and note that the objectives have been achieved. Answering questions put by the Dutch representative Dirk Stikker, Lord Hood discusses the matter of restoring the Suez Canal to working order and the problem of oil supplies for Europe, as well as the functions of the future international police force. Lord Hood also affirms that it would be desirable for the WEU Member States to be involved in setting up this force.
Jean Chauvel, French Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1 February 1955 to 16 March 1962. When the Suez Crisis broke out in 1956, Jean Chauvel took part in several Franco-British diplomatic meetings and informed the French government authorities of the United Kingdom’s position on the Suez affair. The photo shows the French Ambassador at a meeting of the Council of Ministers of Western European Union (WEU) in London on 4 February 1960.
On 18 October 1973, in view of the Yom Kippur War between Israel and the Egyptian and Syrian armies, the Presidential Committee, steering body of the Assembly of Western European Union (WEU), adopts a draft Recommendation as a matter of urgency on behalf of the Plenary Assembly on the resumption of hostilities in the Near East. The Recommendation sets out the Assembly’s concerns about the consequences of the conflict for the security of Europe, since it creates an unstable situation in the immediate proximity of Europe and affords the Soviet Union the possibility of extending its influence in the area, exposing the Mediterranean countries to greater threat. The Assembly calls for an urgent meeting of the WEU Council at ministerial level to examine the measures which should be taken to ensure the security of Europe and determine the means of a applying an embargo on supplies of arms to the belligerents.
On 24 October 1973, the Council of Western European Union (WEU) discusses the reply that should be given to the Assembly’s Recommendation concerning the urgent convening of a ministerial meeting on the ongoing conflict in the Near East. Even though the Council shares the concerns which led to the adoption of this Recommendation, the WEU Member States are already involved in discussions on this matter in a number of international bodies and the Council therefore has reservations about the appropriateness of such a meeting in the current circumstances.
As the oil shock unfolds, the Assembly of Western European Union (WEU) adopts a recommendation on oil and energy problems. Western Europe, which does not have the energy resources that are essential for its economy and security, depends for its oil supplies on large-scale imports, most of which come from the Near and Middle East countries. The text recommends that the WEU Council should study means of meeting any restrictions on oil supplies and promote a joint energy policy in Europe based on security requirements.
On 25 April 1974, in light of the consequences of the oil shock, the Secretary-General of Western European Union (WEU) circulates the reply by the WEU Council to Assembly Recommendation 241 on oil and energy problems. The Council is aware of the link between secure energy supplies for Europe and its defence policy. But given that the main courses of action proposed in the Recommendation are currently under consideration in the various specialised international forums, the Council is unable to reply more fully to the Assembly’s Recommendation.
On 26 May 1975, given the impact of the oil shock, the Assembly of Western European Union (WEU) adopts Recommendation 260 on the energy crisis and European security. The Assembly particularly recommends that the WEU Council urge the Nine to define their common energy policy as soon as possible, encouraging France to take part in the International Energy Agency (IEA). While the Recommendation advocates concerted action between producer and consumer countries with a view to organising the world oil market, it also emphasises the importance for each member country to constitute or maintain strategic reserves of oil products at a level it shall define.
On 26 November 1975, in view of the challenges presented by the global oil crisis, the Secretariat-General of Western European Union (WEU) circulates the reply from the WEU Council to Assembly Recommendation 260 on the energy crisis and European security. The Council shares the Assembly’s wish for a Community energy policy and emphasises how important it is for Commission representatives to attend international meetings, particularly those of the International Energy Agency (IEA). The Council also draws attention to the problem of constituting and maintaining strategic reserves of oil products for civilian and military purposes. International agreements within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the IEA and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) stipulate that Western states should maintain oil reserves and undertake to submit regular reports on their stocks. The Council is also aware of the related question of energy security in Western countries.
On 4 December 1980, the Assembly of Western European Union (WEU) adopts Recommendation 363 on energy and security. It emphasises that the most important aim of any European energy policy should be to achieve maximum independence from imported oil in the shortest possible time. The document makes a series of recommendations to the Council to urge the member governments to adopt convergent energy measures in the absence of agreement to implement a stringent Western European policy, and to determine the acceptable threshold of safety and security for imports by the Western world. Studies should be carried out on the use of other energy resources such as coal, nuclear means and renewable energy resources. Finally, the Member States are called on to participate in contingency plans for keeping open all international shipping lanes, such as the Strait of Hormuz.
On 18 March 1981, the Secretary-General of Western European Union (WEU) circulates the Council’s draft reply to Recommendation 363 of the WEU Assembly on energy and security. The text, to which the United Kingdom delegation has proposed amendments that are subsequently taken up in the final reply from the Council (C(81)70), emphasises the need to move towards energy self-sufficiency and the importance of diversifying supply sources in order to reduce dependence on oil.
On 29 April 1981, the Secretary-General of Western European Union (WEU) circulates the Council’s reply to Assembly Recommendation 363 on energy and security. The Council shares the views and concerns expressed by the Assembly. The member countries are fully aware of the constraints on the development of a common energy policy for all Western countries and have agreed on energy policy guidelines for the decade to 1990. They recognise the need to move towards energy self-sufficiency by reducing dependence on imported oil and developing other sources of energy.
On 4 November 1981, the Secretary-General of Western European Union (WEU) circulates a revised draft reply by the WEU Council to Assembly Recommendation 371 on European security and events in the Gulf area. The revised document is the result of an initial British reply followed by various amendments. Most of the French and British amendments are taken up in the final version. The delegations that have not already done so are requested to notify their formal approval of this text by sending a letter to the Secretariat-General.
In this interview excerpt, Francis Gutmann, an official in the French Foreign Ministry from 1951 to 1957 and Secretary-General of the External Relations Ministry from 1981 to 1985, Chairman of Gaz de France from 1988 to 1993 and Chairman of the French Institute of Petroleum from 1993 to 1995, emphasises the fact that, as a defence organisation, Western European Union had a responsibility to discuss energy security issues. The Ambassador also describes the difficulties involved in devising a common energy policy for the European Union Member States, given their major domestic policy differences.
In this interview excerpt, Francis Gutmann, an official in the French Foreign Ministry from 1951 to 1957 and Secretary-General of the External Relations Ministry from 1981 to 1985, explains why the issues surrounding the Franco-British military intervention during the 1956 Suez Canal Crisis were discussed in Western European Union (WEU).