Friday, 26 October 2012

Did the West abandon Hungary in 1956? - Part II.

In our previous post, we have written about the origins of two simultaneous Cold War crises - they happened on opposing sides of the Iron Curtain, for different reasons, yet their simultaneity had profound consequences for both events. This post will explore the effects the Suez Crisis had  on the Hungarian Revolution and vice versa.

The War in Suez

The goal's of the allied British, French, and Israeli military operations were simple - to advance militarily from Israel to the Suez Canal, and re-establish British military control of the area, while Israel would annex the Sinai peninsula. While the operation was incredibly successful in military terms - (Egypt's forces and commanders were no match for the highly trained Israeli army and the combined air forces of Britain and France), it was severely criticised and controversial in diplomatic circles - including Britain's chief ally, the United States of America. But why is that so?
The USA has made it clear before that they were suitable with the status quo in the Middle West, including Nasser's coup and the subsequent decline of British influence in the region. Their major concern were however, the repeated threats made by the Soviet Union pledging to start war, while Kruschev more than happily pledging that he "would be more than happy to turn a conventional war into a nuclear one if war did come."  The USA president at the time, Eisenhover, told his secretary that
"The Soviet Union might be ready for to undertake any wild adventure. They are as scared and furious as Hitler was in his last days. There's nothing more dangerous than a dictatorship in that frame of mind."
 Fearing a potentially devastating Soviet attack, the United Nations Security Council held an emergency session on 30th October 1956, and when a Council resolution failed due to British and French opposition, the matter was brought up for vote in an emergency meeting of the General Assembly on 1 November 1956.
From there, the invasion was practically over - the Assembly ordered the three allies to withdraw and reinforced Nasser's authority of the Canal, with an official ceasefire order declared on 6 November. 

The Revolution in Hungary

Just like the Revolution of 1848, the events of 1956 were initiated by university students. By the end of 23 October, it was clear that the series of revolts took an unexpected turn - Stalin's gigantic statue at Budapest was brought down, and the Soviet insignia was cut from the middle of the Hungarian flags, and armed resistance groups started to form all around Budapest. The next day, the occupying Soviet forces were ordered by the Soviet defence minister Zhukov to quell the 'rebellion'. Yet surprisingly, the Hungarian irregular groups prevailed - many Soviet soldiers have been stationed in Hungary for years, and were sympathetic with the Hungarian cause. To shortly summarise the events, the whole country was liberated from Soviet influence by 28th October.

Diplomatic negotiations

Surprisingly, Kruschev initially backed the new PM Imre Nagy's reforms - yet they soon turned too radical for Soviet tastes. Simultaneously, Eisenhower gave a speech on 31 October which likely ultimately determined any Hungarian hopes for a US intervention, expressing his sympathy but denying any form of military assistance. Emboldened by this, Kruschev was able to launch an invasion with fresh troops brought in from the USSR (despite a General Assembly condemnation), entering the country on 4 November - the last pockets of resistance were brought down by 11 November.


So why did the USSR manage to win a victory on two fronts so easily - one on the diplomatic and one on the military field? Why were the leaders of the United States of America basically scared of the Soviet Union, when they were obviously stronger? (Don't forget that the General Assembly voted against both the Soviet invasion of Hungary and the allied invasion of Suez, yet only one of the two was stopped.)
To use economic terms, the answer lies within the information asymmetry of the USA's intelligence services. Due to the fact that U-2 surveillance warplanes were not yet invented, the CIA and the Army didn't have any reliable information on the number of ready-to-launch nuclear warheads, and as a result, their number was greatly overestimated. And why actually nobody wanted a nuclear war, only three years have passed since Stalin's death - who was prone to push the red button nonetheless.
In the end, the USSR used military forces to quell the Hungarian Revolution even though the USA didn't intervene - had they done so, the outcome likely would have been a full-scale war between the two countries, mere 11 years after the devastating Second World War. So while ethically, the inactivity of the USA government is condemnable, it was perfectly rational - and while nobody anticipated it, it didn't take even 40 years for Hungary and the rest of Central Europe to see democracy once again.


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