The Role of the US in the Gulf War

The first Gulf war involved a coalition of forces against Iraq, and the war occurred between August 2, 1990, and February 28 1991. The United States of America (US) led a coalition of thirty-four nations in attacking Iraq and pushing this nation out of the borders of Kuwait, a country that Iraq had attacked and declared part of it. The war against Iraq was authorised by the United Nations, seemingly after a series of diplomatic efforts and threats of war failed to realise Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait.

Many economic and socio-political dynamics led to the war, which need careful analysis in order to arrive at the real efforts in the quest to free Kuwait. The Persian Gulf is the world’s single largest source of oil, and the nations of the Middle East, by virtue of their massive oil reserves, play an important economic and political role in world affairs.

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Oil drives the world economy, therefore interruptions to its production and supply usually has serious ramifications on the functions and progress of the different economies of nations of the world.

Therefore, when Iraq attacked Kuwait, an aggressive neighbour on a less powerful nation must not view the invasion as a plain attack. Iraq itself gave various economic, historical and political reasons regarding why it invaded Kuwait. The international response and condemnation of the attack was swift, with the United Nations, under the direction of the US, demanding that Iraq quickly and unconditionally withdraw from Kuwait.

This paper will discuss the historical events leading up to the Gulf War. The paper will also analyse importance of the Gulf region as a major world supplier of oil and the role played by the US in guiding the UN in making the resolutions for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait. Therefore, the analyses involve the extent to which the US led the war (by taking advantage of its high position in the UN).

Historical, Economic and Political Reasons

There are historical, economic and political factors that influenced Iraq’s attack of Kuwait. Historically, Iraq had always perceived Kuwait as a territory of Iraq. Since Kuwait borders the Persian Gulf ahead of Iraq, this fact had always been a source of concern for Iraqis because it limited its access to the Persian Gulf and all the necessary trade and military-related strategic advantages.

Therefore, when Kuwait obtained independence from Britain, Iraq immediately sought to annex Kuwait, with an eye on gaining easy access to the gulf. Furthermore, the Gulf War was arguably a direct result of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

The decade long war had left Iraq deep in war debt, although it had gained some sophisticated and modern weapons from sponsorship and support from the United States. Iraq owed Saudi Arabia and Kuwait loans for the war amounting to tens of billions of dollars.

Iraq thus initially sought to have these war debts written off, a request that both creditors s promptly refused. Due to the war, mounting national debts thus faced Iraq amidst a struggling economy, and an invasion of Kuwait to right some historical wrongs seemed appropriate.

On the economic front, Iraq was, as mentioned earlier, suffering from the after-effects of a decade long war, however Iraq felt that the economic subterfuge by Kuwait exacerbated the situation. Kuwait is one of the world’s largest producers of oil, and Iraq accused it of exceeding the production limits as allowed by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) (Cleveland 464).

This overproduction led to a worldwide reduction in oil prices, to the continual detriment of the Iraqi economy, which depended much on its oil exports. Iraq additionally accused Kuwait of disrespecting its sovereignty by drilling oil across Kuwait’s border in what was essentially Iraqi oil. Iraq thus felt that Kuwait was deliberately sabotaging its economy, and this heightened tensions between the two countries prior to the invasion.

Politically, much of the ill-advised decision to invade Kuwait is attributable to the belligerence of Iraq’s then president, Saddam Hussein. Coming from a war that had just placed a debt in the nation’s economy, Saddam Hussein intended to attack Kuwait on any reason to secure its oil fields.

Historical Relations between Iran, Iraq and the US

The Iraq-Iran war of 1980-88, and the US role on it had implications on the Gulf war. Iraq’s attack on Iran, leading to the near decade long war, was as much a question of Iraq’s need for dominance of Persian Gulf territories, as it was a proxy war between the US and Iran, due to United State’s support for Iran in this war (Ahmed 11). The United States was primarily concerned with the political outlook that Iran would have following the revolution of 1979.

The US feared the radical Muslims would seek to dominate affairs in the Persian Gulf and even attempt to gain control of the Persian Gulf oil routes, which would be catastrophic for the US economy. The United States chose to support Iraq during this conflict by supplying weapons and encouraging its allies like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to offer loans to Iraq for the war.

The relations and between the Middle-East countries around the Persian gulf was thus laden with burdens of past wars, treaties and pledges, which would again have an impact on the Gulf war after Iraq’s attack on Kuwait.

The Invasion

On 2nd August of 1990, Iraq launched a rapid invasion on Kuwait and attacked its capital City, Kuwait City. The attack caught Kuwait much unprepared, and within a week, the Kuwaiti forces surrendered (Verleger 15). The Iraqis initially installed a Kuwaiti government, which was friendly to them; however, they changed their minds and later on installed an Iraqi as the leader of the Kuwaiti government.

The Reaction: The UN Security Council Resolutions

Kuwait is a very small country that measures around 17,000 square kilometres, and by then had a population of about two-million persons. The world quickly condemned the invasion with the view that the war was just an attack of a strong nation against the weak, a pattern that has always been abominable in the eyes of the world.

Immediately after the invasion, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 660, which condemned the attack and required Iraq to withdraw its troops immediately from Kuwait. Since Iraq had invaded Kuwait on August 2nd, and the passing of the resolution took place that very day, the concern and subsequent urgency with which the UN, via spirited efforts from the US, handled the attack was decipherable.

The convening of the first meeting to pass this resolution occurred immediately the news of the invasion reached the UN. The resolution could not bother the Iraqis, led by Saddam Hussein, and advanced their attacks towards the capital city of Kuwait – Kuwait City.

Realising that the UN Security Council needed to show much teeth in this matter besides issuing resolutions condemning the invasion, the Security Council again issued Resolution 661 on 6th August 1990, just two days before the total surrender of the Kuwait government.

The UN Security Council urged all member states and even non-member states to prevent import of goods and services origination from both Iraq and Kuwait; transfer of cash or credit to the two countries that would facilitate export of products from either country; the transfer of weapons, and military aid to either of the countries. Finally, the resolution urged member and non-member states to prevent or stop availing funds to either country for any other purpose except for humanitarian aid.

Soon after passing Resolution 661, the UN Security Council further passed resolution 662, flexing its muscle as an organization in the face of blatant defiance from the Iraqi government. The UN Resolution 662 came in the wake of Iraq’s declaration that it had annexed Kuwait as part of Iraq. Resolution 662 declared that any form of annexation of Kuwait by Iraq was not acceptable.

As Iraq continued to ignore the resolutions of the UN Security Council, the Council passed more and more restrictive Resolutions, continuously limiting Iraq’s economic and political abilities to carry out the invasion and profit from its illegal occupation/annexation of Kuwait. The UN Security Council Resolution 665 now authorised a naval blockade of Iraq. Thus, this resolution would effectively limit Iraq’s supply of food items and even war materials.

Of all the resolutions passed, the most significant one was UN Security Council Resolution 678, which gave Iraq a specific deadline of 15th January 1991, to withdraw all its troops from Kuwait and thus cease the illegal occupation of the country, or else the UN member states would use force to free Kuwait from its occupation.

A day after the lapse of this date, with Iraq still stubbornly occupying Kuwait, a thirty-four member state coalition joined forces and launched attacks on Iraq. The US played a prominent role in the co-ordination and planning of the attacks, effectively leading the entire coalition.

The Role of the US in the Gulf War

Undoubtedly, the United States as the sole superpower then played a leading role in initiating the passing of the above-mentioned resolutions and subsequently the war against Iraq.

Several scholars view this prominent role as not the sole objective of the US, but at securing the vast oil fields of Saudi Arabia that were within striking distance for Iraq after the invasion. There have been arguments to suggest that the US was primarily testing and using its latest weapons of war, all for the benefit of its military industrial complex.

According to Frank, all the pretexts that the western allies used in the war during the gulf crisis were mere pretences (267). While Frank agrees that the invasion of Kuwait was a blatant violation of international rules and regulations concerning territorial integrity, he draws a distinction between the Kuwait case and the contemporary cases that existed then which would have warranted a similar attention.

Before the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, Indonesia had invaded East Timor and the world had hardly taken notice. There was not a single Resolution by the UN Security Council to condemn this attack, which verged on genocide, if the atrocities committed by Indonesia were anything to go by. Similarly, the Apartheid regime in South Africa was continuously committing worse crimes against its black citizens prior to 1990, and the UN had not voted to invade the country.

By this time, the regime was blatantly violating international territorial laws by violating the sovereignty of its neighbours in pursuit of members who opposed the regime. In addition, the UN Security Council did not condemn the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, probably because the Soviet Union was a member.

Focusing on the United States itself, President Bush himself violated all international sovereignty rules when he led the US invasion to Panama, which resulted into gross violation of human rights. Ditto the invasion of Grenada, a territory that the US still holds the highest authority to the present day.

Frank argues that the demands that Iraq had made concerning economic sabotage by Kuwait were genuine, and thus made the invasion slightly justifiable. Kuwait’s overproduction of oil, and its cross drilling into Iraq’s oil wells had left Iraq between the proverbial rock and a hard place – damned if they attacked Kuwait, damned if they did not.

According to Ahmed, Kuwait had taken advantage of Iraq’s long war with Iran, and there was credible evidence that Kuwait had siphoned oil off Iraqi oil fields for a considerable while (11).

Kuwait’s role in economic subterfuge extended to circulation, through the black market, of Iraqi currency in the Kuwaiti capital city, which many Kuwaitis used for holidays at expensive luxury hotels in Iraq. All efforts by Saddam Hussein to have the Arab league intervene on behalf of Iraq failed.

The US played its role in leading the war effort against Iraq, and closer examination reveals where the true interest of US in the entire war effort lied. Before and during the war, The US urged its Middle East ally, Israel, not to retaliate when attacked by Iraq (Mendelsohn 84).

The US was keen to keep the support of the Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia (which financed a large part of the war). Had Israel retaliated, the US was of the view that many Arab Countries would have withdrawn their support for the coalition war effort against Iraq (Faksh and Ramzi 290). During the crisis preceding the attack/invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, the world was experiencing an economic downturn.

The US economy was not fairing any better, and the price of oil, as mentioned earlier, was dropping. The US had a direct reason to defend the oil fields of Saudi Arabia from imminent attack or destruction from Iraq. Indeed, one of the very first moves of the coalition led by the US was to defend the Saudi oil fields; a manoeuvre termed “Operation Desert Shield”.

The US may have prepared for the war against Iraq long before the actual hostilities began, and it may have deliberately led Saddam Hussein to this war (Woods and Stout 12). The extensive propaganda before and during the war, led by the US media houses, indicates the level of corporation between the army and the media – erstwhile strange bedfellows.

For instance, the US military exaggerated the strength of the of the Iraqi army, and wrongly accused it of stationing troops near the Saudi border, and moving military equipment in an apparent design of attacking Saudi Arabia, which scholars have proved to be false allegations against the Iraqi government (Woods and stout 12). This fact is important because it was the very reason that President Bush gave for launching the US led invasion.

It is also worthwhile to note that President Bush by-passed congress and committed US troops into the war long before the congress had made any war approval. The United States committed the highest number of troops for the attack amongst the entire coalition forces.

The United States constitution mandates the President to obtain approval for war from congress, thereby meaning that only congress has the ability to sanction war on behalf of the United States as a nation. When President Bush committed US troops first to Saudi Arabia and subsequently in the attack of Iraq, he had not sought approval from congress.

America committed nearly 700,000 troops for the war effort: about 70% of the entire coalition forces. Therein lays the notion that the US may have had other motives for waging the war against Iraq. It would be a fallacy to call the war effort a coalition effort when one partner contributed about three quarters of the total troop numbers.

In the lead up to the war, the US was involved in extensive campaigns to garner support for the attack and repulse of Iraq out of Kuwait. As discussed earlier in this paper, there were or had been other cases of militarily powerful countries invading their weak neighbours, which the US showed little or no interest whatsoever in resolving.

Because the US showed a keen interest in the invasion of Kuwait as opposed to the other mentioned invasions, it is worth to analyze the US oil interests in the Persian Gulf in light of the Carter Doctrine.

The Carter Doctrine

In a State of the Union speech in January 1980, President Jimmy Carter categorised the Persian Gulf as being of strategic national interest to the US, and added that the US would then be bound to use any means necessary – including waging war – to defend its national interests.

The Persian Gulf was an important route for the shipping and transportation of oil that made its way to the US, and oil was one of its most important domestic resources (Klaire 17).

The strength of economic conditions determined the results of the US elections; oil is a supreme factor in determining the domestic economic trends. High and unpredictable oil prices have a negative effect on the economy, and such a trend always affects the chances of an incumbent being re-elected.

Against this backdrop, it is noteworthy that the US president, Bush, was highly interested in securing the Persian Gulf oil fields by any means necessary, and went to great lengths to gain support from the UN to justify its attack against Iraq.

The US desired the world to view the attack as an international effort against a war-mongering nation, yet for her, the US, the entire war operation had an acute domestic angle. Going by the provisions and instructions of the Carter Doctrine, President Bush was plainly trying to secure the interests of the US.

The US and its influence over the affairs of the UN Security Council

The UN Security Council is composed of five permanent members – The US, UK, Russia, France and China, all victors at the end of the Second World War. Because the UN Security Council composes of members drawn from countries that emerged victorious during the Second World War, many of the resolutions passed are subject to the influence of the major world powers, for instance the US and even Russia.

The formation of the UN occurred in the aftermath of one of the worst human disasters during the Second World War. The aim of the UN, the very reason for its creation, was to prevent a war of such magnitude from ever occurring again. The world had learnt its lesson; there is no benefit in war, peace always wins.

According to Frank, the UN Security Council’s mandate involves the preservation of peace in any situation (279). The UN Security Council should first ensure that the members exhaust all the necessary measures to preserve peace before arriving at the resolution to wage any war.

When the UN issued Resolution 678, it had not exhausted all measures of averting the war. Saddam Hussein, as the paper discussed earlier, had some genuine grievances against Kuwait. He had presented his case to the Arab league for resolution without much success. Even prior to the war, Saddam had listed his conditions for withdrawing from Iraq, conditions which the invading coalition, lead by the US, scarcely paid attention to.

According to Royce, Iraq had sent workable proposals to the US for consideration (4). In one of the provisions in the proposal to pullout from Kuwait, Iraqi requested the Arab league to allow her to explore the oil fields that Kuwait had secretly siphoned from her for years prior to the war.

This pullout proposal also had Iraqi officials seeking a long-term solution to the political and economic instability that continuously plagued the Persian Gulf region. The Americans considered none of these proposals.

The revelations by the then US Army General Norman Schwarzkopf that they had been preparing for the Iraqi invasion eight months before the war itself is quite a revelation. The then Chief of General Staff, Collin Powell, also admitted on preparing simulations of the war against Iraq months before the actual invasion.

The admission by these two army generals that there were preparations for the Iraq invasion long before the actual invasion is simply an element of preparedness on the part of the American Army. However, in light of the fact that the Americans ignored the Iraqis proposals for pulling out, this is hardly believable.

The fact the UN Security Council was subject to manipulation by the US is stated by the then UN Secretary General Javier Perez that the US controls the Security Council, Britain and Russia is worthy of mention. The Secretary General experienced frustrations due to the reluctance by the US to first pursue peaceful means in this conflict (Frank 280).

The Gulf War as a Test for New Weapons of War

The escalation of the Cold war during the 1980s brought with it a need for weapons of war that would inflict maximum damage on the enemy with little harm on the user of the weapons.

As tensions between the US and the USSR continued to mount, so did the quantity and level of sophistication of weapons manufactured by the countries. The US viewed the impending attack on Iraq as the perfect arena for testing its newly manufactured weapons of war, which it had not previously tested because the collapse of the USSR signalled the end of the cold war.

According to Klare, some of the weapons, which the coalition used, had catastrophic effect in the Gulf War and in addition, the UN Security Council had not even the approved the use of such weapons, and thus the decision to use these weapons in actual combat, at great risk to civilian lives and infrastructure, was ill-conceived (“High-Death Weapons” 722).

The US was then the largest manufacturer of military weapons and machinery in the world, and any scent of war was an opportunity to rake in the profits for the corporations concerned.

The then President Dwight D. Eisenhower who felt slightly uncomfortable with the increased militarism that was being driven by the large conglomerates within the US, coined the term “Military-Industrial Complex” (MIC), who (Brunton 45). According to Brunton, American capitalism was in large part “military capitalism” and the dictates of these large companies drove America into wars it should not have necessarily engaged itself.

Several US conglomerates were involved in the manufacture of military weapons and other military apparatus used during the Gulf War. These were LTV Aerospace, General Dynamics and McDonnell Douglas Corporations. LTV Aerospace was involved in the manufacture of the Army Tactical Missile System, which it developed in the 1980s, each missile costing about $615,000 (Klare “High-Death Weapons” 740).

As a new military weapon, the US had not tested the effects of these missiles and the unfortunate civilians of Iraq were the guinea pigs.

Another weapon used extensively during the Gulf war by the Americans was the Tomahawk Sea-Launched Cruise Missile, which General Dynamics manufactured. Each of these missiles cost an average of $1.4 “The Carter Doctrine” 20). McDonnell Douglas was also involved in the manufacture of these missiles.

The Stand-off Land Attack Missile (SLAM) was another weapon that the coalition mostly used during the war. This missile was favoured because they could easily launch it from a plane, and it contained a video that enabled the pilot to guide it to its target.

SLAM was still at the testing stage when the war began and its use during the war caused damages to the Iraqi infrastructure that few in the US military could have forecasted. The use of weapons that were still at the testing stage points to the convergence of military missions and the commercial interests of US defence weapons manufacturing companies.

The Laser-Guided Bomb was another weapon that they widely used during the Gulf War. This weapon received extensive television coverage during the war, and though touted as a bomb, which rarely missed its targets; it did, at extreme human and property costs for Iraqis.

The US military went to great lengths to portray the Gulf War as a ’clean war‘. The military desired the American’s public support for the war.

Accordingly, the military depicted the weapons used as highly sophisticated – reaching the intended military targets at little or no cost of human lives on the part of the coalition forces, and even innocent civilians. After the war, a UN fact-finding mission team to Iraq was shocked at the massive destruction of property and infrastructure that the war had brought.

Therefore the zeal with which the military tried to conceal the truth about the war atrocities and damages, at the same time inflating the strength of the enemies, points to a deliberate effort at deceiving, or at least misleading, the American public.

Conclusion

In conclusion, as discussed in this paper, the ’coalition‘ effort to attack Iraq and push its military out of Kuwait, was largely a US led military campaign that used the UN to achieve its war aims and secure oil supplies for its domestic market. The reasons for Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait were indeed viable, if genuine.

Iraq had suffered from the effects of its 9-year war with Iran, and its economy had taken a bad hit as a result. The fact that Kuwait was taking advantage of Iraq’s war-weariness to drill oil within the Iraqi territory, and to overproduce its oil thereby reducing the world oil prices were serious violations of previously agreed terms.

The paper has also analysed interests of the US in the Persian Gulf insofar as oil is concerned. The US, as per the Carter Doctrine, placed the Persian Gulf as an area of national interest. The US was willing to use any means necessary, including war, to secure the oilfields of Saudi Arabia, and to secure safe passage for the oils through the Persian Gulf.

As discussed in this paper, the US urged its erstwhile ally, Israel, not to retaliate when attacked (though missiles) by Iraq. This was so that the US could continue to gain the material support of the Arab nations for the war effort.

Ultimately, the tendency of the US to use its position to coax other UN member countries both within and without the UN Security Council has become clear. None other than the UN Secretary General Javier Perez termed the Gulf war as a ’US war’ and not a UN war (Frank 281). The statement from the then UN secretary General sums up the entire ’coalition‘ effort in waging war to push Iraq out of Kuwait; it was all simply to serve the domestic interests of the US.

Works Cited

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Brunton, Bruce. “An historical perspective on the future of the military-industrial complex.” Social Science Journal 28.1 (1991): 45. Print.

Cleveland, William. A History of the Modern Middle East. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2000. Print.

Faksh, Mahmud, and Ramzi, Faris. “The Saudi conundrum: Squaring the security-stability circle.” Third World Quarterly 14.2 (1993): 277-293. Print.

Frank, Andre. “The US role in the Gulf War.” Third World Quarterly, (1992): 267-282.

Klare, Michael. “High-Death Weapons of the Gulf War. (Cover story).” Nation 252.21 (1991): 721-742. Print.

Klare, Michael. “The Carter Doctrine Goes Global.” Progressive 68.12 (2004): 17-21. Print.

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Verleger, Philip. “Understanding the 1990 oil crisis.” Energy Journal 11.4 (1990): 15.

Woods, Kevin, and Mark E. Stout. “Saddam’s Perceptions and Misperceptions: The Case of ‘Desert Storm’.” Journal of Strategic Studies 33.1 (2010): 5-41. Print.