Gulf War II (1990/91) - Iraq between United Nations' Diplomacy and United States' Policy

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2006

31 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of content

1) Introduction

2) The Gulf Crisis 1990/1991 – background and facts

3) The role of the United Nations and the United States in the Gulf Crisis until the declaration of war against Iraq
3.1) US Policies for the Middle East until 1991
3.2) The UN and its role in the Gulf Crisis
3.2.1) Security Council and its Resolutions
3.2.2) Reaction of the permanent members of the Security Council on the Crisis
3.2.3) Resolution 678 and the Military Staff Committee of the UN
3.3) From Korea to the Gulf Crisis

4) Conclusion


1) Introduction

The Gulf Crisis of 1990/1991 - with which is meant the set of events including the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, the diplomatic efforts by the United Nations (UN), several single states and regional organizations like the Arab League to solve the crisis, the delegation of making war against Iraq by the UN to a coalition led by the United States (US) and at last the accomplishment of the military operation “Desert Storm” - elucidated the development of the US policy concepts for the Middle East during the late 80`s and the early 90`s and their adaptation to new international and regional circumstances, rather than it described a dramatic and unforeseen turning point in US attitudes, even if the fear of an Soviet expansion in the region suddenly disappeared and considerations about an anti-communist containment weren`t any more necessary. The crisis is, in a wider range of sight, doubtlessly related to the outcome of the tremendous changes in world politics with the end of the Cold War and the transformation of the Soviet Union to a partner of the US on the international political platform, as with the end of the bipolar system the Soviet Union became an important factor in the new potentiality of the UN to solve conflicts, and as with this the US was able, and to a certain extent still is, to adopt new strategies for its policies. However, the end of the cold war poked the small flames of regional conflicts, oppressed for a long time by this bigger global dispute, with air. Regionally the crisis had its direct reasons mainly in the Iraqi-Iranian war 1980-1988 and in the resulting economical and political impacts on Iraq specifically and the Gulf region in general, as same as in the disputes between Iraq and Kuwait about the issues of oil and borderlines. To say it with the words of Stephen J. Wayne: “The events in the Persian Gulf occurred within the context of both the end of the cold war and the persistence of deep, seemingly intractable, conflicts in the Middle East […].”[1]

Contrary to the first Gulf War between Iraq and Iran, the second Gulf War became very fast internationalized beyond all regional borders even if its roots were mainly placed in the broader regional environment. Especially the US was very concerned about the Iraqi invasion and its impact on the regional and on the international economical, political and military balance. The so called Gulf War III in the year 2003, which rooted to a big part in the second one, showed, that this concern kept on being vital for the US.

This paper mainly focuses on two aspects of the Gulf Crisis of 1990/91, namely on the US Administration, its goals and its policy for the Middle East in general, and the Gulf region and Iraq specifically. Additionally it´ll deal with the role of the United Nations or rather the Security Council and its permanent members during this crisis. Especially the relation between US policies, respectively politics, and UN resolutions and decisions must be screened, and it has to be discussed to what extent the Gulf crisis effected a revival of the role of the UN and what kind of role this was. Another question related to this topic is whether the war against Iraq solved at least some of the problems in the region or whether it created at the opposite new problems. Furthermore it has to be analyzed who set the goals of the war and what was their nature. More than once we will see the dissension and the overlap between UN goals, like solving the crisis and deleting the factors that had and still have an escalating potential in the region, and US goals, like saving the regional hegemony with military presence, securing oil-production and eliminating an enemy with the will to produce mass-destructive weapons.

To reach the goal of this analysis, we first have to cast a look on the background of the crisis and on the facts as so far known. Necessarily some aspects of the complexity of this crisis have to be left aside but the objective is to open a more or less new frame to look at the events shortly before and during the Crisis, and to arrange the relation between the US and the UN in a picture that has already been started to be painted long time before the events in the Gulf 1990/1991, namely 40 years ago during the US-intervention under UN-auspices in Korea, and that hasn`t been finished until now.

2) The Gulf Crisis 1990/1991 – background and facts

On 2 August 1990 the Iraqi military started its invasion and annexation of Kuwait. Numerous reasons drove the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, to this step, but this step was motivated mainly by the reason that Iraq needed after the long and costly war against Iran the oil wealth of the Kuwaiti state, which became independent and recognized by Iraq in 1963. Despite of this recognition Saddam argued that Kuwait was the 19th province of Iraq and that it had to be liberated from the Kuwaiti Sabah Monarchy. Additionally to this economical pressure and historical demand, the “Kuwaiti overproduction depressed the price of oil”[2] and Iraq had seen this as an unacceptable provocation with an enormous negative impact on the Iraqi economy, and therefore as a reason for war. Furthermore Saddam Hussein had the goal to create with the occupation of Kuwait an Iraqi hegemony in the Gulf and to raise up his country to the leading one in the whole Arab world, which was seen by other Arab States, especially Saudi-Arabia and Syria, and the majority of the international community, very suspiciously, if not as a menace to the political, economical and military balance in the Middle East. To say it shortly, Saddam had the perspective that with the annexation of Kuwait “in one stroke his position would be permanently secured”[3] and on the long-run strengthened.

Nevertheless Saddam´s steps were apparently based on immense miscalculations which accumulated in a broad coalition against him. He infringed international law several times before 1990 like in the war against Iran. But instead of being condemned by the UN, Saddam got an immense support especially from the US and France.[4] Having this in mind, Saddam was still thinking that his former supporters wouldn`t turn against him in the massive military way they finally did. Shortly before the invasion, on 25 July, the US Ambassador in Iraq, April Glaspie, had a meeting with Saddam. During the conversation Glaspie confirmed that the United States “have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like … [the Iraqi] border disagreement with Kuwait.”[5] This statement was in the eyes of Saddam a carte blanche given from the US to solve his problems on his own and with the means he thought are necessary for it, even if Glaspie also emphasized that the means should, not have to, be peacefully.

The US Administration later explained these ambiguous statements by the US Ambassador in Iraq, which wouldn`t have let expected the harsh reaction of the US following after the invasion, that they were caused by the lack of instructions from Washington for Glaspie. In other words, she didn`t has the authority to threat Saddam. However, the suspicion that the US Administration let Iraq intentionally in the dark of the planned reaction to an aggression remains. Related to this the question appears if it was an unfortunate accumulation of misunderstandings that led Saddam to make war against Kuwait or if Saddam got caught in a US-trap.[6] The latter can be buttressed by another pointer, a secret document which was signed by the chief of the Kuwaiti secret service on 22 November 1989 and addressed to the Kuwaiti Minister of the Interior. In short this document declares that the Kuwaiti government came to an agreement with the US, that Kuwait should take profit out of the bad economical situation in Iraq to reach a favorable agreement with Saddam on the border dispute. To coordinate the means of pressure on Iraq there had to be a broad co-operation between the Kuwaitis and the CIA.[7] Hence, this document hints at an US-provocation, performed by the Kuwaiti government, in order to start the deployment of US-troops and materialize US-interests explained in one of the following chapters, while making publicly Iraq responsible for everything that happened during the crisis. There is still doubt in the authenticity of this secret document and until now it hasn`t been possible to verify it for sure, but it would fit with the fact that already on 8 August 1990 US-troops dug in on the Saudi border[8], seemingly preparing for an already planned attack. This assumption would also suit with the fast internationalization of the crisis in order to prevent an Arab solution as aspired by King Hussein of Jordan and President Mubarak of Egypt in a meeting in Alexandria on 2 August 1990. A planned “Arab mini-summit in Jeddah, with the participation of Saudi-Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Kuwaiti Emir”[9] never took place. Instead, because of massive pressure by Syria, one of the most hostile Arab states to Iraq[10], the condemnation of Iraq by the Arab League followed while still “reject[ing] any external interference in the crisis“[11] and hoping for an Arab summit where a solution should have been found. But this hope was in vain.

The US Administration had apparently other plans and was not willing to give the Arabs time to find a way out of the crisis on their own.

As the invasion was indeed a clear act of aggression by one member of the UN against another one, the UN Security Council couldn`t be silent and it passed some hours after the Iraqi attack Resolution 660, brought in by the US Ambassador to the UN Thomas Pickering, condemning the invasion and calling on Iraq to withdraw its forces from Kuwait[12]. Before this reaction of the world community, Crown Prince Sheikh Abdallah as-Sabah of Kuwait asked the US for help, but there were no military options available. Already on 3 August President Bush warned Iraq to expand this military action into Saudi-Arabia, which was one of America`s vital interests. Not impressed by the reaction of the UN and the US, and without paying attention to the condemnation by the Arab League, Saddam went on during the next weeks and months to move forward with the occupation of Kuwait. This went hand in hand with economical sanctions by the UN and the adoption of further resolutions that gradually intensified the pressure on Iraq. The main question among the Security Council members was how to enforce the resolutions, and there were no doubts that the UN demands had to be fulfilled by Iraq because of the obvious break of international law.

An American delegation has already met on the beginning of August with the Saudi King Fahd, pronouncing its concern of an Iraqi attack on Saudi Arabia. After this meeting Fahd declared that Saudi-Arabia was prepared to accept American troops on their territory.[13] So the deployment of US-troops in the Gulf started under the name desert shield, primarily caused and made possible by the fear that Saddam might have the intention to expand his military offensive into Saudi-Arabia. This threat, however, was exaggerated by the Bush Administration to get sure that Saudi-Arabia would accept the deployment. At the same time the US Administration prevented all attempts to find an inner-Arab solution for the problem and they made the crisis to their own business with their own goals.[14] As it looks like, the American response to the Iraqi threat was two-sided: On the one hand the US-Administration tried to get the UN involved into the conflict in a manner that didn`t restrict the scope of US-actions but legitimate them, and on the other hand it started a rapid and massive military deployment supported by the members of the coalition which the US has formed during the crisis in the Gulf.[15] The US raised itself up to the main actor in this crisis, stating clearly that “sufficient authority [to enforce the Iraqi withdrawal militarily] … comes from Article 51 of the UN Charter.”[16] This meant that according to the Kuwaiti call for help against the Iraqi aggression, the US had, in their opinion, the right to use force with or without the explicit authority of the UN. If this was really a legal stand will be discussed in one of the next chapters.

When Saddam started to threat with the misuse of foreign citizens in Kuwait as human shields in the case of an attack by the coalition forces, the situation was already on the best way to a military escalation. Saddam refused to comply with the resolutions, insisting on setting the conditions for a possible withdrawal, because an unconditioned compliance to all resolutions would have been unpardonable in the eyes of the Iraqi people. The so called extra mile for peace, in which President Bush “offered direct talks between the United States and Iraq on a peaceful resolution to the Gulf crisis”[17], had therefore from the beginning no realistic chance to bring peace, as both sides insisted on their angles. The US Administration, appearing to the public as a fair mediator, wanted just “to reassure the American people that no avenues [that would lead to a peaceful settlement] were being left unexplored”[18], knowing that Saddam couldn`t agree on the non-negotiable demands of the US. At the same time the US administration rejected all Iraqi proposals to de-escalate the situation. At the opposite, Bush stated in a speech at the UN on 1 October that even after an Iraqi withdrawal the problem of chemical and biological weapon capabilities would still remain being a problem for the whole Middle East[19]. This can be seen as a relatively clear sign that the US Administration was willing to take military action without regard to a compliancy to the UN resolutions by Iraq. After the running out of all diplomatic options - from proposals by the Soviet Union and France through the deadline diplomacy on 13 January by the UN Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar, for which the Bush Administration had opted in order to show that the pressure on Saddam came not only from the US but from the whole international community, to a last-minute peace proposal by France, that fails to reach a vote - the deadline for full compliance of the Iraqi Government to all previous Security Council Resolutions, as stated in Resolution 678, passed by on 15 January. On 17 January the coalition forces, mainly including soldiers and facilities from the United States, United Kingdom and Saudi-Arabia, launched massive air assaults on Iraqi territory and Iraqi positions in Kuwait.

The whole American venture seemed to have particularly one main goal: to use the new uprising world order after the shift of Soviet foreign policy, and the punctual regional situation to realize the dream of a pax americana, which means durable stabilization in the Middle East through military means[20], in order to create an geo-strategic and economical advantage for the US in the Middle East. Knowing the result of the war against Iraq in the year 2003, the notions pax and durable stability, the same as collective security, as it is the overwhelming goal of the UN, appear to be more than cynical expressions in the view of the Iraqi state and the whole Middle East.


[1] Wayne, Stephen J., “President Bush Goes to War: A Psychological Interpretation from a Distance” in: Renshon, Stanley A. (ed.), The Political Psychology of the gulf war, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh 1993, p.30

[2] Bahbah, Bishara A., “The Crisis in the Gulf – Why Iraq Invaded Kuwait” in: Bennis, Phyllis / Moushabeck, Michel (eds.), Beyond the storm, Olive Branch Press, New York 1991, p. 52

[3] Freedman, Lawrence / Karsh Efraim, The Gulf Conflict 1990-1991, Princeton University Press, New Jersey 1992, p. 62

[4] Massarrat, Mohssen, “Der Golfkrieg: Historische, politische, ökonomische und kulturelle Hintergründe“ in: Stein, Georg (ed.), Nachgedanken zum Golfkrieg, Palmyra, Heidelberg 1991, p.22

[5] Bennis / Moushabeck (eds.), New York 1991, Appendix B – The Glaspie-Hussein Transcript, p.395

[6] Ruf, Werner, „Vom Krieg in die Krise zum Krieg – Der Golfkrieg: Eine bewußte Eskalation?“ in: Ruf (ed.), Vom Kalten Krieg zur heißen Ordnung, Münster/Hamburg 1991, p.54

[7] see: Salinger, Pierre / Laurent, Eric, Krieg am Golf – Das Geheimdossier, Hanser, München 1991, p.291-293 (transcript of the whole document); and: Ruf, „Vom Krieg in die Krise zum Krieg – Der Golfkrieg: Eine bewußte Eskalation?“ in: Ruf (ed.), Münster/Hamburg 1991, p.54

[8] Niva, Steve, “The Battle is joined” in: Bennis / Moushabeck, (eds.), New York 1991, p. 58

[9] Freedman / Karsh, Princeton / New Jersey 1992, p. 69

[10] This is attributed to the division of the Ba`th party, the ruling party in both countries, and to the rivalry between Hafiz al-Asad. Saddam engineered a rift between the two branches of the Ba`th party which lead to big personal animosity between the two leaders.

[11] Ibid., p.71

[12] Resolution 660 at: (rev. 2006-06-15)

[13] Freedman / Karsh, Princeton / New Jersey 1992, p.63

[14] Ruf, „Vom Krieg in die Krise zum Krieg – Der Golfkrieg: Eine bewußte Eskalation?“ in: Ruf (ed.), Münster/Hamburg 1991, p. 55

[15] „The allied coalition consisted of 34 countries, including Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Honduras, Italy, Kuwait, Morocco, The Netherlands, Niger, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Korea, Spain, Syria, Turkey, The United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States. The U.S. had more than 500,000 troops in the Persian Gulf War, while the non-U.S. coalition forces equaled roughly 160,000, or 24 percent, of all forces.”

see: (rev. 2006-06-15)

[16] Freedman / Karsh, Princeton / New Jersey 1992, p. 144

[17] Ibid., p. 234

[18] Ibid, p.234

[19] Lake, Tim (compiler), “Chronology of the Gulf Crisis – May 1990-June 1991” in: Ibrahim, Ibrahim (ed.), Center for Contemporary Arab Studies Georgetown University, Washington D.C. 1992, p. 326

[20] Ruf, „Vom Krieg in die Krise zum Krieg – Der Golfkrieg: Eine bewußte Eskalation?“ in: Ruf (ed.), Münster / Hamburg 1991, p.57

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Gulf War II (1990/91) - Iraq between United Nations' Diplomacy and United States' Policy
International Politics of the Middle East
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Betreuer der Arbeit: Prof. George Dib (Lecturer and Advisor of the President of the Republic of Lebanon) "excellent work"
Gulf, Iraq, United, Nations, Diplomacy, United, States, Policy, International, Politics, Middle, East
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Stephan Schmid (Author), 2006, Gulf War II (1990/91) - Iraq between United Nations' Diplomacy and United States' Policy, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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