Case Study

Conflict in the Persian Gulf – 1991: An important test case

Kuwait, a tiny Arab Emirate, nestled between Iraq in the northwest and Saudi Arabia in the south, may appear an unlikely setting for one of the greatest debates regarding the role of the United Nations. The seeds were sown, however, when on 2 August 1990 the forces of Saddam Hussein (President of Iraq: 1979–2003) marched across the border and annexed Kuwait. This episode led to a flurry of activity which culminated in the establishment of one of the largest multinational forces assembled since World War II. The defining characteristic of the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq was that it had been initiated under the authorisation of the United Nations. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted numerous resolutions in quick succession, all of which called for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Iraq’s forces from Kuwait. Throughout the months of diplomacy (2 August 1990–15 January 1991), however, Iraq gave no indication that it would be willing to withdraw. Given Iraq’s intransigence, the Security Council adopted Resolution 678 on 29 November 1990. This was significant in that it specified that the coalition assembled against Iraq could use ‘all necessary means’ to ensure the removal of Iraq from Kuwaiti territory. The aerial bombardment of Iraq began on 15 January 1991, followed by a ground offensive on 23 February which ceased once Kuwait was liberated, a mere 100 hours later.