Summary of "Failure to Employ Preventative Diplomacy to Avert Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait"

Summary of

Failure to Employ Preventative Diplomacy to Avert Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait

By Gareth Evans

This Article Summary written by: Mariya Yevsyukova, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: "Failure to Employ Preventative Diplomacy to Avert Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait." Gareth Evans, Cooperating for Peace.

Iraq and Kuwait had had a long standing, but low level, border dispute over a pair of Persian Gulf islands. In 1990, after the Iran-Iraq war, Iraq faced an economic crisis. At that time Kuwait was a major Iraqi creditor, and was playing a key role in depressing oil prices, thus decreasing Iraq's income from oil sales. In addition, Iraq accused Kuwait of, in effect, stealing oil from the Iraqi side of the shared Rumaila oil field. A successful invasion of Kuwait would have relieved Iraq of its war debt, increased oil prices, and provided Iraq with long-sought access to the Gulf. Iraq began to press the border issue, and threaten invasion. Kuwait resisted, not wanting to give in to threats. Iraq in turn increased its threats and demands, not wanting to lose face and believing that invasion was a viable option. No preventative diplomacy was employed during this period of escalation, and Kuwait was invaded in August of 1990. Two factors seem to contribute to the sudden escalation and lack of prevention in this case. First, both Iraqi threats and demands were misunderstood or discounted. Very little attention was paid to resolving the issues which arose early in the dispute, or to Iraq's worsening economic situation. Moreover, no Arab state had invaded another in modern times. This led the Arab community and the international community to discount Iraqi threats of invasion. Second, both Iraq and Kuwait showed an inability to admit mistakes. Having openly threatened invasion, Iraq felt committed to make good on their threat. Kuwait in turn did not want to be seen as compromising in the face of intimidation. As a matter of principle, they refused to be threatened into admitting any wrong-doing. Each side having framed the conflict in these ways, Kuwait felt it could not compromise until Iraq withdrew its threat. Iraq in turn felt it could not withdraw its threat until Kuwait agreed to negotiate. As a result, both sides held firm until outside intervention -- in the form of the Gulf War -- ended the standoff.