The United Nations, India and the Gulf War (1990-2001)

August 8, 2011
National League East
by The700Level

Note: This article was written in 2001

Historical Background
Throughout history, the Gulf region has been rife with all kinds of coups, disputes, crises and wars. The overthrow of Mossadeq (1951), the Suez Crisis (1956), the Six Days War (1967), the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) were some of the crises that marred the region since the Second World War.

The Gulf crisis of 1990 was the result of many long-standing disputes between Iraq and Kuwait, besides other causes such as the emergence of Iraq as a great military power after the Iran-Iraq War, Saddam’s ambitions in the absence of democratic ideals in the Arab world and the intra Arab-Gulf relations.

When Iraq became independent in 1932, it began to assert territorial claims against Kuwait. Iraq claimed that Kuwait has been under the Ottoman Empire as a district of Basra, and that since Iraq is the successor of the empire, Kuwait naturally becomes a part of Iraq. Before 1990, Iraq had attempted to incorporate Kuwait into Iraq on at least two occasions. The first occurred in the late 1930s when King Ghazi of Iraq made demands to unify Kuwait with Iraq. But that demand soon died down when King Ghazi mysteriously died in an accident on 4 April, 1939.

The second occasion occurred in 1961 when Britain and Kuwait formally terminated their relationship under the treaty of January 1899.[1] Iraq, under General Abdul Karim Qasim again made an attempt to incorporate Kuwait into Iraq. On 2 July, 1961, the United Nations Security Council met to discuss the problem. Under paragraph 2, Article 35 of the United Nations, both Iraq and Kuwait submitted their complaint to the UN. The UN Security Council, however, could neither diffuse the crisis nor pass any resolution due to the use of its veto by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union went along with the Iraqi view and stated that, “The Security Council’s most immediate task in this situation is to condemn the actions of the colonial power and to take measures which lead to the immediate withdrawal of United Kingdom troops from Kuwait.”[2] In the absence of any proper agreements in the UN, the Arab League stepped in and came up with an alternative solution to the problem. It accepted Kuwait’s independence and vowed to defend Kuwait against any external threats or aggression. Iraq, however never really accepted Kuwait’s independence.

With the passage of time, the dispute simmered down. The outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War almost completely overshadowed the Kuwait-Iraq issue and the matter was laid to an uneasy rest during the war. Although several meetings were held between Kuwait and Iraq, the matter could not be settled and it continued until 2 August, 1990 when the dispute took a completely new turn.

In the months preceding the invasion, Saddam made several threatening charges against Kuwait among which are the extraction of Iraqi crude oil by Kuwait in the Rumailah oilfield and Kuwait’s illegal possession of Warba, Bubiyan and Failaka Islands. Saddam accused Kuwait of ‘overproduction’ of oil, which Iraq regarded as “… a kind of war against Iraq.” This overproduction, Saddam claimed, depressed oil prices and raised the revenue of Kuwait which did nothing to help Iraq. He warns Kuwait that its overproduction was “a poison dagger in Iraq’s back,” and that it was “an evil against Iraq… an American plot to deplete Iraq’s oil revenues…” Saddam also threatened to use force “… to put things right… cutting a few throats is better than cutting the means of living.”[3]

The Crisis
Things finally came to a head after the failed Jeddah meeting of 31 July and 1 August, 1990 between Iraq and Kuwait, when, on 2 August, 1990, 100,000 Iraqi troops and 300 tanks rolled into Kuwait with little resistance. Iraq announced soon after that it would withdraw when the situation stabilises and when the “Free Provisional Government of Kuwait” asks them to withdraw.[4] This announcement proved to be a complete sham because on 28 August 1990, Kuwait was formally annexed to Iraq and declared as the 19th Iraqi province. By 4 November, it was announced that Kuwait “no longer exists and that the world should forget about Kuwait’s independence.”

After several resolutions were passed by the UN Security Council condemning the action and imposing sanctions on Iraq, Resolution 678 was finally passed on 29 November 1990 that authorises the coalition forces to “restore international peace and security in the area” by the use of “all necessary means.” The Council, in what it termed a “pause of goodwill” gave Iraq until 15 January 1991 to end its occupation of Kuwait.

In the intervening period, many diplomatic efforts for a peaceful resolution to the crisis were undertaken. The Nonaligned Movement (NAM), the League of Arab States, the European Community, France and four permanent members of the Security Council (Colombia, Cuba, Malaysia and Yemen) forwarded their peace plans, but due to lack of international support, no viable solutions could be found. The 9 January 1991 talks between the US Secretary of State, James Baker and Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz did not make any headway either. A last minute effort by the UN Secretary General was also “unfortunately unsuccessful.” As the Secretary General’s efforts yielded no results and as the deadline came to an end, he remarked, “No one, and no nation can, except with a heavy heart – resort to the other ‘necessary means’ implied by the resolution 678 (1990), knowing in advance that tragic and unpredictable consequences can follow.”

What followed next was the transformation of “Operation Desert Shield” to “Operation Desert Storm.” From 17 January, for the next six weeks, Iraqi military facilities and other installations were bombed. This had serious effect on Iraqi military strength, for, when the ground offensive began at 4am local time on 24 February 1991; the US-led coalition forces met little resistance and easily succeeded in liberating Kuwait on 27 February 1991.

The United Nations and the Gulf Crisis
Soon after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the Security Council met in an emergency meeting to discuss the matter. The Council, at its 2932 meeting on 2 August 199o adopted Resolution 660. The resolution stated that the Security Council was “alarmed by the invasion of Kuwait… by the military forces of Iraq,” and it “condemns the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait” and demanded that “Iraq withdraw immediately and unconditionally.” This resolution was adopted with 14 votes with one abstention (Yemen). The League of Arab States (LAS), Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), Nonaligned Movement (NAM), Nordic States, Western European Union (WEU), NATO, OPEC, World Bank and ICAO have, in their own terms also condemned the invasion.

As Iraq failed to comply with the Security Council Resolution 660, the UN Security Council, on 6 August adopted Resolution 661 which imposes mandatory arms and economic sanctions on Iraq. Iraq, however, calls it “iniquitous and unjust,” “precipitous,” and aimed at starving the Iraqi people.[5] This resolution was adopted with Cuba and Yemen abstaining.

Iraq continued to stand defiant and on 7 August 1990 declared its “comprehensive, eternal and inseparable merger” with Kuwait. With no sign of Iraqi withdrawal or compliance with resolutions 660 and 661, Resolution 662 was adopted on 9 August 1990 which declared the annexation of Kuwait “null and void.” Two other resolutions were adopted by the end of the first month of the crisis. On 18 August the Security Council adopted Resolution 664 which demanded the release of foreign nationals held in Iraq. Resolution 665, adopted on 25 August, calls upon member states to cooperate with the exiled Kuwaiti Government and to stop and search all ships travelling to or leaving Iraq.

Resolution 666, adopted on 13 September 1990 addressed the humanitarian situation in Iraq. It directed the Sanctions Committee to pay particular attention to “children under 15 years of age, expectant mothers, maternity cases, the sick and the elderly” in the determination of food supplies among the civilian population.

The closure of all diplomatic missions in Kuwait by Iraq prompted the Security Council to adopt Resolution 667 on 16 September which expressed the Council’s outrage and its demands for “the immediate release of those foreign nationals as well as all nationals,” and “protect the safety and well-being of diplomatic and consular personnel and premises in Kuwait.”

Resolution 669 of 24 September 1990, “entrusts the (Sanctions) Committee… with the task of examining requests for assistance under the provisions of Article 50” of the UN Charter.[6] The very next day, on 25 September, Resolution 670 confirmed that the sanction against Iraq “applies to all means of transport including aircraft.” It called upon member states to impose an air embargo on Iraq and Kuwait.

On 29 October 1990, the Council, in its Resolution 674 demands that Iraq “desist from taking any third state nationals hostage” and to stop its mistreatment and oppression of either Kuwaitis or foreign nationals. On 28 November 1990, yet another resolution was adopted by the Council. Resolution 677 condemns the Iraqi attempt to alter the demographic composition of the Kuwait population and the destruction of population records.

Iraq’s refusal to comply with any of the Council’s resolutions finally led to the passing of Resolution 678 on 29 November 1990 which authorises the use of “all necessary means” to uphold and implement the resolutions. This

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