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How did the United Nations respond to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait?

How did the United Nations respond to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait?

Iraq Invasion of Kuwait and role of UN
Iraq Invasion of Kuwait and role of UN

How did the United Nations respond to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait? Conflicts between nations are a common part of international relations and emerge from competition for power and resources. On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait following a conflict around oil resources and decades-old border disputes. The event prompted an immediate response from the UN Security Council but Iraq failed to heed the declarations. The Iraq invasion of Kuwait led to a seven-month occupation defined by destruction and the involvement of foreign forces. Although the response by the UN was prompt, it has been subject to criticism by having set a dubious precedent away from peace and humanitarian principles.

Iraq invades Kuwait      

Since the month of July 1990, Iraq and Kuwait were in a wave of intense confrontation due to oil prices. Both Kuwait and Iraq are oil producers and members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Iraq had just ended its war with Iran and had significant debts to pay and its economy was reliant on oil. As such, it was necessary for the oil prices to remain high so that Iraq could have access to adequate resources to service its debts and maintain economic functioning. In July, oil prices dropped from $18 to $12 a barrel and Iraq placed the blame on the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. According to Iraq, the two countries were overproducing oil in blatant disregard of the quotas set by OPEC yet this was affecting its economy to a great extent. Coupled with the fact that Iraq had some border disputes with Kuwait, this precipitated the attack of August 2.

Prior to the full-blown war between the two countries, Saudi Arabia and Egypt tried to mediate and Iraq provided the reassurance that it could not deploy armed forces against neighboring countries. Despite this, Iraq attacked Kuwait and announced the unification of the two countries on August 8.


Why did the US and UN oppose Iraq invading Kuwait?

How did the United Nations respond to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait?

Role of the UN

The response by the UN was on the same day of the attack where it noted that Iraq was violating international law and the basic order of the international community. The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 660 requiring that Iraq withdraw its forces immediately and without condition. The United Nations also responded by instituting mandatory arms and economic sanctions against Iraq.

Even with such responses, Iraq was unwilling to give up its position in Kuwait and hence continued with the occupation of the country. The disregard for the directives of the UN would later have greater implications and define the course of the gulf war.

Later sanctions and resolutions by the UN indicated the regard that it was directed to the Iraq-Kuwait issue. In a period of 4 months, the UN Security Council adopted 12 resolutions regarding the situation in Kuwait (United Nations, 2003). Resolution 678 granted permission to member states that were cooperating with Kuwait to use all necessary means in compelling Iraq to uphold international peace, if it did not comply with previously issued resolutions by January 15, 1991. With Iraq failing to honor the resolution by the stipulated date, cooperating member states began air attacks against the country on January 16th with ground forces beginning their offensive in February.



Why did the United States intervene in the conflicts between Iraq and Iran and between Iraq and Kuwait?

How did the United Nations respond to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait?

During the peace restoring efforts by the international community, a variety of countries were involved in the process. Forces from 28 countries were deployed in the Gulf to enforce the economic sanctions against Iraq while also restraining it from further attacking Kuwait. The use of multinational forces in bringing Iraq to account ended on February 28 after the country agreed to honor the resolutions by the council. Much as the war came to an end, Iraq was subject to further resolutions by the UN over a period of several years on issues linked to reparations and boundary demarcations.

The UN response to the Gulf crisis has been subject to criticism mainly based on the view that the United States was using the global body to advance its interests. According to Khan (1994), the world’s most powerful states under the US command used the UN as a cover to unleash war on a third world country whose ruler did not appreciate the vitality of the US interests in the region. Evidence of such claims is in the fact that the US was already organizing the use of force soon after Iraq invaded Kuwait. The US sought the use of force from the UN after having decided on an approach and timetable for military action. The US had the power to manipulate the Security Council and it needed the war to affirm and show the world that it was a hegemon.

Watershed moment

The Iraq-Kuwait war was a watershed moment as regards the response of the UN to global conflicts. The war was acclaimed as a victory for the United States thereby indicating a new world order and the end of bipolarity. Questions remain on how to ensure that the UN charters do not face violations in a similar way. Further, the role of the UN in international conflict remains a point of contention considering that it does not follow similar responses in other disputes.

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Khan, S. (1994). US abuse of UN in the Gulf war. Economic and Political Weekly, 29(35), 2277-2282

United Nations. (2003). Iraq/Kuwait – UNIKOM – Background.

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