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The Gulf War was a military manifestation of an exercise in political will


The political objective is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and the means can never be considered in isolation from their purpose1 - Carl von Clausewitz

Within days of Iraqi military invasion into Kuwait on 2nd Aug 1990, airman, sailor, soldiers and marines from United States of America began deploying in Saudi Arabia, under Operation Desert Shield, to prevent Saudi's Rumalia oil fields from falling into Saddam Hussein hands. 5 months later, after trying to resolve the conflict via diplomatic means, a peaceful resolution could not be achieved.

Operation Desert Storm went under way.

Operation Desert Shield/Storm was seen by many as a conflict between 2 warring state actors over Kuwait, with the objective of liberating Kuwait by using military muscle. While the Gulf war occupied the propensity of news headline, many have ignored the use of other means, such as trade embargo and financial sanctions aimed at crippling Iraqi's economy, to prevent the war from happening.

This essay will first review the basic fundamental of war in general, and its relationship to politics. It then follows on to examine the main crux of the issue: the

1 Carl von Clausewitz, On War, trans. And ed. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984) p.119

political considerations and intricacies that nations have to address before participating in Operations Desert Shield/Storm.

DEFINING WAR To understand the relationship of war and politics, one would need to examine war in greater detail. Simply put, war, is organised chaos between 2 hostile, independent and irreconcilable wills, each trying to compel the other to act in accordance to his bidding.

Levels of War. There are 3 levels of war (Refer to Figure 12). The tactical level of war is what most people would associate war to be: a violent clash of interest between, or among organised groups3, characterized by the use of military force4. This is the simplest, and the lowest level of war: i.e. the application of tactical actions and combat power for the ultimate defeat of the enemy.

2 Global Security. (Apr 2005). Chapter 2: Unified Action, [online]. Available:http: [2009 Mar 24] 3 Organised groups have traditionally been referred to as Nation States, however, modern conflict has seen mark increase in non state actors such as Taliban or Al Qaeda. 4 Department of the Navy, United States Marine Corps, MCDP 1: Warfighting, (US Government Printing Office, June 1997), pp. 3

Figure 1: Pictorial representation of the three levels on war. Note that this is for illustration purposes only. In truth, the 3 levels of war are not so clearly delineated.

Operational level of war provides the linkages of tactical actions to accomplish strategic objectives. This level entails to deciding when, where, how to engage in a duel or to refuse a duel, with the aim of satisfying the strategic aim, i.e. the the operational level of war is aimed at setting the conditions right for tactical actions to achieve strategic results5.

5 Department of the Navy, United States Marine Corps, MCDP 1-2: Campaigning, (US Government Printing Office, June 1997), pp. 8

The final level of war is the strategic level. It derives from political and policy objectives and is the sole authoritative basis for military operations6. The ultimate objective of the strategic level of war is to coordinate and focus all the elements of national power to achieve the policy objectives7.

Understanding War, Policy and Politics. Politics and policies are seemingly related, one is an enabler of the other. Politics deals with the activities associated with inter and intra government issues and the decisions made by them the government, simply put, politics lays down the who, what, where, and to a certain extent, when. Policies, on the other hand, are the selection of goals8 or formulation of rules-of-the-game to operationalise those decisions made (a means to an end, the how). And if policy is the how of achieving a political aim, or imposing of one's political will onto another, then it follows that waging war (a means), must serve policy (enabler to the end).

Figure 2: Relationship between war and politics. (writer's own)

6 Department of the Navy, United States Marine Corps, MCDP 1-0: Marine Corps Operations, (US Government Printing Office, Sept 2001), pp. 1-8 7 MCDP 1: Warfighting, pp28 8 Victoria University of Wellington, School of Information Management (2005). National Information Policy and National Informational Needs, [online]. Available: [2009 Mar 28]

War A manifestation of politics.

The relationship between war and politics

was first articulated in magnum opus, vom Kriege (On War) by Carl von Clausewitz. In it, von Clausewitz theorised that Der Krieg ist eine bloe Fortsetzung der Politik mit anderen Mitteln, meaning war is simply a continuation of politics by other means. This implies that all wars, the Gulf War included, are indeed a manifestation of politics: an exercise to compel the adversary, and impose our will on the enemy9.


If war is an instrument for the continuation of politics, then it is imperative to examine other instruments in play during the Gulf war period, that are, as well, a continuation of politics. This instruments shaped the political decisions that other nations have to ponder on before deciding to participate in the Gulf war.10

As a nation, there are many other instruments of politics that can be employed to achieve a political aim, i.e. to impose your will on others. For example, 2 days after Iraqi military forces invaded Kuwait, Europe and Japan imposed trade embargoes on Iraqi oil11. United Nations then place trade embargo and financial sanctions against Iraq12. This is utilising economy as a tool to arrive at a peaceful resolution in Iraq.

9 MCDP 1: Warfighting, pp4 10 Participation in gulf war includes provision of aid, money, support, and not just provision of military forces 11 Frederick Kirkland, OAM, J.P, Operation DAMASK: The Gulf War, Iraq-Kuwait, 1990 1991, (MacArther Press, 1991), pp 14 12 The History Place. (no date). President George Bush Announcing War Against Iraq, [online], available: [2009 Mar 19]

While there is a wide array of instruments that a nation power can employ to force an outcome, this essay will focus from 3 perspective: economic, social and psychological means13.

ECONOMIC CONSIDERATIONS The international community tried to use the economy means to drive the Iraqi Military Forces out of Kuwait through imposing trade embargoes and financial sanctions. This is a employing economy as a means to derive at an outcome. Indeed, this is also one of the main consideration, if not the most important one, for a country to participate or not to participate in the Gulf War.

War Costs. There are a few costs versus benefits that a country need to consider. Participation in the war would inevitably incur war costs. It would be difficult to predict how long the first Gulf War will last. Although Operation Desert Storm lasted only 100 hours, Operation Iraqi Freedom/ Enduring Freedom OIF/OEF), has already been ongoing since October 2001 - a war which many wondered if it could ever be won. No one, not even the United States government, with its intelligence agencies such as the CIA, would have predicted OIF/OEF to be a long war, especially so since the Coalition steam-rolled the Iraqi forces in the first Gulf War. The long war has cost the United States Government USD $368 billion14, a bill many countries cannot afford.
13 MCDP 1: Warfighting, pp26 14 Amy Belasco (Sept 2006), The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11 [online]. Available: [2009 Mar 17]

Besides the pure war cost, nations also need to consider the second order implications to the economy. Take Canada for example. United States and Canada signed the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement (CUSFTA)15 in 1998 and eliminated all tariffs, and established a framework for cross flow trading between the 2 countries. At the time of Operation Desert Shield/Storm, United States imports contributed to C$167.38 billion16 (25% of Canadian GDP in 1990). 5 years later, CUSFTA was replaced by NAFTA, and created nearly C$500 billion for the Canadian economy16.

Had the Canadian government decided not to join the Gulf War, it could be postulated that, if United States-Canada relationship sour in the future, the United States government would decrease their trade agreements with the Canadians due to their participation, or the lack of it, in the Gulf War. Price of oil. While the real reason for Saddam's invasion of Kuwait was the topic of much debate, it can be largely agreed that it was driven by Iraq's ailing economy. The Iran-Iraq was has depleted much of Iraq's finances, and

Saddam began demanding money from other Arab states. Amongst other issues, he also accused Kuwait and United Arab Emirates (UAE) of over producing crude oil. With mass production of a commodity in the market,

15 Government of Cananda, (May 2007), 1994, North America Free trade Agreement [online]. Available: [2009 Mar 22] 16 Thayer Watkins, San Jose State University Department of Economics, The Gross Domestic Product of Canada 1968 2005 [online], Available: [2009 Mar 22]

inevitably, the price will be lowered. This profit margin for crude oil decreases, and Iraqi remains poor (See Figure 317).

Figure 3: Nominal Dollars of Crude Oil per Barrel. Notice the dip in crude oil prices immediately after Iran-Iraq war (1998) and early months of 1990, prior to Iraq's invasion in Kuwait.

Saddam's intent was to control more oil fields, thereby and controlling (and increasing) the price of crude oil per barrel. Many countries depended on such fossil fuel and its by products as a source of energy. Hence, driven by fear of Saddam Hussein controlling more oil fields and increasing price of crude oil, countries felt compelled to prevent such a phenomenon from happening.

17 James L. Williams (Sept 2009), Index of [2009 Mar 22]





Coerced to act.

The sudden invasion of Kuwait caused an up-roar in the

international community. As a member of the United Nations (UN), countries need to contribute and maintain or restore international peace and security18. This could be driven out of social pressure from the other members of the United Nations. Many countries also participated in Operation Desert Shield/Storm not via military actions, such as sending its troops or equipment, but by contributing food, money, medical aid etc.

Conscript Army. Nations also need to balance between sending its troops to support the Gulf war verses the public sentiments of the nation. This is especially true for countries that practice conscription, such as Singapore, Malaysia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark etc. None of the conscript Armies participated in the Gulf war by sending its troops to the front line. Instead, majority contributed medical teams, field hospitals, transport units, and equipment (such as mine plows and NVGs19). While this could possibly be due to the lack of a professional Army with warfighting experience, it is safe to conjecture that it is driven by the fear of public's backlash. No conscript nation, if given a choice, would subject its national service soldiers to fight someone else's war, simply because its people would not allow it. The political investment just does not justify the Return-of-Investment for the government at the next election.
18 United Nations (2007), Security Sanctions Committees: An Overview [online]. Available: [2009 Mar 17] 19 Mitchell Bard, (2009), The Gulf War [online], Available: [2009 Mar 19]

Our Way of Living. It is not inconceivable that many countries participated in the war to prevent Saddam Hussein from controlling more oil fields as such a situation would allow Saddam in having a huge influence over the price of crude oil. As crude oil is the source of energy for many of life's simplest pleasure and essentials, many nations do not wish to be held ransom by a rouge tyrant like Saddam. In his bid to recover economically and financially from 8 years of Iran-Iraq war, Saddam would inevitably drive the price of crude oil higher leading to a higher profit margin. While the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is the agency in determining oil prices, Saddam's potential in influencing the oil price is too huge a risk to take.


International Relationships for my survival. Though small in geographical size and population, the Republic of Singapore participated in the overall war efforts in the Gulf War by sending a medical team, under Operation NIGHTINGALE. Although Singapore has

consistently been sending its military personnels to United Nations as observers, the 30-men medical team in Operation NIGHTINGALE was by far, the largest scale involvement in a war environment20.

Our involvement, though pale in comparison with other nations, was a signal of intent in the international community: that the country can, and will respond when called upon. This was done, in hope that, should Singapore need help in the future, the international community will readily act as well.

Singapore geographical location is a very precarious one.


lacking in natural resources and is heavily dependent on international trade for survival, it also lack the land mass to offer strategic depth to fight a long war. While the Singapore Armed Forces strive to remain constantly ready, relevant, decisive in terms of military might, psychologically, it does put off potential aggressors if the adversaries understand the close relationship that Singapore had enjoyed with a military superpower, like the United States.
20 The largest operation that the SAF had undertaken till date was Operation FLYING EAGLE, the Boxing Day Tsunami in Dec 2005. It was, however, a OOTW operation, and not a war conflict like the Gulf War.

The Vietnam Syndrome. Since the Vietnam War, United States have sought to resolve differences in political opinion through amicable means. The lack of a clearly definable objectives has made the United States a gun-shy nation21. Since the Vietnam war, military involvement in other crisis, such as Lebonon (241 marines killed during peace keeping operations22), or the Non-combatant Evacuation of a few US medical student in Grenada (10,000 US paratroopers against a few hundred Cuban labourers22), both in October of 1983, was far from successful.

Then President of United States, George W. Bush, saw an opportunity to quell the worldwide view that, after a series of unsuccessful military operations, the United States military was a credible military and the American soldier is a excellent warfighter. Bush has taken the opportunity to showcase the American military's might, and seek to position the United States as the world's big brother. Internally, it also laid to rest the Vietnam Syndrome amongst the American citizens and they, once again, started to believe in the military. By the same argument, the Canadian Armed Forces also felt compelled to participate in the Gulf War as an opportunity to showcase their military might, and demonstrate that their armed forces are somewhat on par with their neighbours across the border.

21 Gary A. Donaldson, America At War Since 1945 Politics and Diplomacy in Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War, (Praeger Publishers, 1996), pp139

CONCLUSION From the pre-historical clashes of sticks and stones in the stone age, till the first ever recorded American Civil war in 1861 between the Union and Confederate, to the Global War on Terrorism today, the nature of warfare has indeed changed drastically. Yet the nature of war has remained: that tactical actions in war should be pursued with cognisance of larger political goal22

By having clearly defined war, and how war are related to politics through the 3 levels of war, this essay has concurred with the statement that war is simply a continuation of politics by other means, and, by extension of that statement, agreed that the Gulf war was a manifestation of an exercise in political will.

Nations will also seek to resolve differences in opinion through peaceful resolutions, and will only resort to military actions as a last resort, as in the case of the Gulf War. Out of the repertoire of instruments that a nation can use, this essay have articulated three main considerations that a nation have to deliberate upon. While none of the 3 considerations are the main driver for the decision to join the war, they definitely are strong contributing factors in deciding their participation, in whatever shape, form or extent, in Operation Desert Shield/Storm.

22 MCDP 1-2, Campaigning, pp iii