History of the Gulf War

Since the Arab oil embargo of 1974, Western states have attempted to find alternatives to their growing dependence on imported oil. However, the West did a better job of negotiating regional security arrangements to protect the leading sources of oil imports than it did in finding substitutes. With the fall of the Shah of Iran and the Iranian hostage situation, the West lost its only regional military base. This loss caused an increased risk that the Gulf could be dominated by a radical anti-Western power (Cordessman 1-2). When Iraq invaded Kuwait, the West moved quickly and decisively to strike down the enemy that would threaten its allies and deprive it of its supply of oil.

In a television address, President George Bush stated, “No nation should rape, pillage, and brutalize its neighbor,” and “No nation should be able to wipe a member state of the United Nations and the Arab League off the face of the earth (Smith 1).” The war against Iraq was fought for a high principle. Aggression must be punished.
There are many reasons, both military and diplomatic, that caused the U.S. to take military action against Iraq’s aggression. One military reason for American involvement was a strategic argument. This argument centered on the conclusion that fighting now may prevent other wars. If force is not used when words fail, future aggressors will be less likely dissuaded by nonviolent means (Dunnigan and Bay 71-72).

National security is supported on a three-legged stool called ‘Military Strategy.’ The legs of this stool must be balanced or national security may be in jeopardy. The stool rests on an angle and that angle represents risks associated with not achieving an objective.

There were several risks associated with the U.S. military strategy used in the Gulf War. The first risk the U.S. faced was credibility. The U.S. had to prove to the world that it could handle the diplomatic and military challenges posed by Iraq. The second risk was the potential for a great number of casualties. The U.S. took a calculated risk in assuming that the ultimate toll of American and Allied lives would be lower if it applied overwhelming military force (Dunnigan and Bay 73).
National security was threatened and the U.S. military strategy was employed. President Bush acted immediately to protect U.S. interests and to punish aggression when the first Iraqi tanks crossed into Kuwait. The national security objective: to deter aggression against the U.S., its citizens, interests, or allies, and defeat such aggression if deterrence fails was achieved. America demonstrated to the world that it has the forces and will use them to counter aggression when its vital interests are at stake.

The U.S. used a sequential, step-by-step approach towards attaining their military objective. The strategy was to execute a series of discrete steps and actions to attain the objective. Reinforced by cumulative strategies, the U.S. achieved crushing results.

The first strategy was to use an indirect approach, focusing on economic sanctions and non-military options. President Bush immediately signed two executive orders which froze Iraqi assets and barred U.S. trade with Iraq. Economic sanctions began to take hold but there was a marked increase in enemy forces in Kuwait. Naval warships that were stationed in the Gulf were bolstered to demonstrate a show of force. The goal was to prevent or limit the scope of war.

Naval operations were a vital part of the Gulf War. Surface warships and amphibious craft threatened the Kuwait coast. The Navy fleet destroyed the small but potentially effective Iraqi coast defense navy; neutralized Iraqi mines; and threatened a major amphibious assault on Iraqi forces in Kuwait. Allied Naval forces maintained the naval embargo and isolated Iraq from the outside world. The Navy stood ready to lead reentry into the Arabian Peninsula if Arab and American ground forces were overwhelmed. These actions supported the maritime theory which provides that we can subdue an enemy if we control the seas and starve the enemy.

The continental theory stresses that a decisive victory can be achieved by destroying the enemy’s armed forces and then physically occupying their territory. Continental strategists believe that air and naval forces serve only to support ground forces. There were two phases of Operation Desert Storm which support this theory: the air war and the ground offensive.

Allied forces waged the air war to win air supremacy, destroy strategic targets, and to degrade Iraqi ground forces. Using a series of discrete, sequential actions, the allied forces gained air supremacy and destroyed targets vital to the Iraqi war effort. The Iraqi air defense system was rendered ineffective. The allies continued the air war to maximize Iraqi and minimize allied casualties. Air power was the key component in the Allies’ psychological warfare campaign to demoralize the Iraqi Army. These actions paved the way for the ground war.

General Schwarzkopf’s plan for the ground war was the climax of the cumulative strategy. The general used the direct strategy and utilized principles of deception, concentration of force, and speed. The goal of the ground war was to regain control of Kuwait by neutralizing Iraqi ground forces (Britannica 231-232).

Operation Desert Storm was an AirLand Battle. All allied weapons systems and troops worked together, complementing one another, so that speed and firepower overwhelmed Iraq. The Allies used initiative. U.S. forces used agility to execute rapid and bold maneuver in the ground campaign. The coalition used depth to retain the ability to fight and defend in any direction. Synchronization was used to put all the pieces together in a continuous combat operation (Dunnigan and Bay 263).

The strategies used by the U.S. in the Gulf War were developed for a limited war. Allied forces joined and engaged their military forces to defeat the enemy using well-trained manpower and technologically advanced weapons systems. NATO member nation-states joined forces to protect and defend Kuwait from the Iraqi invasion using a strategy of collective military security. The collective military strategy posed some problems for the allies. One of the problems was the difference in equipment. Each member state had its own way of caring for equipment. Communications equipment and procedures presented a big problem. New procedures were developed on the spot to address this problem.
The coalition of allied forces combined strength to increase their military might and demonstrate a show of force. The major key was a direct strategy whereby force was the essential factor. Psychology and planning was the minor, indirect strategy.

Propaganda which demoralized the enemy and strategic bombing and naval warfare were parts of the direct and indirect strategies. The U.S. made the first strike offense. Massive firepower virtually eliminated all efforts for retaliation. Air power cut Iraqi communications and denied air reconnaissance. The coalition forces isolated the Iraqi Army and nearly killed it. The Allies effectively used their forward defense strategy to contain the Iraqis and prevent them from expansion.
The Iraqis’ initial approach to military strategy was to assure the U.S. that its oil supply was not in jeopardy and that Israel would not be attacked. The Iraqis believed that by making these assurances, the U.S. would not interfere in its quarrel with Kuwait. Iraq was using a deterrent strategy to induce the U.S. from retaliating against it.

The deterrent strategy was also present in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq-Arab diplomatic talks. The Iraqis would not attack their neighbors if they would agree to give billions of dollars in gifts, forgive Iraq’s war debts, and make certain land concessions.
The Iraqi Army was a formidable force. The Iraqis had billions of dollars’ worth of Russian and Western equipment. They also had a large cadre of experienced NCOs and officers which made them highly competent (Dunnigan and Bay 76). The Gulf War was a general war for Iraq. The Iraqis employed all of their resources to win and faced the possibility of total destruction.

The Iraqis marched on Kuwait using a direct military strategy. They built defensive positions and engaged in a head-on battle with the Kuwaitis. They also launched a direct airborne assault against Kuwait and moved to secure the Saudi border. These actions support the continental theory which says that victory can be achieved by destroying the enemy’s armed forces and then physically occupying their land.

The Iraqis were always on the defensive. They improved their defensive positions and fortified the area with fire trenches, minefields and other obstructions. These defensive strategies were designed to conquer Kuwait and improve Iraq’s ability to counterattack. Iraq used a direct strategy throughout the war. The Iraq-Iran War had left them well equipped and experienced. They expected to use fortification and deception skills to defeat the enemy.

The Iraqi forces were fierce on paper. The Army was the fifth largest in the world, with some 950,000 personnel, 5,500 main battle tanks, 10,000 other armored vehicles, and nearly 4,000 artillery pieces. The Air Force of 40,000 personnel had 689 combat aircraft. The Army and Air Force had extensive combat experience from the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran War, including large-scale use of chemical weapons. Iraq was also developing biological weapons. Iraq also was capable of delivering chemical and biological weapons. Iraq intended to use its forces to clearly demonstrate a show of force.

Assured destruction is when an aggressor can inflict unacceptable damage on a foe, even after absorbing a first attack. Iraq would use chemical and biological weapons even after the allies had made the first strike offensive. The Iraqis used the assured destruction strategy as an defensive tactic.
The Iraqis used the second strike strategic concept as a deterrent to show the U.S. that it maintained the ability to fight back. The strategy was to dig, fortify Kuwait and create a huge “hedgehog” defensive position. Iraq used its elite Republican Guard for the forward defense. These dug-in forces and complementing minefields, tank traps, fire trenches and other trench and bunker warfare were supposed to frighten the Allies. This was a psychological strategy that was designed to convince the coalition that attacking Iraqi forces would lead to heavy casualties among allied troops. The Iraqis’ objective was to show force throughout the Gulf War. Their strategy was a direct, head-on tactic. The threat of chemical warfare was consistently used as a psychological deterrent.
During the Gulf crisis, the U.S. moved quickly and decisively to strike down an enemy that would deprive it of its supply of oil and threaten its national security. The war was a personal crusade for President Bush. It was a black and white struggle between good and evil; an opportunity “to stand up for what’s right and condemn what’s wrong (Smith 1).” Aggression had to be punished.


Bennis, Phyllis and Michael Moushabeck. Beyond the Storm. New York:
Olive Branch Press, 1991.

Cordessman, Anthony H. The Gulf and the West Strategic Relations and
Military Relations. Colorado: Westview Press, 1992.

Dunnigan, James F. and Austin Bay. From Shield to Storm, 1st ed. New
York: William Morrow and Company, 1992.

Sergeants Major Academy, U.S. U.S. Military Strategy. Fort Bliss,
Texas: 1997.

Smith, Jean Edward. George Bush’s War. New York: Henry Holt and
Company, 1992.

“The Gulf War.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. (1992), 231-232.