Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press


the extensive use of chemical weapons and ballistic missile attacks,

both initiated by Saddam’s commands. In retrospect,

the United States and other states concerned with the security

of the region and its important oil reserves should have anticipated

possible violence from a dictator whose entire career was

marked with a resort to violence in solving his problems or acquiring

his goals.

Coalition Deterrence of Iraq from

Invading Saudi Arabia, 1990–1991

During the initial phases of the 1990–1991 Gulf War, both

sides attempted to deter the other from certain actions. Saddam

sought to deter US intervention into the conflict by the

threat of heavy US and coalition casualties. From August 1990

until January 1991, the United States and the other coalition

partners sought to deter Saddam from ordering his forces, then

in Kuwait, to invade Saudi Arabia before it could be adequately

defended. Iraq already had 11 percent of the world’s proven oil

reserves when Saddam Hussein ordered his forces into Kuwait.

Had he held on in Kuwait, he would have gained another 8 percent

of the world’s oil reserves or 19 percent overall. Had he

continued on and conquered Saudi Arabia, a country that owns

25 percent of the world’s oil reserves, Saddam would have controlled

44 percent of the world’s oil reserves. Clearly, he had to

be stopped or US and allied vital interests in the region would

have been threatened.

However, it is not at all clear whether Saddam Hussein ever

seriously considered invading Saudi Arabia after consolidating

his hold on Kuwait. Thus, we do not know if deterrence worked

or was not needed in this case.

Certainly the thin Saudi and US forces there in August and

September 1990 could not have offered much resistance. However,

to invade Saudi Arabia would have shed US and Arab

blood, and the few US forces sent immediately to the Saudi

kingdom would have served as a trip wire, a down payment on

further US fighters to come and give battle to the Iraqi Army

should they be attacked. Thus, an Iraqi attack on Saudi Arabia

almost certainly would have triggered a war with the United


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