Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press


States, something the Iraqi dictator almost certainly should

have wanted to avoid, if possible. Thus, the US forces trip-wire

force quite likely served to halt the Iraqi force at the Saudi border

until a military buildup there would permit coalition offensive

action in January 1991.

Saddam’s Failure to Hold the Coalition at Bay

Once the United States began to move its own forces into the

region after the Iraqi seizure of Kuwait, Saddam Hussein had

one of two moves available. First, he could order his forces to

attack and occupy much of Saudi Arabia just as they had in

Kuwait. If he were to do this, he would have had to act immediately,

for time was not on his side. A seizure of the Saudi kingdom

would have greatly complicated the United States’ task of

introducing large forces into the region. He could have inflicted

far more casualties and been much harder to dislodge from

Kuwait if he had continued his offensive in August or September

1990 on into Saudi Arabia. In retrospect, the best defense

he could mount was a good offense early before Operation Desert

Shield could establish a significant force in the region to

oppose his forces.

His second option was to do nothing except build up his defenses

along the Saudi-Kuwait border and watch as the coalition

troops poured into the theater opposite his army in Kuwait.

Saddam selected the second option and relied upon his

large army in Kuwait to deter an attack by threatening large

coalition casualties should they attack. This was a contest of

wills with the US president and his allies, and ultimately Saddam

Hussein lost. The coalition was not deterred from war, and

the result was a catastrophic defeat for the Iraqi military.

Why was the coalition not deterred from attacking Saddam’s

forces in Kuwait? First, Iraq was dealing with states and forces

much greater than his own. President Bush and his advisers

and the other coalition leaders had a much greater appreciation

of the qualitative superiority of their forces than did Saddam.

Operation Desert Shield had put an impressive, wellequipped

army of 543,000 US troops and thousands of other

coalition military personnel at the disposal of Gen Norman

Schwarzkopf and President Bush by January 1991.


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