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The boundaries of the Persian Gulf states were considered relatively unimportant until the discovery of oil in Bahrain in 1932 caused other gulf countries to define their geographic limits. Britain's 1968 announcement that in 1971 it would abandon its protectorate commitments east of the Suez Canal accelerated the independence of the states. Oman had maintained its independence in principle since 1650. Kuwait, with the most advanced institutions--primarily because of its oil wealth--had declared its independence in 1961. Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE followed suit in 1971. In the face of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, all of the Persian Gulf states experienced fears for their security. These apprehensions led to their formation, together with Saudi Arabia, of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in May 1981.

Of all the gulf states, Kuwait clearly has the greatest security concerns. By early 1994, Kuwait largely had succeeded in rebuilding its damaged infrastructure and oil industry facilities ravaged by Iraq in the course of its August 2, 1990, invasion and subsequent scorched-earth policy concerning Kuwait's oil wells. By June 1993, Kuwait had increased its oil production to such an extent that it refused the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) quota of 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd); instead, it demanded parity with the UAE at 2.2 million bpd, which OPEC refused.

The war and the occupation left significant scars on the Kuwaiti population. The war caused the departure of more than half the population, including two-thirds of the foreigners, many of them Palestinians and other Arabs. In the postwar period, most citizens returned, but the government apparently decided not to allow foreigners to exceed 50 percent of the population, and the number of Palestinians permitted to return dropped sharply.

The war also did away with most of the financial reserves from foreign investments that Kuwait had prudently accumulated in its Reserve Fund for Future Generations. War costs were estimated at a minimum of US$20 billion, a reconstruction figure less than originally feared. Economic progress in 1993, however, was such that a projected current account surplus of US$3.2 billion was predicted, together with GDP growth of 11.5 percent in 1994. Kuwait's willingness to implement World Bank (see Glossary) recommendations concerning the strengthening of its economy appeared questionable, however. The bank recommended that Kuwait eliminate subsidies, encourage government workers to move to the private sector to reduce serious government overstaffing, liberalize business regulations to promote private-sector growth, and privatize a number of state assets. Various of the recommendations would affect significantly members of the ruling family, many of whom engage in the business sector.

Kuwait's life is connected intimately with the Al Sabah, who have ruled Kuwait since 1756; the rule has alternated between the Jabir and Salim branches, descendants of two sons of the ruler Mubarak the Great. In 1963 the ruler took the first step of any gulf state to create a popular assembly. The narrow electorate and the ruler's right to dissolve the assembly have limited the influence of the legislature, and the assembly has been dissolved twice, in each case for a number of years. In October 1992, the National Assembly was reconstituted. However, only 15 percent of the Kuwaiti population was able to vote. Freedom of the press, which had been suspended in 1976, was restored in early 1992. Despite the existence of several liberal opposition movements and some Islamist (also seen as fundamentalist) pressures, the postwar government represents little change, and the ruling family continues to hold all major ministerial posts.

Before the Gulf War, Kuwait maintained a small military force consisting of army, navy, and air force units. The majority of equipment for the military was supplied by the United Kingdom. Aside from the few units that were able to escape to Saudi Arabia, including a majority of the air force, all of this equipment was either destroyed or taken by the Iraqis. Much of the property returned by Iraq after the Gulf War was damaged beyond repair. Iraq retained a substantial amount of captured Kuwaiti military equipment in violation of UN resolutions.

Apart from development of its oil industry, which dominates its economy despite attempts at diversification, Kuwait's main concern continued to be the threat from Iraq to its national security. In late 1993, incidents continued to occur along the Kuwait-Iraq border, and Iraqi media persisted in referring to Kuwait as the "nineteenth province" of Iraq. As of late 1993, Iraq was believed to hold more than 800 Kuwaiti prisoners of war.

Kuwait has taken several steps to counter the ongoing menace of Iraq. Although Kuwait sought help from its GCC allies when Iraq invaded, it recognized that the GCC states lacked the military strength to provide effective assistance. Kuwait's postwar army was reportedly down to about 8,000 from a prewar total of about 16,000 personnel. Kuwait therefore determined to build up and indigenize its own armed forces. Accordingly, a new military conscription law was enacted in December 1992. Furthermore, to upgrade matériel, a postwar 1992 decree authorized the expenditure of US$11.7 billion on military equipment over twelve years. Immediate orders included 218 M-1A2 United States main battle tanks, forty F/A-18 United States Hornet fighter aircraft, five United States Patriot missile fire units with missiles, 200 British Warrior armored personnel carriers, and miscellaneous French matériel. Kuwait also contracted in January 1993 with the United States Hughes Aircraft Company for an early warning system. In 1993, however, the National Assembly demonstrated its intent to review arms contracts and, if feasible, to reduce expenditures, in particular by eliminating commission payments to members of the royal family.

Other major steps included the signing of a security agreement and a Foreign Military Sales agreement with the United States in 1991, defense agreements with Britain and France in 1992--followed by additional matériel purchases in 1993--and an agreement with Russia in 1993. These agreements, as well as participation in the GCC, involve joint training exercises, thus strengthening the capabilities of the Kuwaiti armed forces. In line with its closer relations with the West, Kuwait took immediate action against perpetrators of the alleged Iraqi- inspired assassination attempt on former United States president George H.W. Bush during his attendance at Kuwait's April 1993 celebration of its liberation. In a further defense measure, with private donations, Kuwait in 1993 began construction of a defensive wall along its 240-kilometer border with Iraq.

With regard to regional relations, Kuwait in 1993 made conciliatory gestures toward some of the Arab countries that supported Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Statements by Minister of Foreign Affairs Sabah al Ahmad Al Sabah in late June 1993 and by Crown Prince and Prime Minister Saad al Abd Allah Al Sabah in late October 1993 set forth conditions for such states to mend relations with Kuwait. The conditions covered support of United Nations (UN) resolutions condemning Iraqi aggression and pressure on Iraq to comply with UN resolutions, particularly those concerning border demarcation and release of prisoners. These statements, which did not name countries or organizations concerned, appear directed primarily at Tunisia and Yemen and to a lesser degree at the Palestine Liberation Organization. Relations with Jordan, however, continued to be chilly, and Kuwait's relations with Qatar cooled over the latter's rapprochement with Jordan in August and its restoration of diplomatic links with Iraq.

Since the Gulf War, Kuwait, with the help of the United States and other allies, has made significant efforts to increase the size and modernity of its armed forces. These efforts are succeeding. The government also continues to improve defense arrangements with other Arab states, as well as UN Security Council members. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, in 2003, Kuwaiti military elements successfully operated missile defense systems. A separately organized National Guard maintains internal security. The police constitute a single national force under the purview of civilian authorities of the Ministry of Interior.

For a small country with a population of approximately 3.2 million, Kuwait possesses tremendous wealth; according the CIA World Fact Book, Kuwait has the world's sixth largest GDP per capita in terms of purchasing power. Kuwaiti citizens, an exclusive group that makes up about one third of Kuwait's overall population, enjoy an array of economic benefits courtesy of the petrostate's largesse. This system of government benefits is rooted in the belief that Kuwait's oil is a gift from God and the patrimony of the entire nation. Some local economists describe the production and export of Kuwait's oil as a liquidation of the nation's inherited assets. Hence, the wealth derived from the sale of Kuwait's oil should be distributed among all Kuwaitis. This distribution of oil wealth also forms a part of an implied social contract between the Kuwaiti citizenry (especially powerful merchant families) and the ruling Al Sabah family.

The total Kuwaiti active force as of 2010 was about 15,500 personnel, with another 23,700 reservists. This small force could not withstand a serious attack by Iran. The Iranian active forces number over one-half million personnel with a reserve force of 350,000. The Kuwaiti Ministry of Defence tries to compensate for the personnel disparity through the purchase of advanced weaponry. Kuwaiti defense forces aim to meet such enemy threats with technology entailing extensive and expensive acquisitions. At optimum level, Kuwait's military would consist of approximately forty (40) thousand troops.

The "Defense Review Group" is a combined team of Kuwaiti-American officers who conducted a strategic study in 1991 to rebuild Kuwait's armed forces after Desert Storm operations and designed Kuwait's national military strategy. Kuwait’s key military goal, as defined by the operational doctrine from the Defense Review Group (which was drawn up before the 1991 Gulf War), was to delay incursion for 48-72 hours until international reinforcement arrives to its aide.

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Page last modified: 10-04-2016 20:54:21 ZULU