The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Nuclear Threats - Desert Storm - 1991

The First Gulf War in 1991 entailed at a number of episodes of deterrence, the first one failed, and the last succeeded. The United States and other governments initially failed to deter Iraq from invading Kuwait. But the United States was successful in deterring Iraqi use of chemical weapons, by threatening a nuclear retaliation. The United States, United Kingdom, and France were states with nuclear weapons and Iraq had been warned that any use of CB weapons would possibly be met with overwhelming responses.

Barry R. Schneider wrote : "Saddam sought to deter U.S. intervention into the conflict by the threat of heavy U.S. 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."

The United States and the rest of the world were caught by surprise and were unprepared to take the deterrence steps that might have persuaded Saddam to stop short of an invasion of Kuwait. Writing eight years later in his memoir, former Secretary of State James Baker explained: "Without exception, our friends in the region consistently argued that Saddam was only posturing and that confrontation would simply make matters worse. Simply put, the reason why nobody believed Saddam would attack is because no realistic calculation of his interests could have foreseen a full-scale invasion of Kuwait. Shevardnadze had put it correctly in Moscow on the third day following the invasion: “this was an irrational act that made no sense.” ... [E]ven the Israelis believed that Saddam was bluffing to bully the Kuwaitis into economic concessions. Israel's intelligence service, the Mossad, told U.S. intelligence counterparts that Saddam's rhetoric was designed to deter an Israeli attack, not threaten one of his own."

In his Radio Address to the Nation on the Persian Gulf Crisis, January 5, 1991, President Bush stated "Saddam already poses a strategic threat to the capital cities of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel, and Syria, as well as our own men and women in the Gulf region. In fact, Saddam has used chemical weapons of mass destruction against innocent villagers, his own people. Each day that passes brings Saddam Hussein further on the path to developing biological and nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. If Saddam corners the world energy market, he can then finance further aggression, terror, and blackmail. Each day that passes increases Saddam's worldwide threat to democracy."

In the January 5, 1991, letter addressed to Saddam Hussein that President Bush wrote and had Secretary of State James Baker deliver to the Iraqi Government via the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Tariq Aziz, in midJanuary, 1991: Let me state, too that the United States will not tolerate the use of chemical or biological weapons or the destruction of Kuwait's oil fields and installations. Further, you will be held directly responsible for terrorist actions against any member of the coalition. The American people would demand the strongest possible response. You and your country will pay a terrible price if you order unconscionable acts of this sort."

To augment Bush's warning letter, James Baker restated to Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz the consequences for Iraq if they were not to leave Kuwait: "Our objective is for you to leave Kuwait. That's the only solution we will accept. And if you do not do that, then we'll find ourselves at war, and if you do go war with the coalition, you will surely lose. This will not be a war of attrition like you fought with Iran. It will be fought with the means and weapons that play to our strengths, not to yours. We have the means to define how the battle will be fought, and yours do not.

"This is not to threaten but to inform. You may choose to reject it, or not to believe what we say, but we have the responsibility to tell you that we have tremendous technological advantages in forces, and our view is that if conflict comes, your forces will face devastatingly superior firepower. In our view – and you may reject this and disagree – our forces will really destroy your ability to command your own forces.

"We owe it to you to tell you there will be no stalemate, no UN ceasefire or breathing space for negotiations. If conflict begins, it will be decisive. This will not be another Vietnam. Should war begin, God forbid, it will be fought to a swift, decisive conclusion.

"If the conflict involves your use of chemical or biological weapons against our forces, the American people will demand vengeance. We have the means to exact it. With regard to this part of my presentation, this is not a threat, it is a promise. If there is any use of weapons like that, an objective won't just be the liberation of Kuwait, but the liberation of the current Iraqi regime and anyone responsible for using those weapons will be held accountable."

To reinforce the idea that WMD might be met with WMD, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney also stated publicly that “Were Saddam Hussein foolish enough to use weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. response would be absolutely overwhelming and it would be devastating.”

Saddam Hussein did not use chemical or biological weapons in the subsequent fighting in Kuwait, despite the fact that he had previously shown no hesitation about using them against Iran in their eight-year war, or against his own Kurdish populations when they opposed him. It might fairly be concluded that U.S. threats deterred his chemical and biological use.

Join the mailing list

One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 23-07-2019 18:10:59 ZULU