The strategy of deterrence has received an increased development during the Cold War. It was determined by the necessity of the international community to eliminate the nuclear threat. In particular, the deterrence of the more powerful adversary could provide protection against the destruction by an attack. Therefore, the deterrence strategy was aimed at taking the preventive measurements and preventing an enemy from the beginning of hostile activities.
The strategy of deterrence has evolved in the foreign policy of the United States. For instance, at the beginning of the Cold War, deterrence was associated with containment in regard to the developing nations in order to establish the spheres of influence. At the same time, the author of the concept, George Kennan, underlined that his initial idea of the containment was misinterpreted by the officials and was not aimed at military intervention. From the 1960s to 1980s, the United States shifted from deterrence to the reduction of tension between the world powers. However, the United States renewed the strategy with the increase of the Soviet activities in Latin America and newly established Iran. Later, the deterrence doctrine was applied to the War in the Gulf of 1990-1991. The conflict involved 34 coalition governments that opposed Iraq. Each side applied different approaches toward the solving of the conflict. However, deterrence was considered to be an effective mechanism of preventing of the conflict escalation.
The deterrence strategy applied during the Gulf War in 1990-1991 had a number of peculiarities. For example, there were two main types of deterrence. Firstly, deterrence was aimed at preventing Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Secondly, with the beginning of the conflict, the deterrence strategy was applied to eliminate the escalation. The purpose of the deterrence strategy applied by the United States and the allies was to ensure the protection of the vital interest in the region of the Middle East. In addition, deterrence was aimed at establishing peace and security in the region.
Besides, the Gulf War involved many players. At the same time, the main two leaders in the conflict were the US President George H. Bush and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. On the Iraqi side, Hussein was the only official figure to make a decision and determine the foreign policy of the country. On the US side, the matter was more complicated. The Iraqi opposition consisted of the United States and the coalition of countries. The decisions of the US President remained the most influential as the United States represented the most powerful actor. However, every member of the coalition could make an impact on the decisions regarding Iraq as they mobilized for war. Consequently, this frequently led to misperception of motives. As a result, the US President was deprived of the right to act freely, similarly to Hussein. Before the beginning of the campaign in the Gulf region, the United States had to ensure the support from the US Congress and American society, as well as the support from the international community. Therefore, the process of mobilizing the counterattack against Iraq took additional time. In particular, it took almost six months for the coalition to get ready to be involved in the war against Iraq. In addition, the United States adopted a wrong approach toward Iraq. For instance, there was a necessity to apply force and will in regard to Hussein’s regime. Any other approach could not succeed in preventing Kuwait’s intervention.
For this reason, at the beginning of the conflict in the Gulf, both sides adopted the deterrence strategy as an effective tool of containment of each other. The Iraqi leader could make an attempt to deter the coalition forces from interference into the conflict and application of the nuclear weapon. Indeed, the potential usage of biological and chemical weapons could deter the US from taking actions in the Gulf War. The deterrence strategy of Hussein was based on the possibility of imposing a great number of casualties on the coalition side. With the moving of Iraqi forces into Kuwait and the possible intervention into Saudi Arabia, Hussein would gain more than 40 percent of the world’s oil reserves. This would lead to the decrease of the US vital interests in the region.
With the beginning of the conflict in the Gulf, the US President Bush empowered his ambassador to learn if the dispute could be solved peacefully. At the same time, the United States confirmed that the country did not have any commitments to Kuwait’s protection. As a result, Saddam Hussein considered the statement as a guarantee that the United States would not respond in case of the Kuwait’s intervention. In addition, according to the Bush’s administration, “the United States and Iraq both have a strong interest in preserving the peace and stability of the Middle East. For this reason we believe these responsibilities are best resolved by peaceful means and not by threats involving military force or conflict.” The US response to the conflict was too mild.
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Indeed, the international situation contributed to the development of the deterrence strategy of the United States in the War in Gulf. In particular, the United States was distracted by other regions of the world. In addition, the country had experienced great casualties in the previous conflicts in Vietnam and Lebanon. Finally, Bush’s administration did not expect a violent move from Saddam Hussein. Therefore, focusing on the Iraqi problem earlier could prevent Saddam Hussein from the invasion of Kuwait. Indeed, as the former Secretary of State, James Baker, underlined that “the only realistic chance to deter Saddam would have been to introduce U.S. forces into the region – and neither the Kuwaitis, the Saudis, the Soviets, nor the Congress would have supported that course before August 2. Indeed, it was only the shock of the invasion that allowed us to intervene militarily at all.” Besides, the attention of the United States was paid to the events that took place in the Soviet Bloc. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the United States were interested in the democratic processes that took place in the Easter Europe. As a result, the US foreign policy was mainly focused on the situation in Eastern Europe, while little attention was paid to the Gulf conflict. Iraqi intervention into Kuwait was unexpected. The Unites States were unprepared to establish the deterrence strategy before the beginning of the Gulf War. As a result, the coalition had to respond to the Iraqi policy and thus established the deterrence campaign in order to prevent Iraq from the usage of chemical and biological weapons.
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The US President warned Hussein that any attempt to apply biological or chemical weapons would cause catastrophic results. The coalition forces, especially the United States, ensured the Iraqi leader that the international community would not tolerate the usage of particular types of weapons. The attempt to place installations of the chemical and biological weapons was considered to contribute to the establishment of the terrorist activities. Consequently, it was defined as a direct threat to the member states of the coalition. In addition, the US President underlined the importance to leave Kuwait. Otherwise, the coalition would begin a war against Iraq. At the same time, the deterrence strategy itself was defined as informing rather than threatening. Saddam Hussein was given a chance to decide the future outcome of the conflict. Any attempt to respond with the application of the chemical and biological weapon was announced to be met with the US usage of the weapons of mass destruction. Taking into account that Saddam Hussein did not apply the weapons during the Gulf War in 1990-1991, the US strategy of deterrence was successful.
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There are several factors that contributed to the success of the deterrence strategy. They include the time-place variables, culture of the involved parties, and the characteristics of the leaders who made the decisions. For example, the bigger the differences in the approaches to the general deterrence strategy among the personalities and leaders, the bigger the chances for deterrence to fail are. Therefore, several conditions prevented Bush’s administration from deterrence aimed at averting Iraq from intervention to Kuwait. Firstly, in the established international system, Iraq played an important role as a balancer for Iranian power. The United States and its allies were not interested in dissolution of Iraq. Secondly, the US President did not want to act beyond the legal frameworks established by the United Nations Organization. For instance, according to the United Nations’ resolutions, the coalition could not interfere into the Kuwait affairs. Thirdly, the region of the Middle East presented an outmost importance to the US and international security as it is one of the richest oil regions. In order to prevent the international community from considering the United States to be held responsible for the beginning of the war for the oil, the US President did not immediately approve the deterrence concept. In addition, the United States did not want to be responsible for the rebuilding of Iraq from the consequences of the potential war. Besides, the political situation of Iraq was not favorable for the coalition to begin the war. It was determined by the fact that the Iraqi political environment lacked the organized opposition. The US President also wanted to limit the economic and human costs of the conflict for both sides. Moreover, the coalition did not expect Hussein to remain in power with the increasing possibility of his defeat. As a result, in case of war, the Iraqi population would make Hussein a national hero, and he would get support of the local population. Indeed, according to the position of the former Secretary of State, James Baker, “Strategically, the real objective was to eject Iraq from Kuwait in a manner that would destroy Saddam’s offensive military capabilities and make his fall from power likely.” Furthermore, the United States wanted to prevent Israel from participating in the conflict. The Israeli involvement could significantly reduce the number of allies among the Arab states. In addition, Hussein declared that Iraq was going to apply chemical or any other attack on Israel in case of the involvement of the country in the conflict. Under the influence of a number of factors, the US deterrence strategy failed. On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. In case the United States of America had made more serious attempts to prevent Iraq from intervention, the attack could have been averted.
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At the same time, Hussein had two possible strategies that could determine the outcomes of the war. Firstly, he could continue invasion in Saudi Arabia. On the contrary, he could expand the defense system of Iraqi army and wait for the coalition to act. Hussein decided to apply the last strategy, and thus he lost. The coalition forces were not deterred from the engaging into the conflict.
Similarly to the US deterrence, the Iraqi strategy also failed because of several reasons. In particular, Iraq met the opposing forces that were much bigger. For example, the coalition army was more prepared to the war and more technically advanced. The United States succeeded in deploying more than 500,000 troops in the Gulf regions. The coalition forces were capable of establishing superiority at sea and in the air. Besides, the military forces of the coalition succeeded in establishing effective protection systems against chemical and biological weapons. In addition, there were nuclear powers in the coalition forces. Consequently, Iraq was threatened with the potential nuclear attack. The Iraqi deterrence strategy was also influenced by the political situation in the region. The coalition forces, as well as the countries of the Middle East, could not allow to impose a threat on the supplies of oil. For this reason, Hussein did not succeed in deterring the coalition. As a result, both sides of the Gulf War applied the strategy of deterrence. However, some of the constituents of the strategy were not implemented properly and thus led to the failure of the approaches.