On This Day — UN Resolution 670 (Sept. 25 1990) – The Rise and Fall of Saddam Hussein (Documentary)

“In a now famous interview with the Iraqi leader, U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie told Saddam, ‘[W]e have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.’ The U.S. State Department had earlier told Saddam that Washington had ‘no special defense or security commitments to Kuwait.’ The United States may not have intended to give Iraq a green light, but that is effectively what it did.”

Foreign Policy (2003)

Adopted on 25 September 1990, United Nations Security Council resolution 670 was the ninth to condemn Iraq for its invasion of Kuwait. The resolution was approved by 14 votes to one vote against, from Cuba, and no abstention.  Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY

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Acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the Council went on to call on all Member States to strictly enforce international sanctions against Iraq, confirming that sanctions imposed in Resolution 661 (1990) also apply to aircraft, deciding that:

(a) Member States should deny permission of aircraft to take off from their territory if it should take cargo to or from Iraq and occupied Kuwait, excluding medical and humanitarian aid, and resources for the United Nations Iran–Iraq Military Observer Group;
(b) Member States should deny permission to any aircraft destined for Iraq or Kuwait to overfly its territory, unless approved by the Security Council Committee, via inspection that it is not in violation of Resolution 661, or is certified for use by the Military Observer Group;
(c) Member States should take necessary measures that all its aircraft comply with Resolution 661 and co-operate with one another in doing so;
(d) Member States should detain Iraqi ships entering their ports, unless for humanitarian purposes so as to safeguard human life.

It also reminded countries that, under Resolution 661 (1990), to continue to freeze Iraqi assets while protecting those of the “legitimate government of Kuwait” and sanctioning Iraqi diplomats

Stephen M. Walt: WikiLeaks, April Glaspie, and Saddam Hussein

What are we to make of all this? As noted, it seems clear that Glaspie didn’t bungle her assignment: She was doing what the Bush administration wanted at this crucial meeting. In that sense, the headline on Kenner’s piece is correct: She’s not to blame for the war. Of course, neither Professor Mearsheimer nor I ever said she was.

The more interesting question — and the one that concerned us when we wrote our original 2003 article — was what that meeting tells us about Saddam’s calculations. I think the recently released cable describing that meeting is consistent with our interpretation. Saddam is clearly aggrieved, and most of Glaspie’s responses are attempts to mollify him. Nowhere in this cable is there evidence of a clear deterrent warning, or an unambiguous statement of an American security guarantee to Kuwait.  She reminds Saddam that we have concerns about his intentions — which was clearly not news to Saddam — but there’s not even a hint from her of what Washington would do if he seized Kuwait.

Even Glaspie’s statement that President Bush is deeply interested in peace and stability in the Gulf can be read as something of a green light.  If the president says he wants closer relations with Iraq but doesn’t want war in the Gulf, might Saddam have seen that as suggesting that the United States wasn’t about to fight to preserve Kuwaiti sovereignty? Remember: Saddam wasn’t intending to fight a major war against Kuwait; he was just planning a coup de main.  Based on Glaspie’s remarks, he might easily has concluded that Washington would ultimately acquiesce-however reluctantly — to his fait accompli.

In short, I think it is clear from the cable that the United States did unwittingly give a green light to Saddam, and certainly no more than a barely flickering yellow light.  Glaspie certainly didn’t make it clear to him what would happen if he used force against Kuwait.  This is a case of policy failure but not deterrence failure, in short, because deterrence wasn’t tried in this case.

Saddam Hussein – The Truth

REFERENCES

United Nations Security Council Resolution 670 — Wikipedia

WikiLeaks, April Glaspie, and Saddam Hussein — FP

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On This Day — UN Resolution 670 (Sept. 25 1990) – The Rise and Fall of Saddam Hussein (Documentary)

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