An Assessment of Realism; a Case Study of the Theory Behind the Gulf War

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As the world becomes increasingly globalised and the geographical boarders that once separated nations are eroded by the advancement of technology, explaining the behaviour of state interactions is a vital step in predicting the future of the international world. One tool in analyising the way states can potentially interact with each other is through the application of international theories. If a theory can be found to apply to the international system in a valid way this does much to support the explanation of international interaction that the theory introduces. This essay proposes that by applying the theory of Realism to the Persian Gulf conflict occurring in 1990, the theory can be evaluated as a successful theory, as its primary causes stemmed from realist assertions that states seek to maximise their power, evident in the United States’ focus on preserving economic and political interests in the region. Power in an international sense can be defined as having the means to get a state to do what they would not otherwise do. To understand this conflict it is necessary to gain some historical perspective and investigate the precursors for the conflict itself. Before understanding the Persian Gulf conflict, it is necessary to explore the historical background surrounding the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Iraq had previously been involved in a large scale conflict between itself and Iran. The conflict left Iraq economically weak as well as costing the lives of a significant number of civilian and military personnel. “The Iraqi foreign reserves plunged from $35 million at the start of the war to $3 billion” One of the biggest issues to come from the conclusion of the war was that the Iraqi government was left hugely indebted to other nations, primarily Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. “Its foreign policy would be defined accordingly.” These economic tensions in Iraq quickly evolved into diplomatic issues with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait which ultimately motivated Iraqi aggression which led to the conflict. One of the prevalent motivating factors for Iraq was the refusal to remove the war debts Iraq had with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. This, coupled with accusations that Kuwait had been exceeding its Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) quotas to potentially drive down the price of oil had a detrimental impact on the economy of Iraq and aggravated its government. After threatening military action against Kuwait, Iraq launched a military invasion of Kuwait on the 2nd August 1990. In response to the invasion numerous nations involved themselves in resolving the conflict with perhaps the most active nation being the United States and its launch of ‘Operation Desert Shield.’ The invasion had put Iraqi forces in position to effectively attack Saudi Arabia if they chose to do so, which in turn also put Saudi oil fields at risk of being putting under the control of Iraq. This was a major issue for the United States, which had close ties to the Saudi government and depended heavily on oil exports from the region. The traditional outlook of the United States concerning foreign oil was succinctly stated by the former Director of the Office of Fuels and Energy; “The U.S government is greatly concerned that American oil companies abroad should be able to continue . . . a mutually agreed relationship with host government” Therefore there is a substantial argument to support that the United States involvement in the conflict largely centred on the ‘shielding’ of this national economic interest. However, this is not to say that economics was the sole motivating factor of the United States involvement. It can be argued that the conflict also allowed the United States to assert itself as a political super power. It has been put forward that while institutions such as the United Nations (U.N) were used as the vehicle for organising forces for Operation Desert Shield, the U.N only served to legitimise the United States’ intervention...
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