Conflict Resolution: The Case of the Second Gulf War

Conflict Resolution: The Case of the Second Gulf War
Prepared By: Prof. Michel Nehmé - Nathalie Al Anbar

Since the very oldest days of our original fathers, disputes have emerged, taking several forms and having different appellations. In fact, although the field of conflict resolution is a new one, the issue of conflicts is as old as the world.

As a start, the first thing we can do is to try to define the term conflict. According to Ross Stagner, one definition can be: "Conflict is a situation in which two or more human beings desire goals which they perceive as being obtainable by one or the other but not both. For James Laue, "Conflict is natural and inevitable" and he gives it the following definition: "Conflict may be defined as escalated competition at any system level between two or more parties, each of whom aims to gain advantage-in resources, interests, values, or fulfillment of needs-over the other party or parties in power". (Laue, p.22).

Whatever seems to be the definition, one thing is sure: A conflict situation involves a situation of mutually exclusive needs, wants, interests and desires. One ought to realize that a conflict is present, since if he does not, there would be no conflict. When conflict is identified, what is to be done rests on a heavy process of solving the problem so as to reach a mutually satisfying compromise or result.

It is necessary to add that when one talks about conflicts, it is not always a negative thing. On the contrary, a conflict can be very positive and healthy, since as we have already stated that conflict is a natural phenomenon. In this specific sense, conflict is seen as vital, as an opportunity for progress, change and development.

Conflicts are ubiquitous: They exist everywhere and in every place. We can count different kinds of disputes, ranging from daily conflicts between brothers and sisters or husbands and wives, to the more critical ones over property, territories, ideologies, resources or rights...

In this article, an intensive research will be established on the issue of conflicts, then, a case study will be analyzed in relation to the subject matter. The Second Gulf War will do that illustration. The importance of this war lies in the fact that it exploded in the Middle East, which "is the object of sustained attention by developed and underdeveloped societies, by industrialized and agrarian economies and by Eastern and Western politics". (Spiegel, p.49). It is for that reason why the Middle East found itself at the center of the universe.

Historically, there existed relationships of total conflict between parties (like Germany and the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1945). Parties may have, on another hand, no relationship at all, and hence be in complete isolation (like the example of Japan under the Tokugawas) (Mitchell, p.24). Summarizing social relationships, we can count three main basic types:

•        Conflict: where goals are incompatible, mutually exclusive, with hostile behavior.

•        Cooperation: where goals are congruent, identical, and interdependent, with friendly behavior.

•        Isolation: where goals are independent with no overt behavior. (Mitchell, p.24).

When talking about conflicts, one must stress that these latter arise because "people may have to interact in the same situation but they see the situation very differently". (De Bono, p.47). According to De Bono, "everyone is always right. No one is ever right". This means that "within his or her own perceptions, a person may be right but in terms of wider perceptions, this is not so and in terms of absolute perceptions, it may never be so". (De Bono, p.47). Since conflict is usually defined " as an activity which takes places between sentient, though not necessarily rational beings", then what ought to be firstly emphasized is "the wants and needs of the parties involved. (Nicholson, p.2). In other words, if these wants and needs are clearly articulated, then there is no more need for a conflict situation. An example of this could be given on two sisters who are fighting over an orange. The older sister wants its peel, while the second only necessitates its core. Since the two did not reveal their true needs, they were engaged in an illogical dispute. It is only by underlying their true interests that these two sisters will reconcile.

It is very important to make a distinction between two very equivocal terms: Conflict settlement and conflict resolution. The first refers to "developing a set of arrangements for proceeding on specific issues or conflicts, without necessarily addressing the underlying sources of the conflict", as when two sides find a way to reach agreement (Laue, p.24). As for the second term, it implies "a change in underlying attitudes". (Rubin, p.5).

Issues of conflicts are of special interest to the students of international relations, since these issues are no strangers to politics: "Conflict is central to all politics especially international politics, and crises are conflict episodes par excellence". (Snyder,p.3). In international politics, or realpolitik, conflicts usually escalate into wars, and, thus, international relations can be labeled as the "science of peace and war". (Aron, p.6).

Mitchell thinks that conflict has three fundamental components, which are: Conflict situation, conflict behavior and conflict attitudes and perceptions (Fig.1). (Mitchell, p.15).

Fig.1: The three fundamental components of Conflict.


The first component, Situation, is a situation in which "two or more social entities or 'parties' perceive that they possess mutually incompatible goals". (Mitchell, p.17). The best illustration that can be given here is that of the Arab-Israeli conflict, where the Palestinians want to replace the Israeli state by a secular Palestinian state, whereas the Israelis are fighting for the continuity of their state. There is an array of reasons why there are, in real life, incompatibility of goals, but the major source recognized lies in the gap between social values and social structure. In other words, because of the economics' concept of "scarcity", there is, in society, an unequal distribution of goods to different groups in society. Goods can be material ones (like cars for instance), or positional goods (like a certain important position in a business firm). Furthermore, goals can be of two types: positive or negative. The first type, is referred to as "consciously desired future states", like, for instance, an increase of wealth, or achieving secure and defensible borders, while the negative goals "involve the avoidance of unwanted future states or happenings", like avoiding bankruptcy. (Mitchell, p.22).

Going to the second component of conflicts, Attitudes, they are mainly due to "aggressive drives, intra-personal tensions and aggregate frustration" (Mitchell, p.26). In  other words, their sources are internal, and are rooted in humans. Its roots are the many emotional states that accompany men, like fear and aggression. All these emotions lead to unreal conflict. A known example of this latter is that caused by the process of scapegoating where "the enemy is accused of the things that one dislikes in oneself". An illustration would be the case of Dulles who saw the Soviet Union as atheistic and evil. This act of scapegoating brings great psychological satisfaction (Russet, et. al, p.25). It is only when the true sources of frustration, tension, or fear are removed that the situation of unreal conflict will come to an end.

The last component of conflicts, behavior, may be defined as: "Actions undertaken by one party in any situation of conflict aimed at the opposing party with the intention of making that opponent abandon or modify its goals". (Mitchell, p.29). A simple example would elaborate more on this point: if a minister, in country Alpha sends a general warning, then the minister of country Beta may take this act as directed towards his own country, when, in reality, that warning was directed towards a totally different country, country Gamma.

As noted before, conflicts emerge because of lack of clarity of true interests. In fact, parties in disputes rarely identify in a clear or direct way what their interests are. This lack of clarity occurs because parties:

1. Often do not know what their genuine interests are.

2. Intentionally hide their interests, in the aim of maximizing their gains.

3. Have adhered to a position and are reluctant to go backward and give concessions.

4. Are unaware of the various procedures for exploring interests.

Because of all these four points, "parties often reach a deadlock and can no longer progress" (Moore, p.189).


There are a lot of strategies to resolve conflicts:

•        Contending refers to "any effort to resolve a conflict in one's own terms without regard of the other party's interests" (Pruitt and Rubin, p.25). In other words, this strategy is used when a party maintains very high aspirations and wants another to yield. This strategy uses many tactics.

The first tactic, ingratiation, called the "art of relationship building", is when a party tries to influence another by using flattery and other means like opinion conformity (which consists in the party approving of what the other is saying without the formal letting the latter be suspicious of anything), all this to show the other that the party is friendly to him (Pruitt and Rubin, p.47).

The second tactic, gamesmanship, known also as the art of feather ruffling, consists in tracing a series of steps that are purposely done to let the other party feel incompetent or paralyzed. The third tactic, persuasive argumentation, is considered as the lightest tactic, whereby "party induces other to lower his or her aspirations through a series of logical appeals". (Pruitt and Rubin, p.50). Fourthly, promises and threats, are intended by party to affect other, positively or negatively. It is the kind of statement using If-then, like for instance, a mother telling her child that if he doesn't eat his meat he will not have dessert (promise) or that she will spank him (threat). It is important to note that these two tactics are contradictory, since the first, promises, offer rather attractive options to the other party, while threats usually lead the other to make counterthreats, leaving us with a negative spiral of intensifying hostility. (Pruitt and Rubin, p.56). Last, the best example of irrevocable commitments is the game of Chicken, very known in politics. This latter kind of tactics is useful sometimes because it does not leave another choice for the other party, however, it is very dangerous on the party making the decision or the commitment. In fact, irrevocable commitment may lead to one's death sometimes...

•        The second strategy is problem solving, which comes in opposition to the first strategy. In fact, this strategy aims at pursuing an alternative that satisfies the aspiration on both sides of the conflict. It reduces the escalation of the conflict and encourages the discovery of tactics that reduce tensions. Various tactics are used here too, like the use of a compromise, an integrative solution, or an agreement on a procedure for deciding who will win.

A compromise "is an agreement reached when both parties concede to some middle ground along an obvious dimension. (Pruitt and Rubin, p.140). In other terms, it is neither a win-win nor a lose-lose relationship, a kind of an Aristotelian golden mean, as for the second tactic, the integrative solution, and as its name shows, it tries to integrate the two parties' interests. It is surely a win-win relationship, since both parties are benefiting.

There are many ways in which an integrative may be made: expanding the pie (i.e. increasing the resources available), non-specific compensation (where the party gets what he wants while other is compensated by another way), logrolling (i.e. each party concedes on issues that are of low priority to itself and high priority to the other party), cost cutting (or specific compensations), and last bridging (which is the emergence of a third option that satisfies both parties). (Pruitt and Rubin, p.147).

•        Yielding is the third strategy used in conflicts, and it implies a partial concession. In other words, it involves the lowering of one's own aspirations for the other's sake, and settling for less than one would have liked.

•        Withdrawing refers to the decision of choosing to leave the scene of the conflict, either physically or psychologically.

•        Inaction is the worst of these strategies. Because it implies doing nothing at all, and leaving the issues underlying the conflict unresolved and hanging in the air. (For the illustration of these five strategies, see fig.2).


Fig.2: The Major Strategies used to resolve conflicts.


For more details, the following figure (fig.3) shows more the relationship between each of the strategies to the interests of both the party and the other. We will note that the fifth strategy, withdrawing, was not represented, simply because it means that one party has retreated from the conflict.












Pb Solving









Turning now to the case study, the Second Gulf War, that placed Iraq in an awkward position versus the whole world, we find in it the elements that can best illustrate the issue of conflicts discussed above.

After the First Gulf War between Iran and Iraq, which was one of "those outstanding historical events" that cannot be ignored. (Karsh, p.1) that lasted for about eight years and which was the "longest and bloodiest conflict between two Third World states in the post-1945 era; a war that towered over the Middle Eastern political scene for nearly a decade and reached unprecedented peaks of violence, even by standards of this strife-torn region". (Karsh, p.1), the Second Gulf War blows out, with Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on the second of August 1990.


The parties involved

The direct two parties to the conflict are Iraq and Kuwait, two neighboring countries in the Middle-East. However, there are a lot of behind-the-scene actors that had contributed to the internalization of the conflict.

The United States was very much involved in the conflict because the Middle-East has been "central to Americans efforts to establish a more secure and peaceful world" and because this area is considered by the Western power as "the most dangerous single threat to world peace". (Rostow, p.204). In the words of president George Bush, "America stands where it always has, against aggression, against those who would use force to replace the rule of law" (Chomsky, p.13). The further discovery of oil in the region at the turn of the twentieth century, increased immensely its importance, and thus, because of the Gulf's strategic importance, the Second Gulf War shook the world, especially that the Americans think that "crises in the Middle-East threaten not only US national interests, but those of the entire industrialized world". (Spiegel, p.9). The United States "displayed the initiative and muscle to confront Iraq with a formidable response and mobilize a common front within the Security Council" (Ismael, et. al, p.26). This front or coalition gathered many countries who wasted no time in sending men and necessary material: Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Kuwait (the invaded), Morocco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Poland, Qatar. Saudi Arabia (who financed the whole desert storm operation, and who initially asked for help because Iraqis troops were threatening its borders), Senegal, Spain, Syria, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. (Stanwood, et. al, part two). Finally, the role of the United Nations is indisputably that of the mediator, like the one it plays in every conflict.


The issues of the dispute

The major issue in this conflict is Iraq's invasion of Kuwait's sovereign.

Historically, the British formed Iraq from the three Ottomans districts of Basra, Baghdad and Mosul, all occupied in 1918. Kurds, who wanted to be independent and a part of a separate Kurdish state populated Mosul. This same region was very preponderant to the British because of its strategic position and its oil. Thus, in 1920, Iraq was created and its creation "reflected British interests and concerns rather than the national aspirations of its people". (Stanwood, part one).

The United States of America never recognized a legally binding border separating Iraq and Kuwait. The British High Commissioner to Iraq, sir Percy Cox, "unilaterally drew dividing lines upon his imperial map to distinguish Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait". (McKinley, p.9). Consequently, we had two neutral zones, one separating Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and the second Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

In 1963, Iraq accepted Kuwait's independence, however, the borders of this principally were very much vague. In fact, there was no precise reference to exact borders of the two countries, neither in the 1932 nor in the 1963 agreements.

For this matter, the Arab league, in 1962, established a "Military Patrol Line" (MPL) to guard the borders. Kuwaitis transgressed this controlled region twice. The first time, they were obliged to go backward by Iraqis troops, while in the second time, in 1980, Kuwait took the opportunity of Iraq's involvement in the First Gulf War with Iran, and Claimed this area to be its position. In reality, Kuwait's claiming to the area, rather than claiming access to its oil, was "the impetus to the Kuwaitis action" because "at 12000 barrels per day, oil from the disputed zone constituted less than one-half of one percent of Kuwait's total production". (McKinly, p.9).

Iraq's economic interests in Kuwait are no small. After 1946, Kuwait's production in oil had surpassed and doubled Iraq's production. In 1960, five founders members, among whom were Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia created the OPEC (the Organization of Oil Producing Countries), and the fact that Kuwait overproduced oil annoyed Iraq, and this fact was one of Iraq's "grievances in the period before the invasion of Kuwait" (Stanwood, part one).

There is one behind the scene reason for the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and which is Sadam's deep anxiety over the future of this personal rule. This leader thinks that "politics is a ceaseless struggle for survival" and he perceives the world "as a violent, hostile environment in which the will to self-preservation rules". (Barzilai, p.51).


The conflict

The hostilities erupted with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on The 2nd of August of 1990, "exactly two weeks before the second anniversary of the 20 August 1988 cease-fire in the Iran-Iraq war". (Stanwood, part one).

One month before, in July, Iraq had moved around 30.000 troops to the Kuwait border. As a mediator, Hosni Moubarak tried to visit Baghdad, Kuwait and Riyadh, trying to ease the tensions point furthermore, the United States, through the Us ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, threatened Iraq to use force to protect "its friends" in the Gulf. Iraq did not take this American message as dangerous because the United States of America was Iraq's biggest allied during the First Gulf War. On the last day of July, Kuwaitis and Iraqis met in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to negotiate, but theses talks came abruptly to an end, because of Kuwait's refusal of giving up the two islands of Bubiyan and Warba to Iraq, and helping this latter in its mounting dept. by that time, Iraq has poised 100.000 troops on its borders with Kuwait.

Immediately after the attack, the UN security Council called for an emergency session, and so did the Arab League in Cairo. However, Iraq warned the United States that if it will intervene in Kuwait, the latter country would be a "graveyard". (Stanwood, part one).

On the day of the attack, and within 24 hours, Iraq was in full possession of Kuwait. Saudis feared of the further Iraq invasion of their borders. Thus, they asked for US assistance, and were skeptic of the Iraqis position, although the Iraqis had recorded that they had no territorial ambitions in Saudi Arabia. The front or coalition, formed largely by American troops, and accomplished under "United Nations auspices", had two broad objectives: the first was to "forestall the possibility of invasion" while the second was "to assemble sufficient resources to initiate offensive operations against Iraq, with a view to liberating Kuwait". (Stanwood, et. al, part two).

The Security Council emitted many resolutions (661, 662, and later 678) concerning economic sanctions, and declared null and avoid Iraq's annexation of Kuwait. (Stanwood, part one). Nevertheless, Iraq's position was firm and rigid: it considered that this invasion was not negotiable.

The UN deadline was due on Wednesday 16th of January of 1991, date on which the UN and its allies were authorized to use "all measures necessary to force Iraq out of Kuwait". (Stanwood, part three). Intensive bombing hit Baghdad. In response, Saddam hits Scud missiles over Saudi Arabia and Israel. A hard game of attacks, both in air and in land followed, and the scene turned into a bloody one, leaving casualties and material losses.



When Iraq entered the war, it was very sure of its immediate success. In fact, it did take them a very short time to invade the totality of Kuwaiti territory. Nonetheless, Iraq had overestimated its own capabilities and that of the allied forces. In spite of all of this, it never lost hope, and at day 26 of the operation Desert Storm, Saddam Hussein assured that the victory is an Iraqian one. He declared that "Iraq is determined to fight on" and he praised the countries and the people standing by his country, mainly Jordan, Sudan and the Palestinians. (Stanwood, part three). The Allies, on another hand, declared that they had caused serious damage to Iraq's military capability, and that Iraq is no longer a threat to the world. The Coalition Front assured, furthermore, that Iraq had now an ineffective air defenses and navy forces. Even, according to the Dick Cheny, the US Defense Secretary in Bush's era, declared that "the production facilities for nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons have been mostly destroyed, although Iraq contains significant amounts of chemical weapons". (Stanwood, part three).


The power relationships

Iraq possessing the "fourth largest army in the world", was a rather poorer country than Kuwait, having the highest per capita GNP in the world.

During the First Gulf War, Iraq was backed up by a chain of allies, who were hostile to the Iranians, and who saw the Iraqis the only alternative to decreasing Iran's power. As examples of Iraqis allies, in addition to France and the ex-Soviet-Union, we can count mainly the United States of America and the Arab Gulf States, who heavily helped Iraq in this bloody conflict.

Consequently, Iraq greatly enhanced its stock in weapons and arms, and its endurance in war. However, the long bloody war had left Iraq politically shaken and deeply in debt. It is to note that Saddam Hussein has no military training, and has only a political background within "the apparatus of the Ba'athist Party and the security organizations of the state". (Stanwood, part three).

On another hand, Kuwait had never launched a high scale war, neither had it been engaged in a strategically attack. However, Kuwait's military position or force had little to play here, since it was the Americans Coalition Front formed that was going to face the Iraqis. This Allied coalition sent innumerable men and material to the Gulf. In reality, Gulf ports reached "near saturation point", as vast quantities of "military paraphernalia" flooded in. (Stanwood, part two). Aircrafts, guns, tanks, and warships paved the way for an Allied counter attack.

Hence, as a first view, the Allied Front materials and sources were by far superior. But one must not forget the presence of the important and strategic weapons Iraq has, and which constituted a big threat even in front of the largest coalition in the world...


The psychology of the parties

Iraq allied on a strong commitment of its populace. Even in the midst of the events, Iraqi deputy Prime Minister, Saadoun Hammadi declared in Tunis that the "morale is high in Iraq", while the US ambassador to the UN, Thomas Pickering accused Saddam Hussein to be "responsible for Iraq's civilian casualties". (Stanwood, part three). Thus, while the Iraqi side was trying to put the blame on the West (Iraq tried to dupe the world to gain sympathy for its civilian casualties), and to give strength and support to its population, the West, notably the United States of America accused Iraq of waging a losing war. (Stanwood, part three).

There was a kind of psychological game played by the contending parties. In fact, while Iraq threatened to use its chemical arsenal (Iraq was known to have stocks of mustard and nerve gases Tabun and Sarin. Mustard gas is not a killer unless it is concentrated while nerve gases work on the biochemistry of nerve endings, causing convulsions and death), the United States used force to contend Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. The big Western Power even tried to play on the psychology of the Iraqis by "granting the Iraqi army 'safe passage' if they withdraw from Kuwait". (Stanwood, part three).


Strategies used

Both parties used contending, which can be defined as "any effort to resolve a conflict on one's own terms without regard to the other party's interests".

The various tactics they used ranged from using threats, to imposing penalties (economic embargo), and to taking preemptive actions to resolve the conflict without the other's consent.

The reason why both parties chose a contending strategy lies on the fact that both held very high aspirations and tried to persuade the other party to yield. In reality. The two party to the dispute held irrevocable commitments, and thus, they could not make any kind of concessions. In other words, it was a case of either black or white...



The contending parties reached a state of stalemate, since neither one of them accepted to make any concessions. For Saddam Hussein, an unconditioned withdrawal was totally unacceptable, because, by this he would have not accomplished his two fold objective: the first one being to "satellite Kuwait so as to make it fully subservient to Iraq's financial and strategic wishes", and secondly, to use Kuwait's economic resources in the reconstruction of Iraq's infrastructure. (Barzilai, p.60). On another hand, the "prestige" of the United States of America, at the head of the Coalition Front, did not permit them to retreat or to make any kind of concessions. The war was inevitable, and stalemate was reached.


The negotiation process

Because of very high aspirations and irrevocable commitments, the two parties ended in what is called a positional bargaining. In fact, this latter is facilitated here since both parties are disputing over issues that are mutually exclusive.

After the failure of many third parties to mediate and put a stop to this stalemate situation, Iraq agreed to the Soviet plan for peace and to withdraw from Kuwait. Gorbatchev met Tarek Aziz in Moscow and they both agreed on the outline of the withdrawal. Iraq agreed to accept resolution 660, but that it will not meet the deadline for withdrawal. Gorbatchev insisted that Iraq accept this deadline. Iraqis wanted six weeks to withdraw from Kuwait, but Gorbatchev insisted to withdraw at least from Kuwait city within four days. American president George Bush issued an ultimatum to the Iraqis to withdraw from Kuwaiti territory on the 23rd of February. The decision was Saddam's...

The last card played by the allies was a massive ground attack on Sunday 24 February 1991, which aimed at "ejecting Iraqi units from Kuwait", since Saddam Hussein had a chance to withdraw, but instead, the "Iraqi leader had chosen to redouble his efforts to destroy Kuwait and its people". (Stanwood, part three).


A willingness to settle

In late February, the ground offensive led to Saddam's defeat. Recognizing this fact, Saddam publicly ordered, on the night of February 25, 1991, the withdrawal of all his troops "in an organizing way" from Kuwait. (Brazilai, et. al, p.62). Two days later, on the 27th, he agreed to respect and honor all relevant UN resolutions. One day later, Bush "called a halt to all war operations" and "Saddam was saved". (Brazilai, et. al, p.63).



The Middle East crisis is distinctive "for having posed the first real challenge to the post-Cold War international system". (Brazilai, et. al, p.10). It inspired New World Order enthusiasts to proclaim a new ethnic of conduct in world affairs marked by "acceptance and not by rejection... by dialogue and not by violence... by cooperation and not by conflict... by hope itself, and not despair ". (Doron, p.2). the outcomes of this war vary in accordance to the contending parties. In fact while Iraq's defeat immediately plunged the country into a civil war which threatened to tear it to pieces, as two constituent parts, the Shias in the South and the Kurds in the North, struggled to free themselves from Baghdad rule (Stanwood, part four), the United States of America showed its supremacy by becoming incontestably the world's military, economical, and political leader...



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