Kuwait: Kuwait 1945-1996: An Anglo-American Perspective

Article excerpt

Kuwait 1945-1996: An Anglo-American Perspective, by Miriam Joyce. London and Portland, OR: Frank Cass Press, 1998. xxiii + 182 pages. Index to p. 177. $22.50.

In this book, Miriam Joyce reflects on Kuwait's political history through the eyes of British and, to a lesser extent, US officials in charge of relations with this Gulf country. Utilizing British and American declassified dispatches, the author touches on most of the salient political and public policy issues that Kuwait faced in its long march to independence. The book details Kuwait's evolution from a small coastal town administered by the Governor of Basra, in Iraq, through independence, to the events which led to the Gulf War in 1991. The author addresses all of the fundamental aspects of Kuwait's foreign relations (with Great Britain, the United States, and the Arab countries) and domestic affairs (including the country's political and developmental dilemmas).

As to the primary focus of the book, the British-Kuwait relationship, the picture that emerges is one of total Kuwaiti dependency on British support and guidance in transforming a small rural part of Iraq into an independent state. The British foreign correspondence files cited by the author reveal Britain's efforts to groom the Sabah family for a leadership role and, as much as possible, to keep this family dependent on British influence and protection. When Kuwait's independence became inevitable, Britain faced a policy dilemma: on the one hand, Britain found it necessary to tolerate and even encourage Kuwait's independence vis-d-vis Iraqi claims while, on the other, Britain wanted Kuwait to remain dependent on its political tutelage and support. The book discloses how the British manipulated the process of succession within the Sabah family, and sought to ward off any potential competitors, whether favored by the Americans or by other Arab states. Thus, both before and after independence-the events leading to the Gulf War notwithstanding-the United States played merely a tangential role in Kuwait, albeit one that supported Great Britain. As Joyce shows, the American leadership role in the Gulf War did not stem from any special affinity for the Kuwaitis, but was motivated by geopolitical and economic interests related to the whole region.

As to the relationship between Kuwait and Iraq, the recurrent theme is that of Iraq's continuous refusal to accept Kuwait's independence, and Kuwait's struggle to fend off Iraq through a combination of appeasement and foreign support. Iraq's perspective on Kuwait is best summarized in one of the British foreign dispatches quoted by the author: "So long as Iraq was a backward province of the Ottoman Empire or even the unsteady nursling of the British mandate, the question of her relations with Kuwait remained academic. Since the attainment of independence in 1930, however, every Iraqi Government has had its eye on Kuwait and no Iraqi Government has ever made the suicidal political mistake of committing itself to formal recognition of Kuwait's independent status" (p.101).

This was written in 1959. Little has changed since then. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was therefore not an aberration, but rather the logical conclusion of a long-held and consistent position. …