The Middle East and the United States: A Historical and Political Reassessment

By David W. Lesch | Go to book overview

22 The Soviet Union, the Gulf War,
and Its Aftermath: A Case Study in
Limited Superpower Cooperation

Robert O. Freedman

Under the leadership of President Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union withdrew from most areas of the Third World--using the United Nations (UN) as a cover for the withdrawals whenever possible--and reestablished détente with the United States; in the Middle East not only did Moscow not retreat during the Gorbachev era, it became much more politically active. This desire to play a major role in the Middle East, despite increasingly severe internal problems throughout the Soviet Union, was reflected in Moscow's rapprochement with erstwhile enemies Egypt and Israel, its deepening relations with Iran, and major improvements in relations with the conservative shaykhdoms of the Persian Gulf. It was also reflected in Moscow's behavior both during the period of Iraq's occupation of Kuwait and the postwar, U.S.-led Arab-Israeli peace process. Indeed, even as the Soviet Union was collapsing around him following the abortive coup of August 19-21, 1991, Gorbachev sought to utilize the Middle East peace process as a device for rebuilding his personal prestige and demonstrating that the Soviet Union was still a major factor in world affairs.


Moscow and the Invasion of Kuwait

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, took Moscow by surprise despite explicit provisions requiring Baghdad to advise it of such an action in the 1972 Soviet-Iraqi Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation. 1 The invasion posed a number of problems for Moscow. On the one hand, it was a clear-cut case of aggression and a major violation of the new world order, which Gorbachev said he was trying to create to solve problems politically and not by force. In addition, once the United States committed itself to Saudi Arabia's defense and began to build up its military forces in the desert kingdom, Moscow faced the choice of whether or not to actively

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