Intervention: Ideology Versus National Interest

It has been twenty-four years since the First Gulf War[1]; a short war which might better fall under the categorization of international intervention into a conflicted region rather than as a truly international war.[2] Military interventions were not uncommon during the twentieth century, but the First Gulf War was unique in that it found support from parties who, only mere months and years prior, had been locked in the seemingly endless power struggle known as the Cold War. The international community, appalled at the blatant disregard for the national sovereignty of Kuwait, rallied support for military intervention when other means of international pressure failed to stop the ongoing invasion. As 1990 drew to a close, the debates raged in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere as to the justifications for and against intervention. At the very heart of the debate was the question of whether the international outrage over Iraq’s aggression was due to the economic national interests of oil consuming nations or if the ideology of international cooperation and peacekeeping was the justification for intervening in a conflict between two parties.

World War II demonstrated that it is unwise to overlook a hostile nation’s disregard for the national sovereignty of its neighbors. Yet even as clear as the lessons of WWII were to the international community, going to war to protect another nation’s sovereignty was not an easy choice. The argument was made that the protection of oil resources was the reason for a call to action rather than the ideological desire to defend a nation’s right to go unmolested by its neighbor. Oil, despite all other justifications for intervention, was at the center of the First Gulf War. It had been the catalyst for the invasion of Kuwait and it was undeniably of great economic national interest to many of the nations that rallied to Kuwait’s defense. It would be foolish to argue that oil wasn’t the issue at the heart of the war, but it would be incorrect to argue that it was the only issue. With the end of the Cold War, international focus had turned to the increased promotion of cooperation among nations, and to a greater support of international law. Sanctions were seen as a better option than military action in most cases. Whether or not all other non-violent means had been exhausted, it was decided that a military action was needed in order to enforce international law and protect international interests.

Not all hostile violations of sovereignty have received the attention the invasion of Kuwait did, and the reasons for the lack of international intervention are seldom debated with the vigor which was seen in 1990. The First Gulf War is one of the few examples of where a shared economic national interest and the ideology of international cooperation stood together to provide the justification needed for intervention.

Endnotes

[1] The Gulf War (2 August 1990 – 28 February 1991)

[2] Operation Desert Storm (17 January 1991 – 28 February 1991)

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