t 2.00 A.M. on 2 August 1990, Iraqi Republican Guard soldiers, special forces, regular army troops, and air force units invaded Kuwait. Despite calls for Kuwaitis to rise up and “make the aggressors taste the chalice of death”, the invading forces swiftly overran the country’s defences. Within days, Saddam Hussein announced that the Emir of Kuwait had been deposed and Kuwait was now Iraq’s nineteenth province.
Hussein’s motives went back to the Iraq-Iran war of 1980–88 in which he invaded Iran. Kuwait lent him US$ 14 billion to help finance the conflict, and Hussein became unhappy when Kuwait refused to write off the debt afterwards. Relations between the countries deteriorated, including unsubstantiated allegations that Kuwait was slant-drilling oil from the Iraqi side of the border. Most commentators assume Hussein’s motivation was financial and that he had his eyes on Kuwait’ssubstantial oil revenues.
On the day of the invasion, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 660, unanimously condemning the attack as a breach of international peace and security, and calling for Iraq’s immediate withdrawal from Kuwait.
Iraq did nothing, posing the UN its greatest challenge since the end of the Cold War. Almost four months later, on 29 November 1990, the UN Security Council took action. It passed Resolution 678 authorising war, noting that Iraq was refusing to comply with international demandsand remaining in flagrant contempt of the Security Council. It declared that unless Iraq withdrew by 15 January 1991, member states were authorized “to use all necessary means” to force compliance. There were 12 votes in favour, two against (Cuba and Yemen), and one abstention (China).