If you read about Middle Eastern politics, you must have heard about the small Arab nation of Kuwait. Kuwait's modern history primarily focused on its turbulent relations with the Ottoman Empire. After exploring an array of different options in how to deal with the Ottoman threat, Kuwait decided to enter into a Special Treaty of Friendship with Britain in 1899, in order to prevent the occurrence of Ottoman direct rule. Kuwait then officially became a protectorate when Sheikh Mubarak Al-Sabah signed this treaty with the British that same year.
Over time, the borders between Kuwait, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia were disputed. In the 1920s and 1930s the Saudis and Iraqis eventually agreed on where the small Arab nation's borders would be. By the 1930s, many oil companies became interested in exploring oil inside of Kuwait. Once Kuwait's oil fields were discovered, the small Arab nation became a place where many oil companies were interested to do business with. In some cases, they even offered free equipment to the government.
The American government opened a consulate in Kuwait in 1951. Two years later, the Kuwaiti Investment Authority (KIA) was formed. A decade later, the U.S. established diplomatic relations with the country and elevated the country's consulate status to a full functioning embassy. That same year, Kuwait became an independent nation, after ending its British Protectorate status. The nation eventually became a member of the Arab League in 1961 and the United Nations in 1963. Kuwait then also became a member of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries).
During the 1960s, as Kuwait became wealthier and more of a global partner to the world, Iraq continuously threatened the country. In one case, British forces were sent to prevent a potential Iraqi attack.
Over the next two decades the British and the American governments both collaborated with the Kuwaits. Primarly, through economic and military deals. By the 1980s, Britain played less of a role and the U.S. increased its friendly relationship with Kuwait. Strategic cooperation between the U.S. and Kuwait increased drastically in 1987. The U.S. implemented a maritime protection regime that ensured the freedom of navigation through the Persian Gulf.
In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. President George H.W. Bush compared Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler and demanded that Iraq withdraw immediately from the tiny Arab nation. Military forces of the United States and a multinational coalition successfully expelled Iraq from Kuwait.
The swift coalition victory stunned not only Iraqi generals, but many Chinese and Soviet military planners as well. They concluded that their military doctrine had to change if they were to be forced to engage in any modern 21st century battles. In addition, many Chinese and Soviet military strategists were frustrated that both nations did not have the opportunity to station their soldiers anywhere in the Middle East.
Throughout the 1990s, Iraq once again threated Kuwaiti sovereignty when Hussein amassed thousands of Iraqi troops near the Iraq-Kuwait border. The U.S. military promptly sent reinforcements and forced the Iraqis to withdraw quickly.
During the end of the 1990s and early 2000s, the Kuwaiti government upgraded their military with American-made equipment. Many military packages focused on modernizing their Air Force and Navy.
The U.S. currently operates several military facilities in Kuwait. Ali Al Salem Air Base is the primary Air Force base owned by the Kuwait government and operated by the both the Kuwaiti Air Force and the U.S. Air Force (USAF). In the past, this base has also hosted the Royal Air Force (RAF).
Camp Arifjan is a military installation in Kuwait which accommodates elements of virtually every branch of the American military. The Kuwaiti government funded and built this military installation. Nations such as Australia, Poland, Britain, and Romania all had military personnel stationed there. The base is so immense that it is divided into 7 different zones.
Another military base is Camp Buehring. Camp Buehring is named after Lieutenant Colonel Charles H. Buehring who was killed in Iraq during the 2003 Iraq war.
Lastly, Sheikh Muhammad Naser al-Ahmad Naval Base (Camp Patriot) is used by the U.S. Fifth Fleet and the Kuwaiti Navy. This base is used by US and Kuwaiti forces to conduct military operations and training exercises.
Many military strategists would agree that Kuwait's geographical structure gives the U.S. a strategic naval position due to its easy access to the Persian Gulf (The same way the U.S.-Saudi alliance gives the U.S. Navy immense capabilities.) Some historians believe that Hussein invaded Kuwait not just for oil, but for this strategic position which would grant Iraq direct access to the Persian Gulf. Interestingly, in Arabic the name Kuwait means “Fortress built near water”.
The American government continues to support Kuwait's sovereignty, security, and independence. Furthermore, the U.S. encourages the country to build greater cooperation among the Gulf Cooperation Council countries.
Since Kuwait's liberation, the U.S. has provided military and defense technical assistance to Kuwait from both foreign military sales (FMS) and commercial sources. Today, there are over 100 open FMS contracts between the American military and the Kuwait Ministry of Defense. In total, these contracts are worth almost $10 billion.
Kuwait primarily purchases Patriot Missile systems, M1A2 main battle tanks, advanced American-made helicopters, and state-of-the-art American-made aircraft. Kuwait is also working with the U.S. Navy to upgrade its overall naval capabilities.
In 2003, Kuwait provided the main platform for invading U.S. and coalition forces into Iraq. Kuwait also played an important role in facilitating the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq in 2011.
Kuwait is a key partner in U.S. counter-terrorism efforts and intelligence arenas which support efforts to block the financing of terrorist groups. The U.S. and Kuwaiti governments have signed several trade and investment framework agreements, providing a forum to address mutual trade concerns and needed economic reforms.
Although, some critics of American foreign policy may claim that the U.S.-Kuwaiti alliance is “not a major priority for America”, others would disagree. Many scholars believe that a strong U.S.-Kuwaiti alliance is essential for the Middle East as a whole. Additionally, some economists feel that the American-Kuwaiti relationship is very similar to the American-Saudi relationship. This is primarily due to the continuation of the petrodollar system and its long-term benefits to the American economy.
Kuwait is one of the Middle Eastern nations which is attempting to promote woman’s rights, economic reform, and propaganda to marginalize the threat of terrorism against the western world. There is no doubt that this relationship will continue to flourish for a long time.