National Security Directive 45: U.S. Policy in Response to the Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait Primary Source eText

Primary Source

U.S. troops from the 1st Calvary Division deploy across the Saudi desert on November 4, 1990, as part of the United States' response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. U.S. troops from the 1st Calvary Division deploy across the Saudi desert on November 4, 1990, as part of the United States' response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Published by Gale Cengage AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.
President George H.W. Bush waves after a briefing at the Pentagon regarding the situation between Kuwait and Iraq. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. President George H.W. Bush waves after a briefing at the Pentagon regarding the situation between Kuwait and Iraq. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Published by Gale Cengage AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.


By: George H.W. Bush

Date: August 20, 1990

Source: Bush, George H.W. National Security Directive 45: U.S. Policy in Response to the Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait. August 20, 1990. Reproduced in the National Security Archive. Available online at; website home page: (accessed April 4, 2003).

About the Author: George H.W. Bush (1924–) was born in Milton, Massachusetts. On his eighteenth birthday, Bush enlisted in the U.S. Navy. During World War II (1939–1945), he flew fifty-eight combat missions and received the Distinguished Flying Cross. After graduating from Yale University in 1948, Bush entered the Texas oil business. Later, he served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a U.S. envoy to China, director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and vice president and president of the United States (served 1989–1993).


In 1990, Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq, ordered the invasion of Kuwait, a country bordering southern Iraq. The order was given at the tail end of a series of strategic and diplomatic miscalculations. First, Kuwait had been nominally a part of the Ottoman Empire before Britain granted it independence in 1961. For years, Iraq claimed that Kuwait, an Ottoman province in southern Iraq, was legally part of Iraq. Second, Kuwait made a series of costly loans to Iraq during the post-Iran-Iraq War period. By invading Kuwait, Iraq might have pressured the Kuwaiti government into forgiving the bulk of this debt. Third, by annexing a number of rich Kuwaiti oil fields, Iraq would have been able to pay back debts to the United States and neighboring countries through petroleum sales. Finally, a week prior to the invasion of Kuwait, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq assured Hussein that the United States would not intervene.

At the time, this assurance was consistent with U.S. foreign policy. Since 1980, the United States had viewed Iraq as a balancing power in the region, a counter-weight to Muslim radicals in neighboring Iran. During the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), for example, the United States sold $60 billion in arms to the Iraqi military, and the CIA shared classified information with Hussein's intelligence agency concerning Iranian military capabilities. In addition, the United States sold Iraq $2 billion worth of sophisticated weapons technology, which the Iraqi government used to bolster its fledgling nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) weapons programs.

Previous to the invasion, Hussein declared that Kuwait had illegally siphoned oil from the Rumalia oil field, a significant reservoir located mostly in Iraq, but whose southern tip is located beneath the sands of Kuwait. Iraq also accused Kuwait of producing more oil than allowed under quotas set by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), thereby depressing the price of oil, Iraq's main export. In fact, no such infraction had taken place. Kuwait channeled most of the profits it earned from explorations in Rumalia to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War. Additionally, around this time, Iraq revived its historical claim to Kuwaiti territory. Iraq would later attempt to justify its invasion as an act of territorial reunification. A number of diplomatic meetings were organized by neighboring Arab states, in hopes that Kuwait and Iraq would peacefully resolve their disputes. Each of these, however, ended in increasingly harsher accusations and charges by each side that the other was acting as aggressor.

Iraq's motivations for occupying Kuwait were a mixture of economic incentives and historical territorial claims. The Iran-Iraq war had cost Iraq one-third of its gross domestic product. After the war, Baghdad continued to expand and enlarge its military, spending billions on the development of NBC weapons. Consequently, Iraq's foreign debt had risen to between $80 and $100 billion. To make matters worse, the price of oil exports, the country's chief source of wealth, had declined. As a result, Iraq could neither meet its foreign debt payments, nor continue its military buildup. By invading Kuwait, whose oil investments were worth more than $100 billion, Hussein's regime hoped to improve Iraq's overall financial situation and increase its status in the region.


In all, a coalition of thirty-eight nations agreed to participate in Operation Desert Storm. Under the authority of the United Nations Security Council, a coalition force of 700,000—the majority of which made up of American forces—moved into the region with the objective of liberating Kuwait. After five weeks of intense surgical bombing of Iraqi targets, coalition forces began driving the Iraqi military from Kuwait. This ground war lasted almost one hundred hours.

The war was significant for several reasons. First, nearly two decades after the United States withdrew from Vietnam (and nearly a decade after its retreat from Lebanon), the U.S. military had spent a number of years untested overseas. Additionally the matter of its reputation was in question, as U.S. forces had departed in defeat from both of the above conflicts. A quick, decisive victory in Iraq restored some level of prestige to U.S. military prowess. Second, the Kuwaiti oil fields, part of the lifeline of an increasingly global (and petroleum-fueled) economy, were returned to the legal ownership of the Kuwaiti government. Third, the first Gulf War marked the first time that a military force under the mandate of the United Nations had achieved a decisive military victory. This would set a precedent for future UN military actions throughout the 1990s and up to the present. Fourth, Saddam Hussein remained in power in Iraq, and the Iraqi Republican Guard forces remained intact. Due to the restrictions of the UN mandate authorizing military action, coalition forces were prohibited from invading Iraqi territory. A number of neighboring states wanted the Hussein regime to remain in power to counterbalance Iran in the region. The Iraqi regime, therefore, continued to be a destabilizing force in the region and a serious threat to the national security of the United States. Iraqi attempts to expand NBC weapons programs-in violation of UN sanctions and arms embargoes-would later lead the United States to invade Iraq a second time in 2003, with the stated objective of removing Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath party from power.

Primary Source: National Security Directive 45: U.S. Policy in Response to the Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait

SYNOPSIS: President Bush signed National Security Directive 45, outlining American interests in the Middle East. It articulated four principles that would guide U.S. foreign policy throughout the crisis. In short, U.S. objectives included Iraq's complete withdrawal from Kuwait and the restoration of Kuwait's government as it was prior to the invasion.

Memorandum For

The Vice President
The Secretary of State
The Secretary of the Treasury
The Secretary of Defense
The Attorney General
The Secretary of Energy
The Director of the Office of Management and
The Assistant to the President for National
Security Affairs
The Director of Central Intelligence
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
The Director, United States Arms Control and
Disarmament Agency
The Director, United States Information Agency

SUBJECT: U.S. Policy in Response to the Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait

U.S. Interests

U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf are vital to the national security. These interests include access to oil and the security and stability of key friendly states in the region. The United States will defend its vital interests in the area, through the use of U.S. military force if necessary and appropriate, against any power with interests inimical to our own. The United States also will support the individual and collective self-defense of friendly countries in the area to enable them to play a more active role in their own defense. The United States will encourage the effective expressions of support and the participation of our allies and other friendly states to promote our mutual interests in the Persian Gulf region.

On Thursday, August 2, 1990 the government of Iraq, without provocation or warning, invaded and occupied the State of Kuwait, thereby placing these vital U.S. interests at risk. Four principles will guide U.S. policy during this crisis:

  • the immediate, complete, and unconditional withdrawal of all Iraqi forces from Kuwait;
  • the restoration of Kuwait's legitimate government to replace the puppet regime installed by Iraq;
  • a commitment to the security and stability of the Persian Gulf; and,
  • the protection of the lives of American citizens abroad.

To meet these principles and to bring the crisis to an immediate, peaceful, and just end, I hereby direct that the following diplomatic, economic, energy and military measures be undertaken.


The United States will continue to support the precepts of UNSC resolution 660 and 662 condemning Iraq's invasion and subsequent annexation of Kuwait and calling for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. The Secretary of State should continue to work bilaterally with our allies and friends, and in concert with the international community through the United Nations and other for a, to find a peaceful solution to end the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait and to restore Kuwait's legitimate government.


Consistent with my authority under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, the National Emergencies Act, the United Nations Participation Act, and section 301 of title 3 of the United States Code, the Executive Orders signed on August 2 and August 9, 1990 freezing Kuwaiti and Iraqi assets in this country and prohibiting transactions with Iraq and Kuwait remain in force. The Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, should continue to take such actions, including the promulgation of rules and regulations, as may be necessary to carry out the purposes of these Orders. Furthermore, the United States will continue to support UNSC Resolution 661 imposing mandatory economic sanctions against Iraq and Kuwait under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. We will emphasize individual and collective compliance with these sanctions, but are prepared, if necessary, to enforce them in the exercise of our inherent right of individual and collective self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter.


The United States now imports nearly half the oil it consumes and, as a result of the current crisis, could face a major threat to its economy. Much of the world is even more dependent on imported oil and more vulnerable to Iraqi threats. To minimize any impact that oil flow reductions from Iraq and Kuwait will have on the world's economies, it will be our policy to ask oil-producing nations to do what they can to increase production to offset these losses. I also direct the Secretaries of State and Energy to explore with the member countries of the International Energy Agency (IEA) a coordinated draw-down of strategic petroleum reserves, and implementation of complementary measures. I will continue to ask the American public to exercise restraint in their own consumption of oil products. The Secretary of Energy should work with various sectors of the U.S. economy to encourage energy conservation and fuel switching to non-oil sources, where appropriate and economic. Finally, I will continue to appeal to oil companies to show restraint in their pricing of crude oil and products. The Secretary of Energy, as appropriate, should work with oil companies in this regard.


To protect U.S. interests in the Gulf and in response to requests from the King of Saudi Arabia and the Amir of Kuwait, I have ordered U.S. military forces deployed to the region for two purposes: to deter and, if necessary, defend Saudi Arabia and other friendly states in the Gulf region from further Iraqi aggression; and to enforce the mandatory Chapter 7 sanctions under Article 51 of the UN Charter and UNSC Resolutions 660 and 661. U.S. forces will work together with those of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries to preserve their national integrity and to deter further Iraqi aggression. Through their presence, as well as through training and exercises, these multinational forces will enhance the overall capability of Saudi Arabia and other regional states to defend themselves.

I also approve U.S. participation, in conjunction with the forces of other friendly governments, in two separate multinational forces that would provide for the defense of Saudi Arabia and enforce the UN mandated sanctions. These two groups will be called the Multinational Force for Saudi Arabia (MNFSA) and the Multinational Force to enforce sanctions (MNFES) against Iraq and Kuwait. The United States should coordinate closely with the Saudis, the Kuwaitis and others on the composition and organization of these forces.


The MNFSA is to deter aggression by Iraq against Saudi Arabia and other friendly Arab states in the Gulf, to ensure the territorial integrity and political independence of Saudi Arabia and other members of the GCC, and to conduct exercises and training to enhance the proficiency of Saudi forces in the defense of the Kingdom.

Adequate legal basis exists under the UN Charter and UNSC resolutions for the implementation of multinational efforts. I do not believe it is necessary now for the United States to seek additional UN endorsement for the MNFSA. If I subsequently determined that further UN endorsement is required, we should ensure that any UN-led effort is acceptable to U.S. military commanders and an adequate command structure is established and operating beforehand.

In concert with the other UNSC Permanent members, I authorize U.S. participation in discussions of the UN Military Staff Committee on the MNF operation for Saudi Arabia. If such talks are initiated, they should be of lower priority than talks concerning the MNFES.

Soviet participation in the MNFSA is warranted only if the Saudis request it. If so, we should work with the Saudis to insure that the Soviet mission is acceptable to us and that Soviet forces are deployed at a distance from U.S. operations in these countries. Soviet assistance in providing lift support to others providing forces inside Saudi Arabia should be encouraged.


The MNF to enforce economic sanctions against Iraq and Kuwait is designed to bring about the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, and to restore Kuwait's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. Participating countries would seek to prevent the export of all commodities and products originating in Iraq or Kuwait, regardless of port of embarkation or transshipment point, and prevent the shipment to Iraq or Kuwait, regardless of declared port of destination or transshipment point, of any commodities or supplies whose provision to Iraq or Kuwait is contrary to UNSC Resolutions 660 and 661. These efforts should complement individual and collective compliance measures already in force.

In accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter and UNSC resolutions 660 and 661, I hereby direct that all imports and exports, except medicines and food for humanitarian purposes (i.e., natural disasters) bound to and from Iraq and Kuwait be intercepted immediately. I direct the Secretary of Defense to immediately organize and coordinate a multinational force as requested by the Government of Kuwait. U.S. forces, in coordination with other cooperating national forces, should take necessary action to intercept vessels on a case-by-case basis until sufficient U.S. and other forces are available for more comprehensive enforcement. I also approve the submission to Congress of a separate letter informing it of the character and basis for our intercept operations in keeping with my commitment to congressional consultations on matters of national importance. The GCC states and potential contributors to the MNFES should be notified of the implementation of the intercept operation. I also agree to Soviet participation in the MNFES.

Since the UN Charter provides the legal basis for the conduct of this operation, I do not believe it is necessary now to obtain additional UN endorsement for the MNFES. Subject to the consent of the UNSC Permanent members, I agree to allow U.S. participation in discussions of the MNFES operation for enforcing sanctions against Iraq and Kuwait by the UN Military Staff Committee.

Further Resources


Atkinson, Rick. Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993.

Scales, Brig. Gen. Robert H. Certain Victory: The U.S. Army in the Gulf War. Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 1994.

Schubert, Frank, and Theresa L. Kraus. The Whirlwind War: The United States Army in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 1994. Available online at; website home page (accessed April 4, 2003).


Lewis, David A. and Roger P. Rose. "The President, the Press, and the War-Making Power: An Analysis of Media Coverage prior to the Persian Gulf War." Presidential Studies Quarterly, 32, 2002, 559–571

Weller, Sheila. "When Mommy Came Marching Home: What Happened to the Women Who Served in the Gulf War." Redbook, January 1996, 68–75.


"Frontline: The Gulf War." Available online at; website home page (accessed April 4, 2003).

"Operation Desert Storm Ten Years After." The National Security Archives at George Washington University. Available online at; website home page (accessed April 4, 2003).