The Middle East,particularly the Persian Gulf, has been one of the major focuses of researchand news in mainstream media for the past decades due to the instabilities thatresulted to diverse wars.
The aim of such studies is to determine the diverseforeign polices of the states that reside within and around the said region.One of these states is a nation-state called Kuwait. In order to contribute tosuch knowledge, this paper determine the political theory that would bestdescribe and predict the foreign policies of Kuwait. Upon careful review andanalyses of the major local and international political events in the saidnation-state, this paper infers that the best political theory to describeKuwait’s foreign policy is Robert Putman’s, “Two-level Game Theory.” The Two-level Game Theory TheTwo-level Game Theory was initially introduced by Robert Putman in 1988; it wasderived from a more complex group of theories called the Game Theory. TheTwo-level Game Theory, basically, states that a nation or a nation state basesits foreign policies by considering two levels of interaction: domestic orlocal, and outside or international interactions. A nation-state firstconsiders what local politics require; such as, what the majority of its peoplewant. It is through this fist-level of interaction that the nation statecomes-up with its win-sets.
In a more formal statement, win-sets pertain to thepossible outcomes that are most likely to be accepted by the diverse domesticinterest groups that play The nation-state then bases its internationalrelationship; such as, which organization to join, what roles should it play insuch organization, and which deals should it and should it not becomes a partof to the win-sets (Putman 428). Kuwait’s Basic InformationIn order to prove thatKuwait’s foreign policies are the results of these two-level interactions, itis first necessary to understand the political and social standing or status ofKuwait. Accordingly, Kuwait is shrunk by its equally wealthy neighbors. Theseneighbors include the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran. These threenations do not have strong and stable cooperative relationship. In fact thesenations have contrasting or conflicting interests within the Persian Gulf,which brings them into diverse small and large scale conflicts. Kuwait is notexempted from these conflicts because it lies in the middle of these threenations. Unfortunately for Kuwait, it is a relatively small country.
Itsrelative size and location is shown in green color in figure 1. Figure 1: Relative sizeand location of Kuwait in the Middle EastDue to its relativelysmall territorial size, which is 16, 058 square kilometers, Kuwait’s populationis 44 times less than the combined populations of Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia(Middle East Research and Information Project, Inc. 5-6). This smallterritorial and population size is, therefore, an innate weakness of Kuwait.Kuwait has another weakness due to its distinct population mix. Accordingly,the nation’s native population is only around 700, 000 people. This number isrelatively lower compared to the population size of the foreigners living inthe country. Its labor force is, therefore, dominated by foreigners (CentralIntelligence Agency 1).
It should be noted thatthe overall population size of the country is around 2 million. ThePalestinians in Kuwait constitute approximately 20% of its overall population –that figure is around 300, 000 Palestinians. Foreigners from neighboringcountries such as Iraq and Iran also represent a significant portion ofKuwait’s population. Approximately 17% of its population is Shia Muslims. Manyof them fled for refuge from Iraq due to the Iraq War and from Iran due to theIranian Revolution (Central Intelligence Agency 1). Kuwait’s Foreign Policy with the US and otherWestern Countries like the UKIn general, Kuwait’scurrent status with the US can be described as ambivalent. It is ambivalent ina way that Kuwait does not agree with every US foreign policies in the PersianGulf and in the Middle East, in general. For example, it does not approve ofthe US’s backing of Israel in Palestine, it also does not approve of the USencroaching military powers within its territories or near its territories, butit approves the existence of significant US and UK military force within thePersian Gulf.
The reasons from these ambivalent relationships are discussed asfollows. As aforementioned, theTwo-level Game theory posits that a nation or a nation-state will base itssecond level interactions, which are the interactions with other nations, basedon the first-level interactions. Let us now turn to see first whether itsunique population mix, which determines its first level interactions, influencesits foreign policies. It should be noted that during the Gulf War, thenation-state of Kuwait took a stance that is not in full accordance with thatof the United States regarding the conflict in Palestine. Israel has startedclaiming Palestine for its establishment of the state of Israel in a more aggressiveway, and the US is backing the effort. This stance can be understood by lookingat the large population size of the Palestinians living in Kuwait.
If Kuwait chose to adoptthe strong stance of the US in the Israel-Palestine conflict, such a standwould cause domestic instability – its large Palestinian population would mostlikely not support its foreign policy, or worse, they would try to steer a revolutionwithin Kuwait. Moreover, Kuwait, despite being an ally of the US in the issuedid not condone such move by Israel. Even Israel’s occupation of the West Bankis not supported by Kuwait despite the treaties it signed with the US. It should be noted, however, that Kuwaitsupported the establishment of a strong US military force in the Indian Ocean,but it strongly opposed the establishment of such force in Oman in order tolimit the power of the latter in the Persian Gulf (Central Intelligence Agency2). Let as now turn toKuwait’s economy and its defense force and see how these factors affect itsforeign policies.
Accordingly, Kuwait is an oil-rich nation. It has too muchoil that its oil exports accounts for the 95% of its economy. In the 1980s it exportedmore than 1.
5 million barrels of oil per day, which is equivalent toapproximately $19 billion in revenue. The country’s over-dependence in oil forits economic growth can be considered a blessing and a curse. It is a blessingbecause it can have diverse markets because oil is a common commoditythroughout the entire world. It is a curse because it could not diversify itseconomy to make it stable (Central Intelligence Agency 2). During its war againstIraq, Iraq simply took over its oilfields and its economy was automaticallyworked for the Iraqis. It should be noted that Kuwait’s land is arid, has noagriculture, and no water. For agricultural products, it depends of importsfrom diver nations like Japan, the US, and UK.
For its fresh water supply, itrelies on desalination plants located near its shores. With regards to itsdefense force, according to the 1982 data, its military force is only 14, 000and its national police force is 15, 200. It has 104 aircraft (CentralIntelligence Agency 2-3). This defense force is relatively small or weakercompared to its giant neighbors. It also means that its oil fields anddesalination plants are virtually undefended. Without a doubt, it could notmake tough stands on almost all issues in international relationships. It isthe weakest compared to the three nations close to it, which include Iran,Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. Asa relatively weak nation, Kuwait manifests the following traits in its foreignrelations.
First, it assiduously seeks friendly relations with its regionalneighbors. It should be noted, that even when Iraq was clearly dominating andunfair with its dealing with Kuwait, the Kuwaiti government still paid 9billion worth of rent for the oilfields that it owns to Iraq, upon the latter’sdemand. Kuwait is also observed to play counterweight to the other powers; thatis, it tries to make foreign policies that would balance the effects of thepowers of each of the three nations Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, to itsinternal affairs in order to satisfy the win-sets of each of the races orpopulation types residing in the nation. Note that the weaknessesof Kuwait could also not deter Soviet expansion in the said region which mightjeopardize Kuwait; hence, it had to try to balance the influence of the US inorder to quell Soviet expansion. In doing so, it also had to consider the hugepopulation of Iraqis and Iranian within it, so it did not allow US forces tocome too close to its territories in order not to stir anger from Iraq.Kuwait’s stand in the Palestinian issue can be explained by the huge percentageof Palestinians within Kuwait that could threaten the internal security of thesaid country if the Kuwaiti government decides to take a completely similarstand against the Palestinians. Viewed from the Two-level Game theory, it canbe clearly seen in this particular instance that Kuwait’s internal win-setswith regards to pleasing its huge Palestinian population dominated its internalpolicy with the US, Israel and Palestine.Regarding issues thatare most likely to disrupt the welfare of its largest populations, especiallythe Palestinian population.
With regards to its internal politics, Kuwaitstrives hard not to make aligned-stance with super powers such as the US inorder to prevent unnecessary entanglements. When it has to make a stand, itusually aligns its stands with the stronger power (Al-Ebraheem 97). Note thatthese characteristics of its foreign policies show that Kuwait is giving highconsideration with its internal capacity to defend itself. This is amanifestation that Kuwait gives high regards to the first level interaction,which is expected in the Two-level Game Theory model. Kuwait’s Relations with Middle Eastern States Kuwait’srelationship with other nations or states in the Middle East, particularlyIran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia can be described by strong power play andmanipulation in order to maintain its territorial and political integrity. Itshould be noted that Kuwait usually adopts a foreign policy of neutrality in onthe issues on the Persian Gulf. But from time to time, it has to make a stand.In making this stand, it usually takes the side of the more powerful faction.
This foreign policy characteristic in the Middle East can also be attributed toits domestic win-sets, in accordance to the Two-level Game Theory.Accordingly, expertsalso observe that Kuwait, in all of its Arab forums, strives to achieve aconsensus. This move is also in relation to its weaknesses such as its smallpopulation size and relatively inferior military. It has been discussedpreviously that its defense forces are not even sufficient to guard its diverseoil fields and desalination plants. This means that it would be detrimental forthe country to make a stand that is against any of the Arab States in theMiddle East. If, for example, it makes an adversarial stand with Iraq, Iraqcould easily use its territorial claims in order to justify an invasion towhich Kuwait will have no chance of winning. Its dealings with Iran could alsonot be adversarial.
Aside from the superiority in territorial size and militarymight, Iran has a Shia leadership. This type of leadership could pose seriousthreat to the domestic stability of Kuwait because it has a huge Shiapopulation as previously discussed. Iran, is basically aShia-dominated country in the 1970s up to the 1980s, while Iraq and Kuwait havea significant number of Shia populations as well. This means that Iran can havehigh chance of manipulating the Shias in Kuwait or in Iraq if someopportunities to do so arise. Hence, Kuwait has to pacify the demands of itsShia population as well. This could be the primary reason why Kuwait, despitebeing invaded by Iraq in 1961 it still wants to maintain a good relationshipwith Iraq, in order to buffer the effect of the Iran’s influence among the ShiaMuslim populations. Notethat this manner of conducting policies have allowed Kuwait to efficiently earnmoney from its economy, which it utilizes to diffuse domestic tensions, as wellas conduct diverse foreign aid programs that allows it to have a goodrelationship with Palestinian organizations as well as with Arab radicalgroups. It should also be noted that its foreign policies with Iraq and Iranseem to be connected with its large Shia population.
What will happen whenIran and Iraq got to a War? As predicted by the Two-level Game Theory, Kuwaitmust take a side where domestic win-sets are favored. Interestingly, this iswhat happened during the Iraq-Iran war. Knowing that Iraq has the upper handadvantage and that Iraq shares almost the same cultural and race mix as itself,Kuwait decided to break its neutral foreign policy and side with Iraq. Notethat when it comes to military power, the two warring nations have an arguablyequal might, but Kuwait knows that the US and the UK sides with Iraq in thewar, so Iraq was clearly at the upper hand advantage. Supposethat a strong country wages a war against Kuwait, the Two-level Game Theorypredicts that Kuwait will still have to consider long term effects to itsdomestic win-sets. This is what happened when Iraq waged war against Kuwait.
Kuwait’sperception of Iraq is best described in the study conducted by Al-Ebraheem,entitled, “A Kuwaiti Perspective: An Interview with Hassan Al-Ebraheem.” Notethat Hassan Al-Ebraheem is a professor at the Kuwait University and was Kuwait’sformer minister for education. He was also a former president of KuwaitUniversity (Al-Ebraheem 95). When Kuwait was occupiedby the Iraq, Hassan Al-Ebraheem went to Washington, D.C. to engage in peacefulprotest against the invasion through the Citizens for a Free Kuwait. In thesaid interview, Al-Ebraheem was asked how he and the Kuwaitis feel about theinvasion or occupation of Kuwait by the Iraqis. The answer is amazinglynon-confrontational emphasizing their desire to establish a good relationship withIraq rather than to seek revenge.
His particular answer is as follows:Kuwaitisin general supported their government’s efforts to help Iraq during the waragainst Iran. In fact, such support was in contradiction to Kuwait’slong-standing policy of neutrality in the Gulf region, and this support exposedthe country to repeated terrorist attacks from groups affiliated with theKhomeini regime. Still, people were supportive. (Al-Ebraheem 95).In a previous question,the interviewer asked the status of the Iraqi-Kuwaiti relationship even afterthe invasion. To this question Al-Ebraheem answered that the people of Iraq andthe people of Kuwait, have a historical good relationship. He even explainedthat the relationship remains warm; especially, if the fact that there are manyintermarriages between Southern Iraqis and Kuwaitis (Al-Ebraheem 95).
Hefurther emphasized that during the Iraq-Iran war, Kuwait sided with Iraq inorder to present its friendship with its immediate neighbor, even violating itsown policy of neutrality in the Persian Gulf (Al-Ebraheem 95-96). Anotherinteresting feature of Kuwait’s foreign policy is the focus of its oil exportsand its monetary investments. Accordingly, one of its major oil importers isthe UK and it invests a bulk of its money to the US. In a study conducted byMullick and Mujahid-Mukhtar, entitled, “The Iraq-Kuwait Conflict and theDevelopmental Scenario to the Peninsula Arab Countries,” it was revealed thatthe Kuwaiti government has more than $8.8 billion investment in the US, whichis even higher than its annual oil income of approximately $7.7 billion(Mullick and Mujahid-Mukhtar 995).
These foreign policiesput great advantages to the UK and the US, which are two powerful nations. Bothnations would have a strong interest with Kuwait. Hence, although the latterseems to not make any direct alliances with the two powerful western nations inmany conflicts in the Middle East, Kuwait’s investment and cheap oil exports inthese two western nations is a subtle way of ensuring the safety of its peoplefrom the encroaching powers of Iraq. This foreign policy paid well for Kuwaitin the later years of the 20th century (Falah 145).
Accordingly, US and UK’sinterest to Kuwait’s investments and oil have proven to be so valuable for thetwo countries that they were willing to destroy their friendship with Iraq onceIraq decided to invade Kuwait for territorial disputes. It should be noted thatwhen Iraq fought Iran, the US and the UK backed Iraq, but when Iraq invadeKuwait, the US and the UK backed Kuwait; thus showing how important Kuwait hasbecome to the two western countries due to Kuwait’s foreign policies ininvestment and oil exports (Mullick and Mujahid-Mukhtar 996). It can be seen againfrom these foreign policies that Kuwait is taking into consideration itswin-sets for its domestic politics, particularly with regard to its weaknessesin economic and military. If Kuwait will boldly align itself with US and UK’sstand on the Palestinian conflicts, it will risk having its Palestinianpopulation cause a domestic steer that could threaten internal peace andstability. Since, it could not do so, it simply maintained a strong economicties with these nations, even if it means selling its oil to a relatively lowprice to UK and investing a huge amount of money into the US. From time totime, it also engages in befriending Iraq, knowing fully well that the twonations have their ordinary people closely related. Any bold or directconfrontation with Iraq could, again pose threat to its internal peace andsecurity due to the close relationships of the Shia in Iraq as well as theinter-married lineages between the two countries.Future Outlook Basedfrom the previous discussions, it is apparent that Kuwait’s foreign policiesare always done in consideration with its domestic politics; particularly withits domestic weaknesses which include its inferior military might andrelatively small population size.
It should be noted that it is less likelythat Kuwait would acquire new territories or will develop superior militaryweaponry through increased number of military personnel or through theacquisition of weapons of mass destruction. The latter is highly improbable dueto the efforts of super power nations to quell nuclear weapons proliferation.Hence, it can be validly assumed that the only power that Kuwait has at presentis its high profit earning oil industry and its investments abroad. The situations in theMiddle East have significantly changed over the past decades since the 1960s asmore conflicts still persist among its neighbors. Iraq is dominated withradical groups, Iran is antagonistic of the US, while Saudi Arabia is in goodrelationship with the West, and hence, there are significant conflicting issuesin the Persian Gulf and in the Middle East in general.
It can be validlypredicted, therefore, that Kuwait would still play its usual foreign policiesof neutrality in Middle Eastern issues. It might not show directantagonism to the Iranian nuclear program, but it will definitely strengthenits relationship with the US through monetary investments in US banks. It willalso continue making strong economic ties with world super powers that couldcome to its aid in case radicalism in Iraq spill over to its territories or ifIran suddenly decides to invade Kuwait due to its economic ties with the West.It can be concluded, therefore, that Kuwait will just continue to follow theTwo-level Game Theory in making its foreign policies.