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New Left Review I/184, November-December 1990


Fred Halliday

The Crisis of the Arab World: The False Answers of Saddam Hussein

The crisis following upon Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait is unique in the contemporary world, above all because of the multiple levels upon which it is being played out. In international terms, it is comparable to the major crises of the post-1945 period—Berlin 1948, Korea 1950, Suez 1956, Cuba 1962, the Arab–Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973. Yet it is distinct from, and more complex than, any of these. It is distinct because this crisis does not assume an East–West form, one of Soviet–American antagonism, and has in fact involved a significant degree of Soviet–American cooperation, if not complete agreement. It is more complex because in addition to its world dimension it has several other ones: it has provoked a crisis within the Arab world, between the bloc led by Iraq and that led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt; it involves to a degree never seen in modern times all three of the non-Arab states in the Middle East—Iran, Turkey, Israel; it is a crisis within the us alliance, over the degree of military and financial support being given to the usa in the Gulf; it is also a crisis of the international economic system, given the importance of oil and the inflationary pressures which higher oil prices and increased military expenditures in the developed capitalist states have brought; finally, it is a crisis of the global political system, as reflected in the question of whether the United Nations can, or cannot, act to prevent evident breaches of its Charter.

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