Search Penny Hill Press

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Kuwait: Security, Reform, and U.S. Policy

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Kuwait has been pivotal to nearly two decades of U.S. efforts to reduce a threat posed by Iraq. After U.S. forces liberated Kuwait from Iraqi invading forces in February 1991, Kuwait was the central location from which the United States contained Saddam during 1991-2003, and it hosted the bulk of the U.S.-led force that invaded Iraq in March 2003 to remove Saddam from power. It is the key route through which all U.S. troops are to be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2011. Kuwait’s relations with the current government of Iraq are hampered, in part, by issues not fully resolved from the August 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. With the strategic threat from Iraq sharply reduced, Kuwait is part of U.S.-led efforts to contain Iranian power in the Gulf. At the same time, like the other Gulf monarchy states, Kuwait seeks to maintain normal economic and political relations with Iran so as not to provoke Iran or cause it to increase its support to pro- Iranian movements in Kuwait.

For the past four years, wrangling between the elected National Assembly and the ruling Al Sabah family primarily over the political dominance and alleged corruption of the Al Sabah has brought virtual political paralysis to Kuwait. In March 2009, the broad infighting led to the second constitutional dissolution of the National Assembly in one year, setting up new parliamentary elections on May 16, 2009. The elections produced many new deputies in the 50-seat Assembly, including four women, the first to be elected to the Assembly in Kuwait since women were given the vote in 2005. However, the elections did not resolve the government-Assembly political disputes or produce meaningful progress on major issues, nor did they prevent another potential crisis in late 2009. The fall of the government was avoided when National Assembly deputies who are most critical of Prime Minister Shaykh Nassir al-Muhammad al-Ahmad Al Sabah could not muster a majority on a December 2009 vote of no confidence against him. The National Assembly opened in its new term on October 26, 2010, amid threats by several Assembly deputies to question key ministers and potentially produce yet another governmental crisis.

The political deadlock has prevented breaking long-standing legislative and regulatory logjams holding up key energy projects, including some projects involving major foreign energy firms, or on measures to help Kuwait deal with the effects of the global financial and economic crisis. The political infighting has also tarnished Kuwait’s reputation on rule of law and human rights record as the Al Sabah have purportedly sought to silence critical journalists or buy off political adversaries.

On other regional issues, the political stalemate in Kuwait has contributed to a tendency among Kuwaiti leaders to defer to Saudi Arabia and other more active Gulf states. Kuwait has not attempted to take a leading role in mediating disputes within the Palestinian territories or to try to determine Iran’s role in Gulf security and political arrangements.

Date of Report: November 4, 2010
Number of Pages: 16
Order Number: RS21513
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail
Penny Hill Press  or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.