The Middle East,
particularly the Persian Gulf, has been one of the major focuses of research
and news in mainstream media for the past decades due to the instabilities that
resulted to diverse wars. The aim of such studies is to determine the diverse
foreign 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 to
such knowledge, this paper determine the political theory that would best
describe and predict the foreign policies of Kuwait. Upon careful review and
analyses of the major local and international political events in the said
nation-state, this paper infers that the best political theory to describe
Kuwait’s foreign policy is Robert Putman’s, “Two-level Game Theory.”

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The Two-level Game Theory

            The
Two-level Game Theory was initially introduced by Robert Putman in 1988; it was
derived from a more complex group of theories called the Game Theory. The
Two-level Game Theory, basically, states that a nation or a nation state bases
its foreign policies by considering two levels of interaction: domestic or
local, and outside or international interactions. A nation-state first
considers what local politics require; such as, what the majority of its people
want. It is through this fist-level of interaction that the nation state
comes-up with its win-sets. In a more formal statement, win-sets pertain to the
possible outcomes that are most likely to be accepted by the diverse domestic
interest groups that play The nation-state then bases its international
relationship; such as, which organization to join, what roles should it play in
such organization, and which deals should it and should it not becomes a part
of to the win-sets (Putman 428).

Kuwait’s Basic Information

In order to prove that
Kuwait’s foreign policies are the results of these two-level interactions, it
is first necessary to understand the political and social standing or status of
Kuwait. Accordingly, Kuwait is shrunk by its equally wealthy neighbors. These
neighbors include the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran. These three
nations do not have strong and stable cooperative relationship. In fact these
nations have contrasting or conflicting interests within the Persian Gulf,
which brings them into diverse small and large scale conflicts. Kuwait is not
exempted from these conflicts because it lies in the middle of these three
nations. Unfortunately for Kuwait, it is a relatively small country. Its
relative size and location is shown in green color in figure 1.

Figure 1: Relative size
and location of Kuwait in the Middle East

Due to its relatively
small territorial size, which is 16, 058 square kilometers, Kuwait’s population
is 44 times less than the combined populations of Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia
(Middle East Research and Information Project, Inc. 5-6). This small
territorial 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 is
relatively lower compared to the population size of the foreigners living in
the country. Its labor force is, therefore, dominated by foreigners (Central
Intelligence Agency 1).

It should be noted that
the overall population size of the country is around 2 million. The
Palestinians in Kuwait constitute approximately 20% of its overall population –
that figure is around 300, 000 Palestinians. Foreigners from neighboring
countries such as Iraq and Iran also represent a significant portion of
Kuwait’s population. Approximately 17% of its population is Shia Muslims. Many
of them fled for refuge from Iraq due to the Iraq War and from Iran due to the
Iranian Revolution (Central Intelligence Agency 1).

Kuwait’s Foreign Policy with the US and other
Western Countries like the UK

In general, Kuwait’s
current status with the US can be described as ambivalent. It is ambivalent in
a way that Kuwait does not agree with every US foreign policies in the Persian
Gulf and in the Middle East, in general. For example, it does not approve of
the US’s backing of Israel in Palestine, it also does not approve of the US
encroaching military powers within its territories or near its territories, but
it approves the existence of significant US and UK military force within the
Persian Gulf. The reasons from these ambivalent relationships are discussed as
follows.

As aforementioned, the
Two-level Game theory posits that a nation or a nation-state will base its
second level interactions, which are the interactions with other nations, based
on the first-level interactions. Let us now turn to see first whether its
unique population mix, which determines its first level interactions, influences
its foreign policies. It should be noted that during the Gulf War, the
nation-state of Kuwait took a stance that is not in full accordance with that
of the United States regarding the conflict in Palestine. Israel has started
claiming Palestine for its establishment of the state of Israel in a more aggressive
way, and the US is backing the effort. This stance can be understood by looking
at the large population size of the Palestinians living in Kuwait.

If Kuwait chose to adopt
the strong stance of the US in the Israel-Palestine conflict, such a stand
would cause domestic instability – its large Palestinian population would most
likely not support its foreign policy, or worse, they would try to steer a revolution
within Kuwait. Moreover, Kuwait, despite being an ally of the US in the issue
did not condone such move by Israel. Even Israel’s occupation of the West Bank
is not supported by Kuwait despite the treaties it signed with the US.  It should be noted, however, that Kuwait
supported 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 to
limit the power of the latter in the Persian Gulf (Central Intelligence Agency
2).

Let as now turn to
Kuwait’s economy and its defense force and see how these factors affect its
foreign policies. Accordingly, Kuwait is an oil-rich nation. It has too much
oil that its oil exports accounts for the 95% of its economy. In the 1980s it exported
more than 1.5 million barrels of oil per day, which is equivalent to
approximately $19 billion in revenue. The country’s over-dependence in oil for
its economic growth can be considered a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing
because it can have diverse markets because oil is a common commodity
throughout the entire world. It is a curse because it could not diversify its
economy to make it stable (Central Intelligence Agency 2).

During its war against
Iraq, Iraq simply took over its oilfields and its economy was automatically
worked for the Iraqis. It should be noted that Kuwait’s land is arid, has no
agriculture, and no water. For agricultural products, it depends of imports
from diver nations like Japan, the US, and UK. For its fresh water supply, it
relies on desalination plants located near its shores. With regards to its
defense force, according to the 1982 data, its military force is only 14, 000
and its national police force is 15, 200. It has 104 aircraft (Central
Intelligence Agency 2-3). This defense force is relatively small or weaker
compared to its giant neighbors. It also means that its oil fields and
desalination plants are virtually undefended. Without a doubt, it could not
make tough stands on almost all issues in international relationships. It is
the weakest compared to the three nations close to it, which include Iran,
Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.

            As
a relatively weak nation, Kuwait manifests the following traits in its foreign
relations. First, it assiduously seeks friendly relations with its regional
neighbors. It should be noted, that even when Iraq was clearly dominating and
unfair with its dealing with Kuwait, the Kuwaiti government still paid 9
billion worth of rent for the oilfields that it owns to Iraq, upon the latter’s
demand. Kuwait is also observed to play counterweight to the other powers; that
is, it tries to make foreign policies that would balance the effects of the
powers of each of the three nations Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, to its
internal affairs in order to satisfy the win-sets of each of the races or
population types residing in the nation.

Note that the weaknesses
of Kuwait could also not deter Soviet expansion in the said region which might
jeopardize Kuwait; hence, it had to try to balance the influence of the US in
order to quell Soviet expansion. In doing so, it also had to consider the huge
population of Iraqis and Iranian within it, so it did not allow US forces to
come 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 percentage
of Palestinians within Kuwait that could threaten the internal security of the
said country if the Kuwaiti government decides to take a completely similar
stand against the Palestinians. Viewed from the Two-level Game theory, it can
be clearly seen in this particular instance that Kuwait’s internal win-sets
with regards to pleasing its huge Palestinian population dominated its internal
policy with the US, Israel and Palestine.

Regarding issues that
are most likely to disrupt the welfare of its largest populations, especially
the Palestinian population. With regards to its internal politics, Kuwait
strives hard not to make aligned-stance with super powers such as the US in
order to prevent unnecessary entanglements. When it has to make a stand, it
usually aligns its stands with the stronger power (Al-Ebraheem 97). Note that
these characteristics of its foreign policies show that Kuwait is giving high
consideration with its internal capacity to defend itself. This is a
manifestation 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’s
relationship with other nations or states in the Middle East, particularly
Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia can be described by strong power play and
manipulation in order to maintain its territorial and political integrity. It
should be noted that Kuwait usually adopts a foreign policy of neutrality in on
the 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 to
its domestic win-sets, in accordance to the Two-level Game Theory.

Accordingly, experts
also observe that Kuwait, in all of its Arab forums, strives to achieve a
consensus. This move is also in relation to its weaknesses such as its small
population size and relatively inferior military. It has been discussed
previously that its defense forces are not even sufficient to guard its diverse
oil fields and desalination plants. This means that it would be detrimental for
the country to make a stand that is against any of the Arab States in the
Middle East. If, for example, it makes an adversarial stand with Iraq, Iraq
could easily use its territorial claims in order to justify an invasion to
which Kuwait will have no chance of winning. Its dealings with Iran could also
not be adversarial. Aside from the superiority in territorial size and military
might, Iran has a Shia leadership. This type of leadership could pose serious
threat to the domestic stability of Kuwait because it has a huge Shia
population as previously discussed.

Iran, is basically a
Shia-dominated country in the 1970s up to the 1980s, while Iraq and Kuwait have
a significant number of Shia populations as well. This means that Iran can have
high chance of manipulating the Shias in Kuwait or in Iraq if some
opportunities to do so arise. Hence, Kuwait has to pacify the demands of its
Shia population as well. This could be the primary reason why Kuwait, despite
being invaded by Iraq in 1961 it still wants to maintain a good relationship
with Iraq, in order to buffer the effect of the Iran’s influence among the Shia
Muslim populations.

            Note
that this manner of conducting policies have allowed Kuwait to efficiently earn
money from its economy, which it utilizes to diffuse domestic tensions, as well
as conduct diverse foreign aid programs that allows it to have a good
relationship with Palestinian organizations as well as with Arab radical
groups. It should also be noted that its foreign policies with Iraq and Iran
seem to be connected with its large Shia population.

What will happen when
Iran and Iraq got to a War? As predicted by the Two-level Game Theory, Kuwait
must take a side where domestic win-sets are favored. Interestingly, this is
what happened during the Iraq-Iran war. Knowing that Iraq has the upper hand
advantage 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. Note
that when it comes to military power, the two warring nations have an arguably
equal might, but Kuwait knows that the US and the UK sides with Iraq in the
war, so Iraq was clearly at the upper hand advantage.

            Suppose
that a strong country wages a war against Kuwait, the Two-level Game Theory
predicts that Kuwait will still have to consider long term effects to its
domestic win-sets. This is what happened when Iraq waged war against Kuwait. Kuwait’s
perception of Iraq is best described in the study conducted by Al-Ebraheem,
entitled, “A Kuwaiti Perspective: An Interview with Hassan Al-Ebraheem.” Note
that Hassan Al-Ebraheem is a professor at the Kuwait University and was Kuwait’s
former minister for education. He was also a former president of Kuwait
University (Al-Ebraheem 95).

When Kuwait was occupied
by the Iraq, Hassan Al-Ebraheem went to Washington, D.C. to engage in peaceful
protest against the invasion through the Citizens for a Free Kuwait. In the
said interview, Al-Ebraheem was asked how he and the Kuwaitis feel about the
invasion or occupation of Kuwait by the Iraqis. The answer is amazingly
non-confrontational emphasizing their desire to establish a good relationship with
Iraq rather than to seek revenge. His particular answer is as follows:

Kuwaitis
in general supported their government’s efforts to help Iraq during the war
against Iran. In fact, such support was in contradiction to Kuwait’s
long-standing policy of neutrality in the Gulf region, and this support exposed
the country to repeated terrorist attacks from groups affiliated with the
Khomeini regime. Still, people were supportive. (Al-Ebraheem 95).

In a previous question,
the interviewer asked the status of the Iraqi-Kuwaiti relationship even after
the invasion. To this question Al-Ebraheem answered that the people of Iraq and
the people of Kuwait, have a historical good relationship. He even explained
that the relationship remains warm; especially, if the fact that there are many
intermarriages between Southern Iraqis and Kuwaitis (Al-Ebraheem 95). He
further emphasized that during the Iraq-Iran war, Kuwait sided with Iraq in
order to present its friendship with its immediate neighbor, even violating its
own policy of neutrality in the Persian Gulf (Al-Ebraheem 95-96).

            Another
interesting feature of Kuwait’s foreign policy is the focus of its oil exports
and its monetary investments. Accordingly, one of its major oil importers is
the UK and it invests a bulk of its money to the US. In a study conducted by
Mullick and Mujahid-Mukhtar, entitled, “The Iraq-Kuwait Conflict and the
Developmental Scenario to the Peninsula Arab Countries,” it was revealed that
the Kuwaiti government has more than $8.8 billion investment in the US, which
is even higher than its annual oil income of approximately $7.7 billion
(Mullick and Mujahid-Mukhtar 995).

These foreign policies
put great advantages to the UK and the US, which are two powerful nations. Both
nations would have a strong interest with Kuwait. Hence, although the latter
seems to not make any direct alliances with the two powerful western nations in
many conflicts in the Middle East, Kuwait’s investment and cheap oil exports in
these two western nations is a subtle way of ensuring the safety of its people
from the encroaching powers of Iraq. This foreign policy paid well for Kuwait
in the later years of the 20th century (Falah 145).

Accordingly, US and UK’s
interest to Kuwait’s investments and oil have proven to be so valuable for the
two countries that they were willing to destroy their friendship with Iraq once
Iraq decided to invade Kuwait for territorial disputes. It should be noted that
when Iraq fought Iran, the US and the UK backed Iraq, but when Iraq invade
Kuwait, the US and the UK backed Kuwait; thus showing how important Kuwait has
become to the two western countries due to Kuwait’s foreign policies in
investment and oil exports (Mullick and Mujahid-Mukhtar 996).

It can be seen again
from these foreign policies that Kuwait is taking into consideration its
win-sets for its domestic politics, particularly with regard to its weaknesses
in economic and military. If Kuwait will boldly align itself with US and UK’s
stand on the Palestinian conflicts, it will risk having its Palestinian
population cause a domestic steer that could threaten internal peace and
stability. Since, it could not do so, it simply maintained a strong economic
ties with these nations, even if it means selling its oil to a relatively low
price to UK and investing a huge amount of money into the US. From time to
time, it also engages in befriending Iraq, knowing fully well that the two
nations have their ordinary people closely related. Any bold or direct
confrontation with Iraq could, again pose threat to its internal peace and
security due to the close relationships of the Shia in Iraq as well as the
inter-married lineages between the two countries.

Future Outlook

            Based
from the previous discussions, it is apparent that Kuwait’s foreign policies
are always done in consideration with its domestic politics; particularly with
its domestic weaknesses which include its inferior military might and
relatively small population size. It should be noted that it is less likely
that Kuwait would acquire new territories or will develop superior military
weaponry through increased number of military personnel or through the
acquisition of weapons of mass destruction. The latter is highly improbable due
to 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 present
is its high profit earning oil industry and its investments abroad.

The situations in the
Middle East have significantly changed over the past decades since the 1960s as
more conflicts still persist among its neighbors. Iraq is dominated with
radical groups, Iran is antagonistic of the US, while Saudi Arabia is in good
relationship with the West, and hence, there are significant conflicting issues
in the Persian Gulf and in the Middle East in general. It can be validly
predicted, therefore, that Kuwait would still play its usual foreign policies
of neutrality in Middle Eastern issues.

It might not show direct
antagonism to the Iranian nuclear program, but it will definitely strengthen
its relationship with the US through monetary investments in US banks. It will
also continue making strong economic ties with world super powers that could
come to its aid in case radicalism in Iraq spill over to its territories or if
Iran 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 the
Two-level Game Theory in making its foreign policies.

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