Iraq and Beyond: Post-Cold War Military Choices

November 16, 1990

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Ever since the end of World War II, U.S. defense strategy has focused on meeting the Soviet threat in Europe. Now, war in Europe seems remote, and U.S. troops are massing in Saudi Arabia. Ironically, the Cold War may have prepared the military well for confronting Iraq in the desert, despite the specific problems Operation Desert Shield has brought to light. But many military analysts believe the current crisis is not typical of the kinds of threats the United States will face in the future, and they say the nation must make major strategic changes to meet these challenges.

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War in the Middle East may not be inevitable, but the United States took a giant step in that direction on Nov. 8 when President Bush ordered a huge new deployment of troops, machinery and weapons to Saudi Arabia. In announcing the buildup, the president said it was necessary to ensure that the United States and its allies have “an adequate offensive military option should that be necessary.”

Already Operation Desert Shield, as the military deployment to Saudi Arabia has been dubbed, was the biggest military mobilization the United States had undertaken since the Vietnam War, when U.S. troop strength reached a peak of 543,000, excluding naval forces offshore. Since Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, the United States had sent more than 200,000 soldiers and thousands of tons of equipment to the Arabian Desert. The new deployment will nearly double that (neither President Bush nor Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney would give specific numbers). Three additional aircraft carrier battle groups and another battleship are being sent to the region, as are half the U.S. tank divisions in Europe and another one from the United States. By the time the deployment is completed sometime after the first of the year, the United States will have a numerical advantage in top-of-the-line battle tanks—offsetting Iraq's overall advantage in tanks, the workhorses of a desert war.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Mar. 01, 2013  The Iraq War: 10 Years Later
Apr. 25, 2008  Cost of the Iraq War
Feb. 23, 2007  New Strategy in Iraq
Oct. 21, 2005  War in Iraq
Jul. 25, 2003  Rebuilding Iraq
Oct. 04, 2002  Confronting Iraq
Mar. 15, 1991  Calculating the Cost of the Gulf War
Nov. 16, 1990  Iraq and Beyond: Post-Cold War Military Choices
Aug. 22, 1980  Iraq's New Image
Arms Control and Disarmament
Defense Budget
Gulf War
U.S. at War: Iraq