BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Middle East
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Monday, 15 January, 2001, 18:11 GMT
Lessons of the Gulf War
US military vehicle in Iraq
The Gulf War set the pattern of recent combat
By Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus

The Gulf War set the pattern for many subsequent military encounters waged by Western countries, the overwhelming dependence upon air power for example.

It also saw the widespread use of space-based systems - satellites providing a huge stream of data on what was happening on the ground.

But are there any military lessons of the war a decade on?

While waged by a coalition of Western and Arab countries, the Gulf War nonetheless appears in retrospect like a huge show-case for the US military.

A demonstration of its extraordinary technical capabilities as the one remaining superpower.

Arcade video game

Successful weapons like the Tomahawk cruise missile, along with much less successful ones like the early versions of the Patriot anti-missile system, were all used in combat for the first time.

I suppose the most striking image of the war is that of the television imagery from the nose of missiles as they plunge towards their targets.

Missiles seeking out a window here or a ventilation shaft there, all the horrors of high-tech warfare reduced to something akin to an arcade video game.

In some ways the Gulf War set the pattern of recent combat - at least by Western armies.

It was the empasis upon retribution from afar - the use of air power - organised and deployed in ways which only modern intelligence gathering and command systems can achieve.

Kuwait oil field on fire
Western forces had only few casualties during the Gulf War
Iraqi threats

The war saw the widespread use of long-range ballistic missiles by Iraq as well as fears that President Saddam Hussein might resort to chemical weapons.

Two threats that have come to dominate US thinking on defence in the post Cold war world.

The fact that western forces had so few casualties has also perhaps fundamentally influenced the way Western societies think about warfare.

It should be remembered though that military experts feared significant losses once the ground fighting got under way.

Subsequent military campaigns, notably in the Balkans, have been influenced by the Gulf experience.

Air power again seems to have evicted Serbian forces from Kosovo.

Nonetheless the limitations of military power should also be noted. Saddam Hussein remains Iraq's leader and the old order in Belgrade was removed by popular unrest, not by bombs.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

15 Jan 01 | Middle East
Iraqi alarm over DU ammunition
13 Jan 01 | Middle East
US activists reach Baghdad
13 Jan 01 | Middle East
Iraqi dismisses US pilot claims
12 Jan 01 | Europe
Britain to screen Gulf War vets
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Middle East stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Middle East stories