A Message of National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA on the Gulf and Middle East Crisis, November 14-16, 1990


We stand at a unique moment in human history, when all around us seemingly impregnable walls are being broken down and deep historical enmities are being healed. And yet, ironically, at such a moment, our own nation seems to be poised at the brink of war in the Middle East. “What then are we to say about these things?” (Romans 8:31)….

Unanswered Questions

Two months ago, on September 14, 1990, the Executive Coordinating Committee of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA addressed a message to its member communions on the Gulf crisis. That message condemned Iraq’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait, raised serious questions about the decision of the US government to send troops to the Gulf region and about the growing magnitude of US presence, noting that the extent of the commitment of US forces and weaponry was the largest since the Vietnam war. Since then, the US has more than doubled the number of troops sent to the region to a number approaching a half million persons.

The message also questioned the apparent open-ended nature of the US military involvement in the Middle East and the failure on the part of the administration clearly to state its goals. President Bush and administration officials have done little to clarify either of these points. Indeed the rationales offered for the steady expansion of US presence have often been misleading and sometimes even contradictory. Early statements that US forces had been deployed for the defense of Saudi Arabia or the enforcement of UN sanctions have been supplanted by suggestions of broader goals, including expulsion of Iraqi forces from Kuwait by military means, or, even offensive action against Iraq itself. The nation still has not been told in clear and certain terms what would be required for the withdrawal of US troops.

The Prospect of War

The initial response of the NCCC/USA was carefully measured, recognizing the magnitude of the injustice inflicted by Iraq against Kuwait, and the unprecedented reliance by the US on the mechanisms of the UN. In contrast, the US administration increasingly prepares for war, a war that could lead to the loss of tens of thousands of lives and the devastation of the region. Such talk has given rise to widespread speculation in our country, in the Middle East and elsewhere that the United States will initiate war.

In the face of such reckless rhetoric and imprudent behavior, as representatives of churches in the United States we feel that we have a moral responsibility publicly and unequivocally to oppose actions that could have such dire consequences.

Wider Implications

Our earlier message also pointed out that the active US effort to implement United Nations Security Council resolutions relating to the occupation of Kuwait by Iraq stand in marked contrast to US negligence regarding the implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. These call for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the territories occupied in the 1967 war and the convening of an international conference to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue. There has also been negligence regarding the implementation of Security Council resolutions 359, 360 and 361 which call for the withdrawal “without delay” of Turkish troops from Cyprus and solving the problems of the island through negotiations.

During the intervening weeks the situation in the Israeli-occupied territories has, in fact, worsened. The US government’s condemnation of the massacre on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and its endorsement of a UN mission to the Occupied Territories was a welcome departure from past policies. The failure of the US government to take any substantive measures to oppose the Israeli occupation, however, weakens the effect of its appropriate outrage over Iraqi aggression against Kuwait. The region cries out for a US policy that seeks to redress all cases of injustice, including those of Israel and Palestine, Lebanon and Cyprus.

Dangers of Militarization

The presence of US troops in the Middle East has led to an expansion of the military capacity of an already grossly over-militarized region. The proposed billions of dollars of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the forgiveness of military debts to Egypt and Israel and the supplying of both with new and more sophisticated weaponry, combined with a seeming lack of initiative to resolve the region’s unsettled disputes, can only be seen as morally irresponsible.

The Price of War

The price of war and the preparation for further conflict is already being paid in human terms. Hundreds of thousands of foreign workers and their families have been compelled to leave Kuwait and Iraq, creating enormous strains on the Kingdom of Jordan and the Republic of Egypt and, ultimately on the societies to which they are returning.

The cost of the current US military presence in the Gulf is estimated at $1 billion per month. This “extra-budgetary expenditure” is once again likely to reduce further the nation’s capacity to address human needs in our own society. Thus, among the early victims of this tragic engagement will certainly be the growing number of the poor, homeless, sick and elderly. The corrosive effect on our own nation will be felt especially by racial/ethnic communities who make up a disproportionate number both of the poor and those who are on the front lines of military confrontation.

We are appalled by the past and present behavior of the regime in Iraq, one which has previously enjoyed US support. But the demonization of the Iraqi people and their leader has led to an increased incidence of defamation of and discrimination against persons of Arab descent or appearance.

A New World Order

We stand on the threshold of a “new world order.” Indeed, the near unanimous condemnation by the nations of the world of Iraq’s illegal occupation of neighbor, Kuwait, shows the promise of a new approach to the vocation of peacemaking for which the United Nations was created 45 years ago. There are present in this moment seeds either of a new era of international cooperation under the rule of international law or of rule based upon superior power, which holds the prospect of continuing dehumanizing chaos.

Our churches have long sought to nurture and bring to fruition the seeds of hope. The power we would invoke is not the power of the gun, nor is it the power of wealth and affluence; we would invoke the power of the cross and the resurrection, symbols for us of love and hope. As Christians in the US we must witness against weak resignation to our belief in the capacity of human beings and human societies to seek and achieve reconciliation.

The General Board of the NCCC/USA commends this message to the churches, all Christians, and persons of other faiths, inviting them to join with us in continuing prayer and urgent action to avert war in the Persian/Arab Gulf region, and to join in the quest for a just and durable peace in the Middle East.

Resolution on the Gulf and Middle East Crisis

The General Board of the National Council of Churches, meeting in Portland, Oregon, November 14-15, 1990, recognizing its solidarity with the Christians of the Middle East and with the Middle East Council of Churches:

Urges the government of Iraq to release immediately all those citizens of other nations being held against their will in Kuwait or Iraq and to withdraw immediately its troops and occupation forces from Kuwait.

Calls for the continued rigorous application of the sanctions against Iraq authorized by the United Nations Security Council until such time as it withdraws its forces from Kuwait.

Reiterates its opposition to the withholding of food and medicine as a weapon against civilian populations.

Encourages the secretary-general of the United Nations to exercise fully his own good offices in pursuit of a rapid negotiated resolution of the present conflict in the Gulf.

Calls upon the president and Congress to pursue every means for a negotiated political solution to the crisis in the Gulf, including direct negotiations with Iraq.

Reiterates support for the convening under UN auspices of an international conference for a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, as a means of implementing United Nations Security Council resolutions on Israel and Palestine, Lebanon and Cyprus, recognizing that the present crisis cannot be isolated from the unresolved issues of the region as a whole.

Calls for an immediate halt to the buildup and the withdrawal of US troops from the Gulf region except those which might be required and explicitly recommended by the Security Council of the United Nations in accordance with the relevant provisions of the United Nations charter.

Calls upon the US government to give leadership to the institution of an immediate and complete embargo under UN auspices on arms transfers to the Middle East.

How to cite this article:

"Message of National Churches of Christ on Gulf Crisis," Middle East Report 168 (January/February 1991).

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