The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1991Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Political Broadcast on the Iraq War – 17 January 1991

Below is Mr Major’s political broadcast on the Iraq War, made on 17th January 1991.


Since before dawn today, Britain’s forces have been in action in the Gulf. Their skill and courage have already been tested. Tonight I want to explain to you why they are there, and what this conflict is about.

Our troops are part of an international force. It is drawn from many countries. It is acting under the authority of the United Nations and its purpose is to end Saddam Hussein’s ruthless occupation of Kuwait.

He invaded without justification. His army has conducted itself without mercy. If such brutality and aggression are rewarded with success, then we are all at risk. If you appease a bully, you pay for it later. And you often pay more dearly.

We did not want a conflict. I need hardly tell you that. We have tried hard to avoid it. We have given Saddam Hussein every opportunity to withdraw. Time and again the United Nations has called upon him to leave Kuwait. In the patient diplomacy of the past five months, leaders from around the world have sought peace – and then sought it again.

But, unfortunately, Saddam Hussein has chosen war. He has rejected every attempt to reach a peaceful solution. He has rebuffed even the Secretary General of the United Nations. At the United Nations, the world agreed that Iraq must withdraw, or be driven out of Kuwait. We applied sanctions to make our point clear. We refused to trade with Iraq. Those sanctions made life harsher for Saddam’s people, but he was not a man to be influenced by their suffering. Then the world set him a deadline. Free Kuwait, we said, or we will have to free it from you.

But Saddam Hussein has rejected all appeals. He has defied the United Nations. He has increased his forces in Kuwait. He tortured and killed those who opposed him. He has tried to wipe Kuwait off the map of the Middle East.

For our part, we – the rest of the world – have acted with enormous restraint. Time and again we warned him – and we offered him this promise. If he would withdraw his invading army from Kuwait, and return them to Iraq, he would not be attacked.

Saddam has chosen instead to defy the world. The deadline passed, on January 15th, and still he refused to withdraw. That is why we and our partners are now facing up to our responsibility. It is to compel him to obey the United Nations.

We could not delay any longer. Delay would have increased the risk to our troops out there in the Gulf. Delay would have made the task more difficult. And delay would have extended the terrible sufferings of the people of Kuwait.

Our aims are clear. They have been set out, for all to see, by the United Nations Security Council. First;

– we must get Iraq out of Kuwait – right out of Kuwait. Second;

– we must restore Kuwait’s legitimate government. And third;

– we must uphold the authority of the United Nations.

We and our allies want nothing more than that. We are not seeking to dismember Iraq. We have no intention of imposing our choice of government on Iraq. We are simply doing what the United Nations said should be done. We are acting with the authority of the United Nations – and on behalf of the whole world.

I will not offer you rash promises about how quickly this can be done. The operation on which we have embarked involves danger and sacrifice. But I am confident it will succeed. And we know it is a battle which has to be fought.

On Tuesday, Members of Parliament gave the Government their overwhelming support. One of the biggest parliamentary majorities in recent history supported action to enforce the decisions of the United Nations. It is a just cause. And it is right that we in Britain should play our part.

I take no pleasure in this conflict. But I do know what we are doing is right. Our nation has been through many trials in the past. But when – as now – right and justice have been on our side, we have prevailed.

The military operation must go on until the decisions of the United Nations are enforced. Then we can start searching again, and searching hard, for lasting solutions to the problems of the area. We must try to work out security arrangements for the future, so that these terrible events are never repeated. And we shall – I promise you – bring our own forces back home just as soon as it is safe to do so.

It is to those men, and women, serving our country in the Middle East that my thoughts go out most tonight. And to all of their families here at home. To you, I know, this is not a distant war. It is a close, and ever-present anxiety.

I was privileged to meet many of our servicemen and women in the Gulf last week. Their professionalism is outstanding. Their confidence, impressive. And their courage – undoubted.

You can be proud of them. Very proud. Each one of them has Britain’s wholehearted support – and the prayers of all of us for their safe return home. And our prayers are also for you, their families, who carry so much of the burden of Saddam’s war. We are no less proud of you.

Goodnight – and God bless.