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kuwait night

Kuwait is a small country that has always faced two major threats. The first one being its neighbors – Iraq and Saudi Arabia – that have often looked to conquer the tiny emirate. Saddam Hussein’s invasion on August 2, 1990 is the latest example of the latter. But in a remote past, the Saudis had tried to do the same. Not having the armed forces capable of facing such a threat, Kuwait has to rely on the strength and collaboration of more powerful partners, in this case the US, France and the UK. By collaboration we mean a partnership in the intelligence sector. The second threat is domestic and has to do with demographics: out of a population of 4.4 million inhabitants, 70% are immigrants, mainly from Egypt or India.

These two menaces – domestic and external – have forced the emirate to equip itself with an adequate security apparatus capable of granting its survival. The chain of command is led by the Emir himself, he is the ultimate and sole person responsible for the security of the State. Any decision in this field requires his approval.

Under the Emir sits the Prime Minister, who is also a member of the Supreme Defense Council. Under him branch out three major structures responsible for the State’s security:

• the National Guard, with its own intelligence agency;
• the Ministry of Defense, with a military intelligence agency;
• the Ministry of Interior, that includes within its ranks the Kuwait Security Service, the country’s most important intelligence agency.

Kuwait’s armed forces can count on around 17 thousand men.

The Supreme Defense Council

It is usually headed by the Crown Prince, alongside the Prime Minister. The council also includes the Ministers of Defense, Interior, Foreign Affairs and Budget and Finance, the head of the National Guard, the chiefs of the intelligence agencies, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces and the President and the deputy of the National Security Apparatus. If need be, other Ministers and/or State officials are included. Kuwait’s national security is discussed by this organism.

Structure and functions of the Kuwait Security Service

Also known as the Directorate of State Security, this intelligence agency is run by the Ministry of Interior. The chief of the agency is an undersecretary, with political rather than operative functions. The actual head of the agency is the Director General.

The KSS is divided into Departments. Some of them deal with the activities of the agency itself (Personnel and Logistics), while others are tasked with domestic and international activities (Operations, Investigative, International, Domestic). The Kuwait Security Service is also the agency that deals with the relationship with foreign intelligence agencies through its Exterior Relations bureau.

In its activities abroad, the KSS focuses on the espionage on those regional neighbors that could pose a potential threat, namely Iran and Iraq. On the domestic front, the agency is tasked with counterespionage and, mainly, with the monitoring of immigrant communities. Its stations are located across the country, including at borders and airports. The Investigations Department of the KSS works alongside the police in security controls.

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Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jebir al-Sabah and his predecessors

The control over the country

Kuwait is run by the Sabah royal family. Its members have direct control over national security. Although there is frequent infighting between the different branches of the family over who should ascend to the throne, mainly between the Jaber and the Salem, domestic and external threats to the survival of the kingdom keep the Royal Court together.

The Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jabir Al Sabah is also the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. Crown Prince Nawaf al-Ahmad Al Sabah, Prime Minister Jabir al-Mubarak Al Sabah, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Sabah al-Khalid al-Hamad Al Sabah, the Minister of Interior Khalid al-Jarrah Al Sabah, the Minister of Defense Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah (the Emir’s eldest son) all participate in defending Kuwait’s national security. The head of the National Security Apparatus, Sheikh Thamer Ali Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah, is also a member of the royal family.

US protection

Following the first Gulf War, the US have signed with Kuwait a formal Defense Cooperation Agreement that includes joint military exercises (that usually see the participation of other countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council), training of the armed forces, weapons sales, US troops on Kuwaiti soil, the access and use of Kuwaiti military infrastructures by US personnel that, if need be, are immune from prosecution.

About 13 thousand US troops station in the Emirate, this is roughly a third of the US contingent in the Gulf (a total of 35 thousand units) scattered across terrestrial, aerial and naval bases. The HQ of the operation “Inherent Resolve” against the Islamic State was based in Kuwait.

In 2004, US President George W. Bush designated Kuwait as a “major non-NATO ally”, which grants the emirate the possibility to access and purchase sophisticated weapons systems and to develop military cooperation. NATO also opened one of its regional centers in the country in 2017, while in November 2017 Kuwait signed a military cooperation protocol with France.

The cooperation with the United States is not limited to the military sector, but also to the assistance in anti-terrorism and border control activities through the National Guard and the Ministry of Interior. The last terrorist attack in Kuwait was in June 2015, when a Shia mosque was attacked and there were 27 people were killed, while 227 were wounded.

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George W Bush with Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jabir Al Sabah

The Kuwaiti Shia

Around 30% of the population in Kuwait is Shia. A lot of them come from Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. The ongoing struggle between the Iranians and the Saudis and a Shia-led government in Iraq could pose a risk for Kuwait. However, local laws ban all forms of sectarian discrimination, but despite this the Kuwaiti Shia community claims to be marginalized.

To date, a conflict has been avoided because local authorities have enacted a series of measures, one of the latest includes the construction of a mosque for the Shia. Another factor that prevents a violent outcome is the presence of several Shia in the ranks of the military, the security and in Parliament.

A moderate policy

According to international standards, Kuwait is not a democracy. However, when compared to other countries in the region, it is a nation with sufficient room for the people’s participation to politics. Opposition groups are represented in the National Assembly, including Islamists and secularists, tribal leaders that support the regime, Shia, Sunnis and liberals. This is one of the reasons why the Arab Spring has had a very limited impact in Kuwait.

A moderate domestic approach is mirrored by a similar tenure on the international scene, where Kuwait avoids contrasts and tensions. The emirate tried to act as a mediator in the recent quarrel between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. During the current regional military deployment in Yemen, Kuwait deployed a symbolic naval presence. Its relationship with Iran is pretty good, as is with Russia.

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