At 1 am on 2 August 1990, hundreds of tanks and armoured personnel carriers from two divisions of the Iraqi Republican Guard Forces Command crashed over the Kuwaiti frontier, then burst down the main highway towards Kuwait City. Another Iraqi division entered Kuwait from the west, while half an hour later Iraqi troops mounted a helicopter-borne assault on key government offices. Elsewhere Iraqi commandos landed from the sea, heading for the Emir's palace, where small groups of Kuwaiti soldiers engaged them. Soon after daybreak the Iraqis were in control; by the end of the day they had secured the city and were heading south towards the border with Saudi Arabia.
So began a chain of events that would reshape world politics. International affairs were already undergoing the most far-reaching changes since the Second World War. As described in chapter 1, the late 1980s had seen the end of Soviet domination in Eastern Europe and of forty years of US–Soviet confrontation. The Berlin Wall had fallen in November 1989 and, the following month, after a meeting in Malta between US President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, a Soviet spokesman formally declared the Cold War over.
This momentous development seemed to offer opportunities for a New World Order, but what this really meant was still to be determined.