When Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait in August 1990, the Gulf states became the focus of frenzied international interest for the second time in a decade, the first having been during the Iraq-Iran war, 1980-8. Both events posed major threats to the regional state system which had evolved over almost two centuries. This book is based on a wide range of primary materials, including declassified documents used here for the first time. It defines and describes the geopolitical framework of the region and the state system which emanated from it. It explains how the Gulf states owe their creation and survival, sometimes against many odds, to forces well beyond the waters of the Gulf. Rosemarie Said Zahlan tells the story of the formation of the states, their evolution from colonial dependency to statehood, their socio-econo mic transformation by oil, and their stability in the midst of change. She illuminates their relationships with each other, with the wider Arab world, and with the major world powers. The result is an informed and balanced picture of the political, economic, religious and cultural character of the region. It is also a story of the powerful families and their shaikhs who have had to lead their countries so rapidly into the modern world, all the while preserving their own socio-political traditions.