In August 1990, Iraq invaded the Persian Gulf state of Kuwait. At issue in the conflict were oil production and border disputes between the two countries. When diplomacy failed to resolve the conflict, the United States formed a military coalition to force Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. Canada joined the multinational force. Canada's combat role was confined to aerial escort missions and aerial ground support interdiction (albeit with conventional rather than laser guided "smart" munitions), army medical and field engineer support, and naval enforcement of the blockade. Approximately 4,000 Canadians served in the Gulf War, a bit more than 2,000 at any one time, but the Canadian Armed Forces suffered no battlefield casualties. The war was largely fought in the air, a theatre in which the Western nations held an enormous advantage. Unable to support troops on the ground, Iraq was forced to retreat and, eventually, to capitulate. Canada's participation is as significant for what it failed to do as for what it actually did. Even though Canada lobbied strongly and successfully to get the coalition effort against Iraq to come under the UN banner, a meaningful Canadian presence among the ground forces was markedly absent. Extensive planning was done to send a ground force based on Canada's NATO contingent, 4 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group. When it came down to the crunch, Canada's lack of military preparedness was such that the Canadian military did not participate. Only Canada's 36 pilots were consciously put in harm's way. Canada's allies did not fail to notice this lack of involvement. Shortly thereafter, in one of the first crisis of the post-Gulf War "new world order," a contact group was established to oversee the international strategy vis-à-vis the civil war in Yugoslavia. Even though Canada was providing the third largest contingent of peacekeepers, it was not included in this group of five nations. Canada had no say in the decisions made by this contact group, decisions that had a direct impact on how the thousands of Canadian soldiers in the midst of this bitter conflict were to be used.
Although the Gulf War ended in April 1991, Canadian troops, and in particular sappers on mine clearing duties, have remained in the region as part of the UN mission along the Iraq-Kuwait border. Canada was also part of the special commission to disarm Iraq's biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons production facilities.