First published in 1996, Arab Storm argues convincingly that Saudi Arabia was not only the linchpin of the coalition but also a lead actor in the drama that followed. The account lingers over Riyadh’s crucial decision to admit half a million American troops onto Saudi soil – the same soil that nurtures two of Islam’s holiest cities. Against a background of rising public sympathy in the Arab world for a defiant Saddam Hussein, it was a calculated risk that took courage on the part of the Saudi government and required tremendous diplomatic verve on all sides. As the Algerian ambassador reminded Munro at the time: ‘For Algeria, it only takes one French soldier on Arab soil to produce this reaction, whatever the cause.’ Unlike many accounts of the period, Arab Storm has gained in import in the 10 years since it was first published. When his book was first published, its first point of reference was the disastrous British campaign of 1917. Now, his insider’s account of the concerted diplomatic effort that preceded the war, and helped limit the political fallout from the liberation of Kuwait, provides an implicit counterpoint to the bungled US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Aftermath of conflictThis new edition makes the connection explicit. In his preface, Munro rails at the ‘dismal and chaotic sequel to the efficient international action of 1990 and 1991’. He does not propose any remedies to the deepening conflict in Iraq, but rather drives home the lesson that by concentrating purely on a military objective in 2003 and leaving the diplomacy for later, Washington contributed to the present crisis. By contrast, the 1990-91 war – briefly outlined in a short chapter entitled ‘Climax’, followed swiftly by a longer ‘Anticlimax’ – comes almost as an afterthought to the main subject matter of his book, the careful preparation that led up to the conflict.

As befits a former member of the UK diplomatic service, where a slight air of one-upmanship surrounds the construction of architecturally complex phrases in dispatches, Munro is a master of the heroically long sentence as well as the artful use of parenthesis that must, for many career diplomats, become second nature over time. But Arab Storm is very readable. There are numerous and vivid first-hand accounts – one that sticks in the mind is the story of a Geordie soldier who, when Munro appealed to his unit to stay on after the war so the British army could ‘keep their teeth’ in Kuwait, promptly removed his own false set, threw them into the sand and vowed to stay with them. Munro’s frequent encounters with the media also provide colourful material for the book. The