The main factors determining the activity of Qatar’s leadership in the field of national security include the difficult, permanently tense situation in the Persian Gulf and in the Middle East, foreign policy ambitions, often overstated, by the country’s leaders, their desire to secure for the emirate the place of a “major regional player” providing influence on the development of the situation in the Arab world, including through the provision of material and other assistance to various kinds of anti-government forces, as a rule, by radical Islamist orientation. At the same time, all the actions of the Qatari leadership are aimed at shaping the image of Qatar as one of the main defenders of the interests of all Arabs. At the same time, Qatar stands for maintaining security in the Persian Gulf. Inside the country, its leadership is pursuing a policy of preventing the destabilization of the ruling regime, maintaining a stable socio-political situation in the emirate in the interests of ensuring the steady growth of the national economy and social welfare.
In general, the “tinyness” of Qatar, coupled with the absence of a large army, “forces its leadership to be extremely flexible in the choice of strategy and tactics, as well as its timely transformation”. The leadership of the emirate clearly understands the vulnerability of the country in case of an external attack and the impossibility of protecting it on its own.
In the summer of 2017, the situation around Qatar became seriously complicated as a result of the conflict initiated by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain, which announced the severance of diplomatic relations with the emirate, accusing Doha of supporting terrorist organizations, interfering in the internal affairs of states and swaying the situation in the region. Arab countries have also imposed a transport and economic blockade on Qatar. To end the conflict, the «quartet» offered Doha a package of requirements, including breaking the diplomatic relations with Iran, closing down Al-Jazeera or drastically changing its editorial policy, ending support for the «Muslim Brotherhood» and military cooperation with Turkey. Qatar was expelled from a coalition led by the KSA, which is fighting in Yemen with the Houthi rebels. In Doha, they refused to satisfy the demands of KSA and its allies. Accepting them would mean unconditional surrender.
According to experts, “the real causes of the conflict are political. The course of Qatar often goes against the political attitudes of Arab countries, especially KSA. In addition, they are not satisfied with Qatar’s restrained policy toward Iran”.
According to analysts, for the period that has elapsed since the beginning of the conflict, «Qatar not only did not succumb to pressure, but managed to turn the tide in its favor, in the extremely difficult conditions of opposition between Arab states and Iran». Substantial assistance to the emirate, including food supplies, was provided by Iran and Turkey. In addition, Iran provided Qatar with the opportunity to use its ports, and Turkey strengthened its military presence in the emirate. Qatar also restored full-fledged diplomatic relations and ties with Iran, which until then had been extremely limited due to “Arab solidarity”. In general, Doha in a short time was able to establish new logistics routes and replace about 70% of the product mix with similar products, mainly from Turkey and Iran. It is also important that «thanks to a well-formulated strategy, as well as, of course, financial resources, Qatar managed to build an effective, balanced and flexible system of national food security». However, as a result of the first year of the blockade, according to the Bloomberg agency, Qatar lost about $ 43 billion, “however, it defended the right to an independent foreign policy”. In addition, «the increased operational expenses gradually force the emirate to abandon part of its assets».
The Arab «quartet» has not achieved Qatar’s foreign policy isolation either. Doha continues to maintain active foreign relations «not only with traditional allies, but also not afraid to communicate with countries like Pakistan, which has a reputation of a country that trends to Saudi Arabia».
The Qatari leadership has repeatedly declared its readiness to settle relations with the Arab «quartet». At the same time, the polarity of the parties’ positions, their unwillingness to make reciprocal concessions and compromises suggest that no reconciliation between the conflicting parties, first of all, between Doha and Riyad in the foreseeable future should be expected. At the same time, as it seems, the option of a military attack on Qatar by the KSA and its allies is highly unlikely.
In 2017-2019 Qatar has taken steps to strengthen its defenses. In particular, purchases were made of large quantities of modern weapons, including air defense systems and combat aircraft. Military ties with the United States and NATO are being strengthened. In 2018, Qatar signed a cooperation agreement with NATO on security and defense issues. The leadership of the emirate is willing to become a full member of the North Atlantic Alliance.
In the case of external aggression, Qatar, since the beginning of the 1990s, saw a solution to the problem of obtaining real assistance, including military, relying on the United States, with whom an agreement on defense and security issues was signed in 1992. This document provides for the provision of direct US military assistance in an emergency. The largest US military base in the Middle East — El Udeid, the forward command post of the US Central Command, and other US military installations are located on the territory of the emirate. Qatar has a joint defense agreement with France. According to experts, although the US security “umbrella” is able to protect Qatar “from possible military attacks by neighboring countries” (under the administration of D. Trump, there are doubts on this subject, — author), but at the same time, “being a bridgehead [of the United States], Qatar itself may be drawn into military action and suffer if the United States or its NATO allies suddenly decide once again to use the base, located just 40 km from Doha”.
Doha reacts painfully to the theme of “Arab NATO” (a bloc proposed by Washington consisting of GCC member countries, Egypt and Jordan) after KSA, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Bahrain and the countries united with them declared a boycott to Qatar.
Doha pays special attention to cybersecurity issues. Qatar in recent years has managed to generate sufficient potential in this area.
Despite the difficulties caused by the conflict with the Arab «quartet», Qatar did not give up its claim to regional leadership, and even more focused its efforts on this topic. Thus, Doha continues to provide significant political and ideological support, financial, material, military and other assistance to various kinds of anti-regime forces in Arab countries, preparing personnel for them. We are talking about Libya, Egypt, and partly Syria. Doha supports the radical Palestinian movement HAMAS, active in the Horn of Africa. The role of Qatar in Yemen has increased again. Qatar uses the «Muslim Brotherhood» Islamist Movement as a tool of ideological influence. Relations are maintained with the terrorist group “Jabhat al-Nusra” (banned in the Russian Federation). It was from Doha that another terrorist organization, Islamic State (banned in the Russian Federation), received initial support and stimulus. In general, “this kind of foreign policy positioning often leads to an aggravation of the emirate’s relations with many countries in the region, which reasonably accuse Qatar of bias and double standards”, of supporting terrorism.
The internal political situation in the emirate remains stable. The regime fully controls the situation in the country. All real power is in the hands of representatives of the ruling dynasty of Al-Thani, who occupy leading posts in the government. Relatives of the Emir belong to senior positions in the army and other security agencies. For the discussion of the most important issues of state policy and the resolution of family affairs, the Council of the ruling family has been created. There is no organized opposition in Qatar. The stability of the ruling monarchy is favorably affected by the highest level of GDP in per capita terms — about 130 thousand dollars per Qatari.
At the same time, in the emirate, there is an increase in radical Islamist sentiment. One of the problems affecting the state of internal security is the presence in Qatar of a large number of foreign workers, mainly from India, Pakistan, Taiwan, and countries of Southeast Asia. Nonetheless, it is the foreigners who ensure the normal operation of virtually all sectors of the emirate’s national economy.
Institute of the Middle East
On changes in the military-political situation in the Middle East and North Africa (May 6 — 12, 2019). Annex.