Monday, November 11, 2019

Drivers of Foreign Policy

Since the peaceful coup that brought the current emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, to power in 1995, Qatar has entered into an increasingly expanding foreign policy, which has greatly increased the country's regional and international standing. The main feature of Qatar's foreign policy is its role as mediator and negotiator in a number of conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere, for example in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel and the occupied territories, Lebanon, Sudan and Yemen. In each case, Qatar prided itself on engaging with warring factions to push for political settlements or rapprochement, as well as providing humanitarian assistance. The decisions governing Qatar's participation in such conflicts are very central. The main decision-makers are the Emir, His Highness Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Al-Thani. Restricting much of the decision-making of this small circle has quickly led to foreign (and local) policy decisions, allowing Qatar to respond quickly to emerging conflicts with mediation offers. While it can be said that drawing a picture of the country as a benefactor is a public diplomatic move by Qatar – since neutrality facilitates the consolidation of credibility among multiple audiences – there are deeper motives behind Qatar's expansionist approach to mediating the conflict by expanding its foreign policy. The first motive is to maintain its security and stability. Qatar is located in the Arabian Peninsula, an area full of political and military rivalries. By increasing its international standing, Qatar aims to protect itself from the dangers of non-disclosure of small and vulnerable states 5 – risks of the type suffered by Kuwait in 1990. 6 In addition, by engaging in mediation between conflicting factions such as Houthis and the Yemeni government. Or between Hezbollah and its allies on the one hand and the March 14 bloc on the other, Qatar can be seen as trying to contain those conflicts and prevent their spread closer to home. This inevitability becomes more acute when one considers the role Iran plays in those conflicts and in the Gulf in particular. Iran is the main backer of Hezbollah and has established links with the Huthis in Yemen and a number of Shiite movements in the Gulf. Qatar also shares the largest oil field in the world with Iran, and is fully aware of Iran's expansionist foreign policy objectives in the region. By trying to mediate between non-Iranian actors and their rivals, Qatar is trying to counter Iranian influence in the Middle East in general, and more specifically in the Gulf, while maintaining friendly relations with Iran. Thus, in addition to general security concerns, Iran's role in the region can be seen as a clear driver behind Qatar's mediation of the Middle East conflict. The third motive for Qatari mediation is the desire to expand its influence as a regional player, especially in the face of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has traditionally played a leading role in conflicts throughout the region, for example during the Lebanese civil war. However, in recent years Saudi mediation has been spoiled for perceived neutrality, making the Kingdom an active player rather than a neutral intermediary. The close relationship between Saudi Arabia and the March 14 political bloc in Lebanon, led by Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, is an example. Qatar therefore viewed a vacuum in the Arab international relations it was trying to bridge. Its involvement in conflicts across the Middle East and beyond is an effort to present itself as a vital alternative to Saudi Arabia and a potential new leader in the Middle East. This role was further enhanced by Qatar's membership of the United Nations Security Council in 2006-2007, during which the Emirate increased its regional mediation and assistance activities. However, Qatar was keen not to exceed the limits of its relationship with Saudi Arabia. Despite Qatar's view of Saudi Arabia's low influence in the Middle East (in addition to the growing Iranian influence, which adds to the urgent need for regional Arab leadership), the country remains cautious not to conflict with the kingdom's domestic and foreign policies. Thus, when the Bahraini uprising began in 2011, Qatar supported the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – led by Saudi Arabia – mission to quell the insurgency. 7 When the Yemeni uprising, which began in the same year, gained momentum, Qatar also supported the GCC initiative it managed. The path of transition in Yemen, leading to a negotiated transition instead of overthrowing the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh. Although Qatar's relationship with Saudi Arabia over the years has been turbulent, it has finally reached a rapprochement in 2008 and has continued to become more entrenched, driven by Qatari realism and the Emirate's awareness of the limits of its influence in the Gulf. Saudi Arabia is the dominant political power in the Arabian Peninsula, where Qatar has not yet had the opportunity or the ability to play the first major role. Both countries share concerns about the instability and political transition that are reaching their territory, which leads them to cooperate more than confrontation.

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