Your Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani,
Sincere congratulations on your accession to Qatar’s throne. May it be a blessing to your people and may Allah guide you and support you in this responsibility.
The step taken by your father His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani is an historic one. There are rare cases of anyone willingly stepping down from power and what His Highness did speaks volumes about the wisdom of the Qatari leadership. His Highness’ abdication speech was eloquently subtle. It stressed the value of your Highness’ youthful leadership and it also highlighted the role of education as a foundation for a new Qatari age and the wellbeing of Qatari citizens. Your accession speech was like wise articulate and persuasive. You stressed on the fundamental role of the competent citizen; on continuity and change; on an outlook to the future without losing touch of the past; on the urgency of an orientation to results and not just actions; on the primacy of international cooperation; on being a haven for the oppressed; on a vision for an independent Qatar.
I write to your Highness here as a citizen of the Gulf States and as a citizen of the World encouraged and inspired by the spirit of your speech, by the spirit of your father’s speech, and also by the spirit of this momentous event. And I write to you about the national security of Qatar and how I hope it can be enhanced by Qatar becoming a neutral and benevolent global peace maker.
Plato and Aristotle advocated for a small state. They considered it more apt for achieving the goals of its citizens. Qatar is small state, which can work very well be for the good of its citizens, especially due to the fact that it has an immense amount of wealth. A small state maybe small in material size but large in its value for its citizens and for the world. But while there are many benefits for being a small state, it can be a security hazard. This hazard must have preoccupied Qatar’s leadership in the past and will definitely be on the top of your Highness’ concerns.
During the reign of your father HH Sheikh Hamad there was a turnaround in Qatar’s security approach which repositioned Qatar’s place in the world. As an observer I saw that the approach was based on a triple strategy of: 1. make Qatar a vital part of the solution to different conflicts, 2. bring the world into Qatar, 3. take Qatar into the world. But when looking into the recent past it seems that a fourth strategy crept in which is to make Qatar a part of some of the conflicts.
Qatar had many initiatives with varied contributions to its national security. The first which comes to mind is of course Al-Jazeera. Next comes Al Udeid’s Air Base which is probably the backbone of Qatar’s national security. Qatar Foundation is an important contribution to national security in particular to Qatar’s soft power. It not only attracted global entities into Qatar, but was also a vehicle for bringing Qatar into the world. Sports was also a vital tool for securing Qatar’s place in the global mind be it through the 2006 Asian games or the 2022 FIFA games or its bid for the 2020 Olympics. Qatar has also been engaged in various global initiatives to eradicate poverty, spread education, and encourage entrepreneurship. Qatar had ventured in peace building and had success stories in Sudan, Yemen, Gaza and Lebanon. But Qatar was also competing with regional powers such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. And thus its peace initiatives were sometimes perceived as a means to carve out a sphere of influence rather than merely promote peace. Peace building became a space for cold conflicts. Then came the Arab Spring and Qatar threw all its cards on the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya, Egypt and Syria.
As I look into the progression of Qatari global and regional initiatives I cannot help but notice two things:
First in some instances Qatar places itself as part of the solution such as when it promotes peace for the pure sake of peace. But in other cases Qatar placed itself as part of the problem. Such as when it promoted peace for the sake of carving from the influence of other regional players, or when it took sides such as its support for the Muslim Brotherhood across the region.
Second, in some instances Qatar worked hard to bring the world into Qatar. Examples of that are opening up campuses of international universities in Doha and bringing global sports to Qatar. But in other instances Qatar tried to bring Qatar into the world such as its business acquisitions or as importantly in its contribution to global humanitarian initiatives.
Most states are in such a situation and they find it desirable and beneficial for security. There are clear benefits for being part of the solution of any conflict. It enhances the positive image of the state and builds trust with other states. But there also benefits for being part of a problem. It can be a means of weakening adversaries or diverting their attention. Bringing in the world opens up opportunities for citizens and can be a strong foundation for people diplomacy. Going into the world asserts a state’s presence in the world, diversifies its sources of income, and enhances the image of the citizen as well as the state. Thus most states strive to be part of the problem but also part of the solution. States try to bring the world in and they also try to be out in the world. And every state has its own complex cost-benefit analysis to decide how much resources should be dedicated to each of the four situations.
When it comes to Qatar I believe that those four situations have to be thought of differently. Qatar will always benefit from being part of the solution and on being more into the world. It will also benefit greatly from its effort to bring the world into Qatar. But I believe that Qatar should eliminate as much as possible any Qatari presence in conflicts and problems and transform itself into a neutral state. The reason I say that is to be found in the security opportunities and dilemmas of small states. How is that?
Aggressive moves against Qatar would have one of two motivations: The First is a perception of Qatar as an immediate threat and the Second is an expansionist ambition of the aggressor. Qatar’s small size gives it the opportunity of not posing a threat, and by that Qatar has already eliminated half the motivations for aggression against it. Being a small country means that neighboring countries would not normally consider it a security threat. Many big states work hard to achieve that end, but being ‘big states’ makes it hard to believe them. Having done that, now Qatar needs to work on the other half. But as it does, it needs to always sustain the perception that it is not a threat to anyone. In other words Qatar must protect itself from expansionist aggression while at the same time avoid stirring defensive aggression. This is a delicate balance to keep, and I think that Qatar tilted and started defending itself in a way that transformed it into a threat for neighboring countries thus losing the extremely valuable position of being a non-threatening state.
I understand that states are impelled to become part of a conflict (ie: of a problem) as a security measure against potential threats. It is many times an effective defensive tactic. Thus some may argue that Qatar can create a balance of power by posing a threat to other states. And a balance of power is something all states aspire to. But I think that balancing logic may work for bigger states. And I think that Qatar’s size makes it important for it to think of its security in ways that are different to how bigger countries would think of their security. Thus I believe that the argument of using threat as a defensive tactic only works between states of equal size and not between big states and smaller states for three reasons:
The first is the one I just mentioned, which is about the virtue - and strategic value - of being non-threatening.
The second is that for a small state to effectively balance bigger states it needs to create an immense amount of threat to compensate for the difference in size. And what will usually happen is that it will end up creating unnecessary regional problems in the attempt to create that immense balancing act, which will aggravate other regional states, leading to a loss of its virtue of being a non-threatening state, and then ultimately attracting defensive aggression from all sides. And I think Qatar’s relentless support for the Muslim Brotherhood may have done that.
The third reason is that balancing does not work by financial resources alone. Qatar’s current balancing act is dependent on its resources, but in the long run its current allies will need big allies. Egypt is a good example. Today the Egyptians seem to be on the Qatari side. But Egypt’s security needs an alliance with big states. So at one point Egypt is definitely going to create alliances with Qatar’s contenders.
So while balancing can succeed between bigger states, a small state such as Qatar may require another route.
Qatar must defend itself from expansionist aggressions. This goes without saying. But it needs to do it while stirring the least amount of threat or aggravation to regional states. It must avoid stirring defensive aggression. Qatar has of course done the most important step for its security by its alliance with the United States. What Qatar may consider now is to become a ‘neutral and benevolent global peacemaker’ thus bolstering its legitimacy regionally and globally, as well as enhancing the protection of International Law. And I stress that such a step can only help with the presence of the material power of the alliance with the United States and others.
So a first step Qatar may consider is to formally transform itself into a neutral state through regional agreements, alliances and international law. This way Qatar steps out completely from becoming part of any problem. A second and subsequent step is for Qatar to recreate its identity and become seen as a main source of conflict resolution globally. This is by becoming more active in solving global conflicts; by training Qataris and others in conflict resolution; by becoming a global center for conflict resolution knowledge; and by supporting and setting up various conflict resolution centers across the globe. Qatar would benefit greatly by transforming itself into a neutral global peacemaker. The world would also benefit. There is so much suffering, so much agony. The world needs a state to dedicate itself to this. Third Qatar should increase its presence in the world, and it should make it part of its national security. The Qatari Crescent – for example - should be considered an integral part of national security. And it should be globally active as well as regionally. Moreover Qatar should diversify its presence in the world. Business presence is extremely important. But Qatar can also be in education, poverty, the environment, water, energy, child abuse, women rights, disease, and hunger. The billions other countries spend to fuel conflicts Qatar would spend on making people’s lives better. Qatar thus would also transform into a benevolent state.
And I am saying all of this as part of a national security strategy not as mere goodwill. Though I am sure that your Highness and the citizens of Qatar will feel better and see more meaning when you find yourself in the heart of the lives of billions of people. When you see your small country larger than life.
I am here imagining a non-threatening neutral benevolent peacemaking Qatar. Protected by a security alliance with the United States, and supported by global legitimacy. This Qatar will be better for its people, for its ruling family, and ultimately for the world. And I do not think this is a fantasy. Qatar has already taken strides in many of the perquisites for becoming such. It just needs to re-set its course a bit. I pray to Allah, and hope that your Highness, in your youthful and futuristic outlook will make it happen.
To Qatar, to its people, and to your Highness are my most sincere wishes and deep admiration.
Abdullah bin Mohammad Hamidaddin
Abdullah Hamidaddin is a writer and commentator on religion, Middle Eastern societies and politics with a focus on Saudi Arabia and Yemen. He is currently a PhD candidate in King’s College London. He can be followed on Twitter: @amiq1