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Studies 23 January, 2020

Actors, Structures and Qatari Foreign Policy

Marwan Kabalan

Director of the Unit for Policy Studies at ACRPS. 

​Qatari foreign policy presents a challenge for students of international relations. Whereas major theories within the field tend to privilege structural factors in explaining the action of states, and particularly small states, in the case of Qatar, the quality of leadership and the strategies that leadership employs to navigate through the structural constraints—primarily geography—are equally important. One of the main findings of this paper is that the strategies adopted by the Qatari elite since 1995 did alleviate many of the structural constraints which the country would otherwise have faced. Moreover, during the short-lived Arab Spring of 2011-2013, Qatar tried to reshape the political landscape in the Middle East in its favor, challenging the two regional hegemons Saudi Arabia and Iran, in Egypt and Syria respectively. Yet, the paper concludes, geopolitical factors and the relative capabilities of states remain instrumental in assuring a state’s sustained capacity to continue playing a key role. This is particularly true in a region where elite thinking continues to be defined by realpolitik.


This paper was published in Almuntaqa, the peer-reviewed English-language journal dedicated to the social sciences and humanities and the full article is available for free to read or download on Jstor.