Studies 13 September, 2015

Tracing Qatar’s foreign policy and its impact on regional security

Bernd Kaussler

​Bernd Kaussler is associate professor of political science at James Madison University, Virginia, USA. He teaches courses on US foreign policy, international security and conflict management, and US-Middle East relations. Most recently, he published Iran's Nuclear Diplomacy: Power Politics and Conflict Resolution (Routledge, 2013). Kaussler is also an associate fellow at the Institute for Iranian Studies at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

This paper surveys the quest for status and security of small states in international relations by analyzing Qatar’s diplomacy towards Iran, the US and its fellow GCC members after the Arab Spring. In International Relations (IR) literature, small states rarely feature prominently due to their alleged lack of power and significance. However, the case of Qatar shows that small states are far from inconsequential in international relations. This paper argues that the Qatari leadership has refused to remain in the shadow of allies or regional antagonists and has followed a distinctly individual as well as influential foreign policy both within and outside of the Middle East. Drawing strongly upon recent IR literature on the foreign affairs of small states, this paper elaborates several arguments on the trajectory of Qatar’s foreign policy: (1) An “activist foreign policy” provides economic and political gains as well as security (2) The Qatari leadership has been conscious about its own domestic political legitimacy in the light of the Arab popular uprisings and has helped shape the political narrative of the Arab Spring. (3) Qatari foreign policy is as much influenced by systemic regional factors, as it is the product of its political elite. (4) Qatar’s “activist” and independent foreign policy can positively impact Middle East security and help move the region towards a concert based on power equilibrium. Overall, by analyzing Qatari foreign policy, this paper argues that for the first time, Middle Eastern states are beginning to define their relations vis-à-vis one another on the basis of their individual interests and ambitions rather than those foreign policy orientations being delivered to them from afar. To facilitate a self-regulated and stable Middle East, Qatar’s “activist” foreign policy seems a vital first step in managing external powers as well as bringing antagonistic regional ones together.