GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
First Name:
Title of Paper:
The Origins of and Influences on Qatari Foreign Policy
Paper Proposal Text :
Few would question the important influence of key elite individuals on foreign and domestic policy both in Qatar and elsewhere in the Gulf. In particular it would be difficult to disentangle the foreign policies of Qatar in the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s from the pervasive influence of the Father Emir Hamad Bin Khalifah Al Thani and his former Foreign and Prime Minister Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani. The policies were designed, shaped, and implemented by these two men who shared a historically iconoclastic and particular vision for their state.

Delineating exactly how much influence the individual level has on overall foreign policy is difficult. Interviews with the protagonists are sparse and aside from a few notable examples not particularly enlightening beyond boiler-plate political rhetoric. Yet a systematic and holistic approach to the study of Qatar’s foreign policy highlights that these individuals, important as they are, did not act in a vacuum and in fact were subject to an array of influences that either shaped their policy for them or facilitated the policy paths they chose. In short, changing circumstances and a knock-on effect on the art of the possible were at least as important as individual agency.

Both Nonneman (2005) and Etheshami and Hinnebusch (2002) provide options for scholars seeking to examine foreign policies in the Middle East in a more rounded way. They broadly agree on the necessity of a multi-level approach to the topic taking into account the various crucial impetuses that quite clearly affect foreign policies in the Middle East.

Such an approach clearly highlights that, in this case study, the two Hamads were driven by a range of factors. Indeed, crucial to their foreign policies were systemic changes in the international system that facilitated or promoted particular actions on their behalf. The end of the Cold War, for example, shattered polarities and ushered in a ‘New World Order,’ as it was bombastically put at the time. For a small state, this increased the range of the possible policies it could undertake, shorn of Cold War concerns of conforming to one camp or antagonising another. Equally, for a state looking for opportunities to engage in mediation, this era fostered a target-rich environment where the art of the possible engagement was vastly increased.

Similarly, the regional level of analysis is of central importance as an instigator: the invasion of Kuwait, deteriorating relations with Saudi Arabia, and developing the world’s largest gas field shared with Iran arguably remain three of the most important drivers of Qatar’s foreign policy today.

Qatar’s foreign policies in light of the Arab Spring, while interesting and worthy of analysis more generally for there has yet to emerge a particularly compelling academically rigorous explanation for these actions, are important in this investigation in particular. Given that Qatar’s policies changed markedly in tenor as the Arab Spring began, with Qatar moving from a passive actor preferring to emphasise its relative neutrality to a state unequivocally favouring particular sides in the Spring, this event offers an interesting opportunity look at the evolution of the origins of Qatar’s foreign policy against a significant shift in the policies’ outcomes.

Aside from laying out a holistic understanding of Qatar’s foreign policy and its origins, more importantly, this paper seeks to offer substantive contributions to the available theoretical literature as to the prime locus of impetus for foreign policy today and the interplay between levels of analysis. During the Cold War, most theoreticians suggested that the international level was of central importance because of the prevailing pressures. As Hinnebusch noted, the end of this period of history was expected to herald the growing importance of the domestic and regional level. This empirical study will conclude with discussion of what the Qatar example has to say about the locus of influence on foreign policy creation as the twenty-first century progresses and in light of the Arab Spring. Not only will this develop the thinking about Qatar with the all too easy presumption of the over bearing importance of the domestic, elite level, but this paper could act as a first step of a wider theoretical body of work forming conclusions as to differing levels of influence on foreign policy in the contemporary Gulf.