as a partner for the security and stability of Europe, its neighbourhood, and other regions of the world
01 — Die Leitfragen zum Partner Atlas
RELEVANCE: What is Qatar’s relevance for Germany in terms of an interest in “security and stability in Europe, neighbouring countries and other regions of the world”?
Qatar, the second-smallest country in the Arab Gulf region (where Qatari citizens make up less than 15 percent of the total population), is located in a neighbourhood where fear of the hegemonic ambitions of larger states persists, as does the memory of the blockade imposed on the country by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt from 2017 to 2021. Against this backdrop, Qatar has spun a web of foreign policy alliances meant to ensure the emirate territorial security as well as greater geopolitical influence – a web of what are in fact contradictory alliances. Qatar not only maintains close relations with Turkey and Iran; its political relations with the US are also very good. The regional US Central Command is based in Qatar, which means that US forces are deployed in the country – in part to ensure the security of the Arab Gulf monarchies by deterring Iran. While Qatar has not acceded to the 2020 normalisation agreements between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain (Abraham Accords), its relations with Israel are nevertheless pragmatic. Furthermore, there continues to be general political support in the country for the creation of a Palestinian state and financial support for the Gaza Strip in particular.
With this peculiar “diversification” of foreign and security policy alliances, Qatar is in a position to bring together disparate stakeholders and to distinguish itself as a mediator, as exemplified in the cases of Afghanistan, Eritrea, Lebanon and Sudan. The country has also agreed to mediate between the US and Iran as well as between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Qatar has furthermore demonstrated its influence on security and stability beyond the region in the case of North Africa. In addition to supporting protest movements during the Arab Spring in 2011, it participated in the NATO intervention in Libya. As the world’s largest producer of liquefied natural gas (LNG), Qatar is attracting European and German attention, particularly as a result of Russia’s war of aggression on Ukraine. The prospect here is that the country could contribute to the diversification and security of Europe’s energy supply within the framework of long-term energy cooperation with the Gulf States. As a nation on the Arab Gulf that has good relations with Iran and an interest in free trade and secure sea routes, Qatar also plays a relevant role for Germany as a globally networked export nation.
WILLINGNESS: To what extent is Qatar willing to work with Germany in realising this interest?
Qatar attaches great importance to security and stability in the region and beyond – a central pursuit of the country’s foreign policy is to provide a secure environment for investment and business and to maintain domestic stability. Qatar sees Germany as a stakeholder that shares its own interests in regional stability and security – and made this particularly clear during the Gulf crisis. In the overall picture, however, other countries are ultimately more decisive in this respect from Qatar’s point of view: the US, the UK and France. Qatar’s willingness to strengthen cooperation with Europe appears high. At the same time, however, the country’s relations with Russia and in particular China have become closer. Political exchange and collaboration with both countries exists in fields such as business and energy, as well as occasional cooperation on security policy issues. Chinese companies have participated in the construction of several infrastructure projects in Doha, and Beijing has expanded its security partnership with Qatar.
STATUS QUO: How close is Germany and Qatar’s current cooperation in this area?
German-Qatari cooperation in terms of foreign and security policy largely takes place at the multilateral level. This is the case, for example, with the “Counter Daesh/ Capacity Building Iraq” mission, in which parts of those tasks that have been assumed by German forces since 2016 are performed from the multi-nationally managed operations centre in Al Udeid, Qatar.
Since the 2000s, there has also been increased bilateral cooperation between Germany and Qatar. A comprehensive security agreement was concluded for combatting problems including terrorism, terrorist financing, the illegal arms trade, cybercrime, and economic and financial crime. Germany also supports Qatar in the ongoing training of its security forces. Finally, reference should be made to cooperation between the countries in organising and securing major events, especially with regard to the FIFA World Cup to be hosted by Qatar at the end of 2022.
Qatar was also able to create a venue – in the interests of the US and Germany in particular – where political talks with the Taliban were possible outside Afghanistan. Qatar is thus still acting today as a mediator between the Taliban and Western countries. In view of its mediating role between Western capitals and Tehran, as well as its earlier complementary role with regard to Syria, Libya and Yemen, Qatar has participated and continues to participate in a regional and foreign policy that corresponds to Germany’s interests. In the spring of 2022, US President Joseph Biden expressed his desire to designate Qatar – already a participant in NATO’s Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI) – a major non-NATO ally.
POTENTIAL: What is the potential for strengthening the partnership between Germany and Qatar in this area?
Potential for intensifying the partnership can be seen especially with regard to stabilising the Gulf region as well as the Middle East in general, as a region neighbouring Europe. This mission remains particularly relevant for Germany, especially with respect to energy policy, migration, and free sea and trade routes. Here, the focus should continue to be on a German-Qatari partnership in the area of political conflict resolution and mediation. Due to its more “neutral” past compared to the US, the UK and France (and despite its support for Israel), Germany enjoys the trust of various, even antagonistic stakeholders with whom Qatar, as described above, maintains good communications. Germany and Qatar could thus jointly flank the current detente tendencies in the Gulf (particularly between Saudi Arabia and Iran). There is also potential for cooperation in other conflict and war zones, such as in Yemen. With respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the fundamental stances of Germany and Qatar coincide, entailing the call for a two-state solution. Here again, the foreign and security policy profiles of the two countries, the trust they enjoy in the region, and their respective communicative approaches could prove complementary in conflict appeasement and resolution. Further areas of potential partnership include religious dialogue, counter-extremism and development policy.
POLICY RECOMMENDATION: What in German foreign policy needs to change in order to fully exploit this potential?
Unlike, for example, the UK or France, Germany has more of a nonpartisan past in the Gulf region. However, this also means that it lacks relationships that have gradually developed over time. In addition, Germany has voiced criticism of Qatar with regard to labour conditions, the World Cup and arms exports. Marked for a long time by hesitancy, German policy since the 2000s has become more active, looking beyond economic issues to also consider security cooperation and general dialogue formats. This type of cooperation should be continued and intensified in view of the aforementioned potential. At the same time, it is important for Germany to act as a balanced and independent player in the region: balanced in the sense of its relations with the other Gulf States. Germany must avoid the impression that it favours one country over another, and its relations with Qatar must therefore be embedded in an overall Gulf strategy that is yet to be developed. German foreign policy toward Qatar and the region should continue to mesh with European policy, in partnership with the US. However, if the trend of US withdrawal from the region continues, Germany will have to act more independently, a strategy that can already be observed in the case of the UK, France and Italy.
Fabian Blumberg heads the KAS Regional Programme Gulf States.
02 — Foreign Office
Auslandsbüro Syrien und Irak
Benoît-Barakat-Straße 23, Jabre-Gebäude, 5. Stock
Badaro – Beirut
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- Phone: +961 1 388 061/62
- Fax: +961 1 388 064
03 — The region
The Middle East and North Africa
In recent years, Morocco has become an important partner for Germany with respect to migration issues. On the one hand, the Kingdom has assumed a special role within the African Union (AU) and the international community; on the other hand, it is itself one of the countries where migration is taking place in varying ways. In February 2019, Morocco presented a new migration policy for Africa at the AU and highlighted the prospect of development through migration. The new policy places particular emphasis on the fact that migration is not a security problem, and that there is, primarily, a need to combat the root causes of migration and flight.
Qatar, the second-smallest country in the Arab Gulf region (where Qatari citizens make up less than 15 percent of the total population), is located in a neighbourhood where fear of the hegemonic ambitions of larger states persists, as does the memory of the blockade imposed on the country by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt from 2017 to 2021. Against this backdrop, Qatar has spun a web of foreign policy alliances meant to ensure the emirate territorial security as well as greater geopolitical influence – a web of what are in fact contradictory alliances.
- Population: 2.982.124
- Capital: Doha
Germany and Israel maintain a close partnership based on common interests and shared values. The starting point for this special relationship and Germany’s acknowledgement of historical responsibility was the caesura of the Shoa. The way that the two statesmen Konrad Adenauer and David Ben-Gurion laid the foundation for these relations was described by former Bundestag President Norbert Lammert in a speech before the Knesset in 2015 as a “double stroke of historical luck”.
Jordan has been considered an anchor of stability at least since the Arab Spring, which shook many countries in the region to their foundations. Maintaining this stability is of paramount interest to German foreign policy.
- Population: 10.402.753
- Capital: Amman
Although Libya is the fourth-largest country on the African continent, is located in the direct vicinity of Europe and is rich in natural resources, it has so far played quite a minor role as a German trading partner, apart from Germany’s substantial imports of oil. This is understandable in view of how power struggles among various factions plunged the country into chaos after the fall of Muammar Al-Gaddafi in 2011, resulting in several civil wars and laying waste to nearly all sectors of the economy.
- Population: 7.056.971
- Capital: Tripolis
The relevance of Saudi Arabia for Germany’s economic interests results from the country’s fundamental importance for stability and development in the Near and Middle East, its efforts to modernise and diversify its economy, as well as its oil wealth.
- Population: 34,813,871
- Capital: Riyadh
Iraq has the world’s fifth largest oil and twelfth largest natural gas reserves. The country is a founding member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and, in recent years, has become its second largest producer. The Iraqi government is considering to expand the oil and gas sector in the coming years, thereby increasing production capacities even more, although experts as well as members of the government call for diversifying the Iraqi economic and energy sector.
- Population: 40,263,275
- Capital: Bagdad
As the largest country in Africa in terms of land area, linking the MENA region and the Sahel zone and as an immediate neighbour, Algeria has a natural relevance for Germany and Europe. The army enjoys a high status as an institution and defense spending is stable at 6% of GDP.
- Population: 43,886,707
- Capital: Alger
In many respects, Tunisia plays a special role in the MENA region. As Europe’s direct neighbour, trade, migrant workers and close political relations have left a strong European imprint on Tunisian society. Secularisation and modernisation have shaped Tunisia’s policies since independence and continue to have an impact today.
- Population: 11,824128
- Capital: Tunis
Bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean and the northern edge of the Sahara, the Kingdom of Morocco is highly vulnerable to climate change and its negative consequences. The country put the issue on its own agenda early on and drafted ambitious plans. In 2016, Marrakech hosted the 22nd United Nations Climate Conference (COP22). Today, Morocco has even become a regional leader in the areas of climate protection and sustainability.
- Population: 36,930,188
- Capital: Rabat