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  • Writer's pictureNawaf M. Al-Thani

Qatar's Mastery of Desert Diplomacy

"Diplomacy is the art of letting others achieve what you want."

In the intricate geopolitical context of the Middle East, Qatar stands out as a unique model of countries that have managed to maintain a balanced stance, simultaneously bolstering international dialogue. Amid escalating tensions and recurrent diplomatic challenges, Qatar has proven a significant and active player in the international diplomatic arena. With its recent successful mediation between the United States and Iran concerning prisoner exchanges last Monday, the recurring question, especially in the West, is: how does Qatar succeed where others fail?

Legacy of Mediation To begin with, Qatar has a long history in the art of mediation, rooted in its authentic Arab traditions and its ancient Bedouin roots of communication and consensus-building. These practices, born deep in the desert, have also served Qatari diplomacy in contemporary times. For instance, Qatar played a central role in mediating between warring factions in Lebanon in 2006, Sudan in 2010, and Yemen in 2011.

Neutrality as Strength A distinctive feature of Qatar's foreign policy is its commitment to pragmatic neutrality when possible, making it open to engaging with diverse international parties to achieve global security and peace. Qatar provided a reliable platform for diplomatic dialogues and opinion exchanges, hosting talks between the United States and the Taliban in 2020 and in-depth Afghan peace discussions in Doha.

Investing in Soft Power While natural gas reserves are the cornerstone of Qatar's economic strength, its investments in cultural, media, and other soft power tools have enhanced its global presence. Al Jazeera network offered a platform for voices often missing from international media, while other institutions, like Qatar Foundation, Education City, and the Museums Authority, work on bridging cultures and promoting scientific research.

Strategic Partnerships The Al Udeid Air Base reflects the strategic partnership between Qatar and the United States, but defense and security collaborations don't end there. From securing support and participating in the largest airlift since World War II – during the American withdrawal from Afghanistan – to ensuring that withdrawal on the ground and up to the exceptional strategic capabilities in humanitarian operations, Qatar has been keen on partnerships that serve its national interest and benefit the international community.

Final Thoughts… As global dynamics continue to shift around it, Qatar's strategy will persist in evolving and adapting. Investing in mediation, soft power, and building strategic partnerships remains fundamental to its approach. With an increasing focus on sustainability and innovation in the energy sector, Qatar's global role is destined for growth, expected to double in the coming years.

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  • Writer's pictureNawaf M. Al-Thani

The whispers about Zaporizhzhia bring to mind the echoes of Chornobyl.

As the shadow of conflict in Ukraine looms, it takes on a sinister nuclear cast. Amid the din of war, the international community stands on the brink of a catastrophe that could echo through the annals of history.

Whispers have turned to headlines about reports that Russia is considering deploying tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine and the terrifying prospect of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant coming under fire. This has sent a wave of terror through neighboring countries as they watch the nuclear clock in Ukraine.

Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant stands on the Dnieper River as a giant guard, and it is not just a piece on the geopolitical chessboard. It is the largest nuclear reactor in Europe and a symbol of Ukraine's vitality. An attack on this giant is more than an act of war; it is an insult to the common human heritage.

The whispers about Zaporizhzhia bring to mind the echoes of Chornobyl, an event that still casts its dark shadow on the conscience of the European continent. The painful images of the post-Chornobyl landscape are still etched in our collective memory, serving as a painful reminder of the price of a nuclear catastrophe. Imagine, then, the consequences of an accident at Zaporizhzhia, a catastrophe that could be much greater than its predecessor.

There is a disturbing paradox in the fact that the very atom that warms many Ukrainian homes in winter through Zaporizhzhia carries within it the seeds of unimaginable destruction. The entry of tactical nuclear weapons into this theater of war would be an uncontrolled fall into the abyss of Pandora's box. The volatile mix of conventional war with nuclear arsenals could ignite a chain reaction that could leave no heroes, leaving only the dead and the survivors.

Here, on the brink of potential doom, the world must find its resolve and break through the fog of war with purposeful diplomatic communication. The United Nations Security Council must shed the constraints of complex procedures and use its influence. The European Union - as the guardian of a continent that has known all aspects of terrible wars - must lead its members and neighbors through this storm with a constant commitment to peace.

Moreover, the guardians of nuclear arsenals must take responsibility. They must lead the world not only in calling for an immediate de-escalation but also in shaping a new era of restraint and responsibility in protecting nuclear capabilities.

Final Thoughts ...

As we read these words, we must not forget that behind the political chessboard lie the dreams and hopes of millions, souls intertwined in the rich fabric of human existence. They neither know nor care about the intentions of the great powers. And for this, let our voices rise united in a chorus above the din of war to echo through the political halls and the streets with our continuous calls for peace. Because in our hands lie not only the dreams of the present but the promises that have not yet been fulfilled for future generations.

"The proliferation of nuclear weapons is not a balance of power but a balance of terror"

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  • Writer's pictureNawaf M. Al-Thani

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

The Future of ‘Great Power’ Dominance in the MENA Region

For several years but especially post the war in Ukraine, the Middle East and North African countries of the Arab world, better known as the MENA region, have seen the sands of the global order shift ever so slightly in a way that has not been seen in decades, with China attempting to bring the MENA even closer into its sphere of influence.

The main driving force behind China’s plans to expand its influence in the MENA region seems to be a profound sense of vulnerability, with an increased dependency on energy from the region, which provides 40% of China’s hydrocarbon-based energy.

Furthermore, while I do not think China’s military will be the primary tool it chooses to secure its interest in the region, I would not disregard it entirely either. After all, while Chinese kinetic military activities may not be an immediate concern, non-kinetic military activities have occurred in the past, especially with prominent US allies in the Gulf region like the UAE, something that has had concerns over the transfer of American Military technology and the dangers of “trade espionage.”

In addition, with the recent announcement of China’s defense budget increase and party and government rhetoric about security concerns over Taiwan, China’s “Defense” influence may advance even further, partly because of the current global security climate and partly because of a growing dependency on energy from the MENA region.

However, the main tools that China uses today, and will continue to do so in the immediate future, remain heavily reliant on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and other sub-initiatives like the Health Silk Road (HSR), and other bilateral initiatives, which already have had varied results and effects in the MENA, something that took a big hit during COVID-19 and the ensuing economic global turmoil.

Ultimately, it seems that the goal of China is not to see conflict, as much as can be avoided, and not to directly replace the US as the principal partner in the region, but instead, to make the United States more and more, through time, irrelevant.

Some subscribe to the view that China may want the US to incur the cost of maintaining its presence. While at the same time, China reaps the economic benefits, or so it may hope. After all, China today views itself in the MENA region as the US did in the interwar years between WW1 and WW2 as a nation that must acclimate to its distance and a rival presence in the region.

To help it achieve its goals and combat the “Debt Trap” narrative, China may argue that a U.S.-led rules-based international order is a new form of imperialism, a version 2.0 that may resonate from a historical perspective with many in the Arab World. A replacement, however, would be a new form of mercantilism, a bilateral-based government-to-government relationship.

This would be economically attractive, at least on the front end. Hence the driving of the imperialism 2.0 narrative, another point that China may view as appealing to the MENA, would be to communicate to the region that the Chinese approach to economic prosperity will be free from what some in the MENA region may view as the unadaptable Western style of “liberal democracy”; crippling environmental requirements. And would even be free from a fear of a Chinese desire to export its values and culture, something that could be attractive to MENA nations that, by and large, are non-democratic.

This latest development by China to successfully bring the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran closer than they have been in many years should be of note to the United States. While pursuing the effects of what the US calls “Great Power Competition” in Europe and the Indo-Pacific, the competition for the world’s richest reagin is already in full swing.

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