Foreign Policy Blogs

Persian Gulf’s Big and Lil’

I recently came across two worthwhile pieces on Persian Gulf states punching above their weight. The first is a New York Times analysis of Qatar, the lil’ oil rich country that could:

Qatar is smaller than Connecticut, and its native population, at 225,000, wouldn’t fill Cairo’s bigger neighborhoods. But for a country that inspires equal parts irritation and admiration, here is its résumé, so far, in the Arab revolts: It has proved decisive in isolating Syria’s leader, helped topple Libya’s, offered itself as a mediator in Yemen and counts Tunisia’s most powerful figure as a friend.

This thumb-shaped spit of sand on the Persian Gulf has emerged as the most dynamic Arab country in the tumult realigning the region. Its intentions remain murky to its neighbors and even allies — some say Qatar has a Napoleon complex, others say it has an Islamist agenda. But its clout is a lesson in what can be gained with some of the world’s largest gas reserves, the region’s most influential news network in Al Jazeera, an array of contacts (many with an Islamist bent), and policy-making in an absolute monarchy vested in the hands of one man, its emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

Qatar has become a vital counterpoint in an Arab world where traditional powers are roiled by revolution, ossified by aging leaderships, or still reeling from civil war, and where the United States is increasingly viewed as a power in decline.

The next one is about the big boy of the Gulf, Saudia Arabia, and it comes from the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, who sees the House of Saud filling a power gap left by a ‘declining’ United States:

The more-assertive Saudi role has been clear in its open support for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is Iran’s crucial Arab ally. The Saudis were decisive backers of last weekend’s Arab League decision to suspend Syria‘s membership (though they also supported the organization’s waffling decision on Wednesday to send another mediation team to Damascus).

Money is always the Saudis’ biggest resource, and they are planning to spend it more aggressively as a regional power broker — roughly double their armed forces over the next 10 years and spend at least $15 billion annually to support countries weakened economically by this year’s turmoil.

Saudi sources provided an unofficial summary of the defense buildup. The army will add 125,000 to its estimated current force of 150,000; the national guard will grow by 125,000 from an estimated 100,000; the navy will spend more than $30 billion buying new ships and sea-skimming missiles; the air force will add 450 to 500 planes; and the Ministry of Interior is boosting its police and special forces by about 60,000. The Saudis are also developing their own version of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command.

There’s a lot of talk about an American pivot to the Pacific and East Asia, and rightly so, but the Middle East has a way of drawing you back in. In the recent actions and strategic maneuvers of Saudi Arabia and Qatar we can see why.

 

Author

Patrick Frost
Patrick Frost

Patrick Frost recently graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science - International Relations. His MA thesis analyzed the capabilities and objectives of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Central Asia and beyond and explored how these affected U.S. interests and policy.

Areas of Focus:
Eurasia, American Foreign Policy, Ideology, SCO

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