Baker Institute Issue Brief: Anti-Qatar Embargo Grinds Toward Strategic Failure
Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy published an issue brief on 22 January 2018 titled Anti-Qatar Embargo Grinds Toward Strategic Failure by Gabriel Collins, J.D., Baker Botts Fellow in Energy & Environmental Regulatory Affairs, Center for Energy Studies. Below are key findings from the issue brief:
The anti-Qatar blockade runs counter to historical precedent and has dangerous collateral consequences:
Centuries of history reveal a simple strategic truth: embargoes and blockades frequently fail to coerce states into making policy changes sought by the embargoing countries and often create unintended consequences
The evidence suggests that even an embargo lasting multiple years would likely still fail to coerce Qatar into making the concessions desired by the embargoing countries
The embargo and its slow-motion strategic failure have already unleashed consequences that will haunt the region for decades to come, and more effects will become clear as time rolls on.
The issue brief supports its claim that the blockade is a failure with concrete statistical and qualitative evidence:
This issue brief provides evidence of the anti-Qatar blockade’s trajectory from initial shock to emerging strategic failure using actual market data. It also discusses potential paths forward, and the economic and security ramifications of those options
First and foremost, global investors do not view the Saudi-led embargo as an existential threat.
Even without an increase in LNG exports, the “lost” trade volumes caused by the embargo do not just disappear. Rather, they are likely temporary disruptions that will be replaced over time as Qatar builds relationships with new trading partners.
Anti-Qatar campaigns in foreign capitals are backfiring:
Quartet lobbying efforts against Qatar are likely to fail. Chairman of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Bob Corker is deeply critical of the quartet’s blockade of Qatar, noting that “when you live in glass houses, you shouldn’t throw stones,” and is unlikely to support Senate passage of House bills aimed at sanctioning Qatar.
Finally, as with the blockade itself, time is not on the quartet’s side on Capitol Hill either, since additional time provides more opportunities for members of Congress to properly comprehend Doha’s strategic importance to US interests across the broader Middle East.
The blockade is proving to be a fundamentally unsound use of state power:
The blockade against Qatar is on the wrong end of powerful diplomatic and strategic dynamics and is likely to weaken as time progresses. Escalating pressure against Qatar also does not seem a realistic option, since moving the embargo from its current footing into a bona fide blockade backed by military force would likely trigger a strong reaction from Washington.
Qatar enjoys the support of its ally the United States:
The September 28 meeting between US Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani at the Al Udeid Air Base highlights Qatar’s strategic importance to American interests and also carries important symbolic weight, given Mattis’ apparent influence with President Donald Trump.
Financial markets recognize Qatar’s fundamentally strong position, and traders are pricing a future that sees Doha successfully resisting the embargo:
The worst of the post-blockade capital flight is likely over, the country is rebuilding its trade links and food supply chain to bypass imports previously obtained via Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and LNG exports remain robust, underpinning Qatari cash flow.
From this point, the embargo could remain in place for years and Qatar could very likely withstand the effects with decreasing impact each year as it increasingly emphasizes economic relationships outside the Gulf region.
Qatar is net self-sufficient in steel production (including rebar critical for construction as it prepares for the 2022 World Cup).20 Likewise, the new Hamad Port—capable of storing enough cereal grains to satisfy multiple years of local consumption, able to handle more than 3.5 million 40-foot shipping containers per year, and able to accept 1.7 million tonnes per year in general cargo.
This New York Times article, published this morning, by Declan Walsh presents a snapshot of the Gulf crisis from perspectives not necessarily endorsed by Qatar-America Institute. QAI encourages the reader to do their own research on this topic, including with the links at the end of this post.
HH the Emir proclaimed Qatar’s independent foreign policy as the true explanation for an ongoing blockade that cut off his country from its Gulf neighbors:
“They don’t like our independence,” he said in an interview in New York in September. “They see it as a threat.”
Qatar’s foes accuse it of financing terrorism, cozying up to Iran and harboring fugitive dissidents. They detest Al Jazeera, Qatar’s rambunctious and highly influential satellite network. And — although few say it openly — they appear intent on ousting Qatar’s young leader, Tamim, from his throne.
Tamim denies the accusations, and chalks up the animosity to simple jealousy.
The blockade turned out to be the first strike of a sweeping campaign that has electrified the Middle East:
[Saudi Arabia] has shaped the Trump administration’s approach to the Middle East and his endeavors could have far-reaching consequences, potentially driving up energy prices, upending Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and raising the chances of war with Iran.
The Qatar dispute is perhaps the least understood piece of the action, but it has a particularly nasty edge.
Sheikh Tamim’s young, steadfast rule is markedly different than that of his Gulf neighbors:
His rise to power in 2013, at the age of 33, offered a stark contrast with the gerontocracy of Saudi Arabia, where rulers clung to their thrones till reaching their deathbeds. And his easy manner belies a stubborn streak that his neighbors see as the mark of a dangerous gadfly.
Qatari society has been a boon for transformative changes in the region:
While Saudi women will finally be allowed to drive in June, Qatari women have been driving for decades. In Qatar, there are cinemas, bars and even female race jockeys. Christians can worship openly.
Tamim lauds his country’s democratic values. In 50 years, he recently predicted, Al Jazeera will be seen to have “changed the whole idea of free speech in the region.” In many respects, it already has.
In the Middle East, though, Qatar’s rulers have deployed their wealth to assert their independence from their larger neighbors:
For decades, Saudi Arabia, which is 186 times as large, treated Qatar as a virtual vassal state. In the 1940s, Saudi rulers took a slice of Qatar’s modest oil revenues; later they nibbled at Qatar’s territory and dictated its foreign and defense policy.
Tamim’s father, Hamad, accused the Saudis of trying to oust him in a failed coup in 1996 — a bitter episode that has framed the decades of simmering rivalry ever since.
Striking out on their own, the Qataris at first played the role of regional peacemaker, turning Doha into a sort of Geneva-on-the-Gulf where protagonists from wars in Sudan, Somalia and Lebanon could hash out their differences in five-star hotels. They embraced America, hosting a vast air base since 2003, the year of the Iraq war, and won popular influence through Al Jazeera, whose provocative style irked just about every Arab government.
U.S. officials determined the Qatar News Agency hack, a precursor to the June 2017 blockade, originated from the one of the blockading nations:
American intelligence officials determined that the planting of the fake news story had been orchestrated by the Emirates, which had been quietly pushing for a boycott of Qatar since 2016, a United States official told The New York Times.
Qatar has responded to the blockade with unprecedented ingenuity and resourcefulness, as well as a renewed national patriotism:
[Sheikh Tamim’s] ministers, making a virtue of necessity, are developing new trade and transportation links. To make up for lost Saudi milk, they created a new dairy industry from scratch in the desert. In a surreal tableau one day in July, German cows toddled down the ramp of a Qatar Airways Airbus at the Doha airport, the first arrivals of around 4,000 cattle flown in from Europe, Australia and California.
The Emir’s image adorns billboards draped off skyscrapers, and he is lionized in saccharine songs hailing his steely leadership. “He’s the embodiment of the philosopher king,” said Dana al-Fardan, one such balladeer.
Is Qatar soft on terrorism? Some of the charges are red herrings, American officials say:
Tamim cut funding to most extremist militias in Syria and Islamist groups in Libya in 2015, at the urging of the Obama administration.
Report: “CYBER ATTACKS ON THE QATAR NEWS AGENCY: FAKE NEWS, CYBER WAR, AND AN ATTACK ON INTERNATIONAL NORMS OF SOVEREIGNTY.”
Speaking at the world’s oldest independent think tank on international defense and security, Al-Attiyah discussed the pressing security issues for Qatar, the wider region and relations with the United Kingdom:
“My current visit to London marks an important moment in our continuous effort to engage with our allies here in the United Kingdom and to further advance and solidify our strategic military-to-military relationship. We have recently signed a landmark defense cooperation agreement with the United Kingdom concerning the purchase of 24 Eurofighter Typhoon Aircrafts.”
“This agreement builds on the historic friendship that joins both nations and further advances the strategic defense partnership that aims to serve our common security objectives.”
Dr. Khalid noted a recent defense deal signed between the UK and Qatar on a joint operational squadron:
“This deal has also contributed directly to the preservation and creation of tens of thousands of jobs here in the UK. We have also agreed on the establishment of a joint operational squadron, which will ensure our mutual combat readiness, further our joint actions in combatting terrorism and advance our strategic efforts towards the stability of our region and beyond.”
“This squadron will also play a vital role in securing our skies during the 2022 World Cup, which despite people’s fruitless efforts, will be hosted by the State of Qatar.”
Qatar is a regional leader in fighting terrorist groups and is fully committed to bringing them to justice:
“Qatar has spared no effort in its fight towards countering extremist ideology and eradicating terrorism in all its forms. We have provided operational and technical support to our allies and have joined in the fight to ensure that groups that violate international laws, commit gross systematic abuses of human rights, and terrorize entire communities are brought to justice.”
The Defense Minister praised Qatar’s commitment to preventing extremist ideology from prospering by providing access to quality education across the region:
“We have also taken the fight beyond the battle field, by funding educational and development programs all across the Arab region and beyond. Educational organizations such as Educate a Child – that has made a commitment to providing access to quality education for tens of millions of children around the globe, have achieved immensely towards fulfilling their commitment and realizing their objectives through operating in 54 countries and providing to date around nine million out of school children access to quality primary education.”
Concerning the situation of the blockade he said:
“The Quartet [Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain] should realize what they are doing is harming their own interests as well.”
President Trump thanked HH Skeikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani for Qatar’s efforts to combat terrorism in the region:
U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday thanked the ruler of Qatar for “action to counter terrorism and extremism in all forms,” the White House said in a statement that suggested a warming of ties between the two countries.
The White House statement on the call with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani did not directly address the rift but said Trump “reiterated his support for a strong, united Gulf Cooperation Council that is focused on countering regional threats.”
“The leaders discussed areas in which the United States and Qatar can partner to bring more stability to the region, counter malign Iranian influence, and defeat terrorism,” it said.
HH Sheikh Al-Sabah’s recent calls for GCC unity at a gathering of GCC national assembly leaders strengthens Qatar’s long-running efforts at resolving the crisis:
Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah has stressed the need of cooperation between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states to face growing threats and challenges.
“We are all aware of the conditions around us, and unfortunately, of their deterioration that represents a serious challenge to us all,” Sheikh Sabah said as he opened the 11th meeting of Chairpersons and Speakers of the GCC Shoura, representative councils and national assemblies in Kuwait City on Monday.
“The situation is compounded with the obstacles that affect the GCC’s forward-looking progress, and this demands that we cooperate, consult and meet at all levels. We cannot confront these challenges individually. Working together is the way forward to solve the standoff and the best way to protect us in dealing with the challenges in order to preserve the achievements of our people and countries.”
HH the Emir of Qatar recently thanked his Kuwaiti counterpart for his efforts at keeping peace among GGC nations in an address to Qatar’s Shoura Council:
“I extend my sincere thanks to my brother HH Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Emir of the brotherly State of Kuwait, for all his commended efforts in mediating between our Gulf States.”
The Kuwaiti Emir noted that differences within the allied bloc are far less consequential that the interests that unite it:
“What brings us together is far too important to be impacted negatively by a difference no matter how long it lasts,” Sheikh Sabah said.
The words echo Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani when he highlighted the GCC’s common threat:
“There is a bigger threat in the region, which is terrorism.”
“Qatar has always been in pursuit of unity in the Gulf, the achievement of the common Gulf goal and the fulfilment of all commitments to preserve the GCC.”
Qatar’s commitment to resolving the GCC’s fractious divisions through dialogue and productive mediation has become increasingly evident to the international community.
With Sheikh Al-Sabah’s earnest remarks in Kuwait, there is no doubt that Doha’s efforts to achieve peace among Gulf nations received a powerful boost on the regional stage from an influential leader.