CATF Reports Jan. 11, 2017, 2:54pm


The world, it seems, just can’t turn down the chance to reach into Qatar’s deep pockets. An ambitious Qatari foreign policy agenda, far outweighing the size of the country’s territory or population, has alienated and enraged leaders from Moscow to Washington D.C. And while this agenda has left Qatar on the sidelines of the power structure determining Syria’s future, the leaders of the small Gulf country have worked tirelessly to finalize deals around the globe with clear geopolitical implications. Doha has funneled billions into major investments and military equipment as the country’s leaders seek to become an increasingly relevant and militarily potent member of the international community.

Today, it seems fairly certain that Qatar, along with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the U.S., chose the losing side in a Syrian Civil War that has increasingly come to resemble a proxy war. But unlike Turkey, Qatar has so far failed to reposition itself in order to ensure its place at a negotiating table dominated by the Kremlin. With the power of its proxy forces in Syria fading and with few avenues to regain its status as a deciding player in Syria’s future, Qatar’s preference for tapping its billion dollar coffers to buy global influence makes all the more sense. In an international power structure characterized by the strained relations of the world’s superpowers and their global standoffs, of military or political nature, Qatar has the money that everyone wants.

While Doha has frustrated officials in Washington D.C. over the country’s alleged support of rebel Islamists in Syria and its reluctance to block its citizens from financing terrorist groups, Qatar has spent billions on U.S. military equipment, bolstering the private U.S. military industry, while allowing the country to gain important defense materials. Just over a month ago, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that the U.S. had reached an agreement with Qatar for the sale of an AN/FPS-132 radar missile warning and space surveillance system to Qatar. The radar system, which Carter stated “would mitigate the threat from Iranian ballistic missiles”, produced by Raytheon was estimated to cost over a billion dollars after Qatar’s July 2013 request. In late 2014, Raytheon won a $2.4 billion contract to construct an Air and Missile Defense Operations Center (ADOC) for the state of Qatar and, more recently, the State Department approved a $21.1 billion sale of F-15QA fighter jets to Qatar.

Yet, Qatar’s growing ties with the U.S. are not limited to military purchases. In August, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), the country’s sovereign wealth fund, invested $622 million in stake in the iconic Empire State Building while slowly acquiring valuable real estate across the country. By 2015, QIA had opened its own office in New York and announced its plans to invest $35 billion in the U.S. by 2020. In 2016, according to Real Capital Analytics Inc., QIA listed as fourth on the list of the largest investors in U.S. office space. Likely eager to continue to attract billion dollar military sales and investments in U.S. infrastructure, Qatari money flowing into the U.S. can buy influence in a new, long-term approach far from the battlefields in Syria and Yemen.

So far, Turkey has emerged as the strongest rebel-supporter to join in the circle of powers determining Syria’s fate, a role that looks set to be consolidated by joint efforts in the wake of the assassination of Andrey Karlov, the late Russian ambassador to Turkey, rather than weakened. Leaders in Doha, who have seen their influence in the Syrian war dwindle, have reached for their pockets to buy clout in Ankara, also. Aside from the outspoken Qatari post-coup-attempt solidarity with President Erdogan and the December “Supreme Strategic Committee” meeting between Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani and President Erdogan, Turkey has also become a prime benefactor of Qatari military spending.

Last week, reports emerged that Turkey’s military software company Havelsan had built and sent an AgustaWestland AW139 flight simulator to the Qatari military. Less than a week before news of the Havelsan deal broke, Turkish subsidiary RBSS, a joint effort with German and Malaysian manufacturers, was reported to be in talks with Doha over the production and sale of 1,000 armed vehicles to the Gulf country. Talks of a deal of this size come as little surprise since Qatar owns a 50 percent stake in RBSS’ Turkish partner and one of Turkey’s largest vehicle manufacturers, BMC.

While Qatar has endeavored to strengthen the ties of American and Turkish interests to Qatar’s money, the recent purchase of a 19.5 percent stake in Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned oil company, alongside Glencore stands out as the country’s boldest recent move in a policy of geo-economic statecraft.  While questions remain over Qatar’s willingness to use its partial ownership of Rosneft for political gain, the acquisition could give Qatar unique leverage in cash-strapped Moscow.

As their control on events in Syria has gradually weakened, Qatari leaders have quietly accelerated a strategy of buying influence while stockpiling expensive and dynamic military equipment and systems. Having clearly demonstrated their interests by financing Muslim Brotherhood leader-turned-president Mohamed Morsi, bankrolling shady charitable organizations and arming dangerous rebel groups, countries on the receiving end of Qatari investments should heed the unmistakable potential costs of trading influence for Qatari money.

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