Qatar's foreign policy: the limits of pragmatism



    1. Co-founding Head of the Program on Arab Reform and Democracy at Stanford University's Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, a policy-relevant research programme launched in January 2010.
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    • The author thanks Danny Buerkli for research assistance on this article, and Izzat Darwazeh, Alex de Waal and the journal's reviewer for valuable comments.


Qatar has become an Arab country with a high international profile and an ambitious foreign policy, particularly as a result of its role in the Arab Spring. It has cultivated a reputation as a political mediator and a key source of foreign aid. Following the Libyan uprising, Qatar demonstrated further political adaptability in leading regional action against the Gaddafi regime. However, this foreign policy does not appear to be built on long-term planning, but rather seems centred on opportunism and promiscuity as Qatar engages with multiple, often clashing, actors and plays the role of political maverick in the Middle East. This article assesses the key components of Qatari foreign policy, as well as public diplomacy, highlighting the potential implications of the lack of a coherent foreign strategy for the country, both on the domestic and external fronts. Domestically, Qatar faces increasing pressure for reform and the prospect of instability, both catalyzed by high centralization of decision-making with regard to Qatari policy. Externally, it risks overextending its network of political partners to involve potentially volatile actors, losing the credibility of its public diplomacy messages, and subsequently, international scepticism towards its foreign policy motives. Those domestic and external factors highlight the limits of relying on pragmatism in Qatari foreign policy and the need for long-term strategy if Qatar is to maintain its leadership role in the Middle East.