On the surface, Turkish and Qatari officials have gone to great lengths to express support for the other. In December the Emir of Qatar visited the presidential palace in Ankara. Speaking next to the Qatari monarch, Erdoğan asserted that “together with Qatar, we [the Turks] always side with oppressed people around the world.”
It is worth asking, however, if shared geopolitical interests in Arab civil wars and a common ideology are enough to serve as the basis for a long-term strategic alliance between Turkey and Qatar. Analysts have questioned the extent to which such a development is even possible, given that the two nations lack substantial economic ties. In fact, aside from Bahrain, Qatar is Turkey’s smallest trade partner in the Gulf Cooperation Council. Last year, Turkey and the UAE’s bilateral trade volume was ten times greater than Turkey and Qatar’s total trade.
In spite of this, both nations appear determined to strengthen their military ties, seeing more upside potential. Turkey and Qatar’s common cause on the battlefields of Syria and elsewhere have brought Ankara and Doha closer than ever. On paper, at least, Doha and Ankara have the potential to contribute to Syria’s outcome, given that Turkey has a powerful military and a lengthy border with Syria, while Qatar has the deep pockets to sponsor the training and arming of rebel groups.
In practice, however, Turkey and Qatar’s strategy of regime change in Syria has obviously failed, while the two governments’ support for Assad’s Islamist enemies has also complicated their ties with their own strategic allies, trade partners and neighbors. Despite these costs and recent developments resulting from Moscow and Tehran’s deepening military involvement in Syria, Turkey and Qatar remain firmly committed to their political objective of toppling Assad.
Last month in Vienna, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu reiterated Ankara’s position that “peace is not possible with Bashar al-Assad,” and his Qatari counterpart emphasized Doha’s continued commitment to financially supporting Syrians who seek to “liberate their country”. Given their common stakes, we should expect Ankara and Doha to continue devoting resources to their growing political relationship. However, it is doubtful that their combined efforts will have any kind of meaningful effect on the ground in Syria. Russia and Iran’s stepped-up military role in Syria comes at the expense of Ankara and Doha’s relevance in the conflict.
It would serve the Turks and Qataris well to swallow their pride, reconsider their strategy for Syria and adopt a more realistic approach to a jointly executed foreign policy. Rather than devoting such substantial resources to arming jihadist militias in Syria, the region could benefit a great deal from Ankara and Doha channeling their resources toward humanitarian efforts aimed at meeting the basic needs of the conflict’s innocent victims, while working with the international community to pursue a diplomatic settlement to the conflict and enhancing their own soft power in the process.
Giorgio Cafiero is the Co-Founder of Gulf State Analytics. Daniel Wagner is the CEO of Country Risk Solutions.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Christiaan Triebert