Thursday, June 8, 2017

Contemporary National Education: Security, survival and success of Qatar as a small state

Big neighbour upset by small neighbour.

Big neighbour restricts land, sea and air access to small neighbour. This affects imports of vital supplies like food and raw materials by small neighbour, not to mention the free movement of people and trade.

Small neighbour has United States (US) military on its soil.

Small neighbour has a world-class airline.

Small neighbour is a major petrochemicals hub.

Small neighbour is almost totally reliant on food imports.

Small neighbour has deep pockets to weather any financial crisis, with a sovereign wealth fund managing billions in global investments.

Just to be clear, the "small neighbour" we are talking about is Qatar.

As a metaphor for how small states fare when bigger neighbours choose to flex their might, the State of Qatar represents an interesting parallel for the Republic of Singapore.

On Monday (5 Jun'17), Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) joined Saudi Arabia in cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar. The Saudi-led coalition had claimed that Qatar funds terror groups and is said to be upset with Qatar's friendliness towards Iran.
The terror-related allegations aren't new. But this time, Qatar's neighbours joined forces to slowly cut off access to the outside world from Qatar, a sliver of land on the northern shores of Arabia.

Supermarkets saw their shelves emptied as anxious residents stocked up on supplies. Lack of raw materials for construction has put the brakes on building activities in Qatar.

In a bid to further isolate Qatar, its neighbours blocked Qatari aircraft from entering their airspace, and barred Qatari vessels from using their seaports. Qatar Airways, an emerging rival to Singapore Airlines, had to reroute or cancel numerous flights.
Amid the diplomatic strangulation, where is the United Nations (UN)? Not a squeak was heard in the first days of the spate. Even now, there appears to be no bid by the world body to soothe tensions.

And as Qataris face starvation, the world's media appears more interested in the fate of the FIFA World Cup 2022 and whether facilities for the globe's most prestigious soccer matches can be finished on time.

The plight of the Qataris provides the answer to Singaporeans who have asked why our tiny city-state cannot rely on the "world's policemen" for its security.

Qatar is home to the largest US airbase in the Middle East. So what? This failed to accord the desert state any immunity card against unfriendly neighbours.

Qatar has also learned that it cannot rely on the UN to solve its problems. The UN will not come marching in to help, like cavalry to the rescue.
The episode where Qatar's neighbours have cut ties underlines a little-known hard truth of diplomacy - bilateral ties are never a given and must be reciprocated. A lot of work - much of which takes place away from the public eye -  is carried out by diplomats the world over to ensure that diplomatic relations remain on an even keel.

And while we are led to believe big and small nations speak with an equal voice on the world stage, let us not deceive ourselves when it comes to geographical realities. Small states have far more to lose vis-a-vis big states when air, land or sea space is denied.

For Singapore, the smallest of all ASEAN states, we must work even harder to punch above our weight and ensure our relevance to friends in the region and farther afield. In a world  of options, big states can easily overlook us.

The case of Qatar also demonstrates that a strong military is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a country's stability, growth and prosperity, Qatar, which has one of the densest air defence networks on the Arabian peninsula, probably realises more than ever how vital it is to nurture and sustain social and economic stability, along with national resilience for weathering the ongoing diplomatic spate.

In Singapore, we identify these as elements of the Total Defence movement, which is made up of Military, Civil, Economic, Social and Psychological defence elements. We also have the SGSecure movement that aims to strengthen national resilience against in-country perils.

But does the average Singaporean care enough to play his or her part?

We have also been told, ad nauseam time and again, that we ourselves are responsible for our country's security. This message, if uttered on the streets of Qatar, will probably be embraced readily by not a few advocates there.

The speed with which Qatar's neighbours ganged up acted against it shows why no one should take peace and stability for granted. Truth be told, we cannot and should not live with a siege mentality. But the Qatar episode reminds us that neighbours itching for a flare-up will grab any opportunity to do so. 

In Qatar's case, one school of thought argues that fake news contributed to misleading neighbouring states on Doha's stance towards Iran. 

Qatari leaders have made a plea for dialogue to solve the impasse.

Too late. 

No one cries for small states. 

You may also like:
Qatar Airways steals a march on SIA in its own backyard. Click here


Benjamin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
raytoei said...

the fundamental difference is that we do not have Hamas or Taliban with an office in our countries. We also do not "fund" terrorist activities.

David Boey said...


But am looking at the end result of diplomatic wrangling, and the world's reaction (or lack thereof).

Best regards,