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Making Sense of the US Designating Qatar as a Major Non-NATO Ally

By Susan L Karamanian and Sharifa A Ahen

The designation signals closer US-Qatar ties. It will benefit Qatar’s military capabilities, make it a security leader in the Middle East and benefit both the region and the US.

On March 10, 2022, US President Joe Biden officially designated Qatar as a major non-NATO ally.  Qatar is the 18th state to earn this designation and the third Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) state to do so following Kuwait and Bahrain.   

The designation conformed to a statement that Biden made to His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, the emir of Qatar, during his visit to Washington in late January 2022.  During the visit, Biden had sent a letter to the US Congress indicating his intention to give Qatar the designation of  a major non-NATO ally. In the letter, the president acknowledged “Qatar’s many years of contributions to US-led efforts in the US Central Command area of responsibility” and recognized that the US had a “national interest in deepening bilateral defense and security cooperation with the State of Qatar.” 

BIden’s designation for Qatar has a historical basis. For years, Qatar has supported US foreign policy objectives. The country has hosted and provided substantial financial support for the Al Udeid Air Base and engaged with the US on issues of strategic importance, including its recent assistance in relocating thousands of Afghans and its ability to serve as an effective mediator in critical situations. The designation  promises to deepen US-Qatar ties in the future.

What Does This Designation Really Mean?

What are the legal foundations for the designation and its implications for Qatar? Under a federal statute, the US president has the unilateral power to designate a country a major non-NATO ally with the requirement that Congress receive notice in writing at least 30 days before this designation. As aptly noted, the designation alone does not make Qatar a NATO member and thus the collective security obligations and mutual defense benefits under NATO are not applicable to this GCC country.  

Yet, in addition to recognizing the close military ties between Qatar and the US, the designation as a major non-NATO ally ensures defense trade and security cooperation benefits. Qatar is now eligible for loans, research, training, and development, as well as gaining priority access to US military equipment and the ability to bid on certain US Department of Defense contracts. 

In the past, other regional players have benefitted from the designation. Their experience highlights the importance of a military and defense relationship for any GCC state with the US, especially given recent events. For example, Kuwait has benefitted from arms sales through the Foreign Military Sales Program. This strengthened the capabilities of the Kuwaiti military and enhanced the country’s security. 

The Biden administration has given $1 billion to the US Army Corps of Engineers and other US companies to build Kuwait’s new defense ministry headquarters. A training initiative, the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, enables Kuwaiti students to be trained at US military institutions at a discounted rate.

Capacity building is one of the main incentives for US-Qatar cooperation, which is of great importance to this GCC state. Its defense regime is relatively young and capable of playing an influential role due to the country’s proximity to both Saudi Arabia and Iran. Qatar can also play a key role as a mediator in the region. In the light of the above, the designation as a major non-NATO ally has critical long-term benefits to the country.

The new development also certainly signals closer cooperation between the US and Qatar. Historically, these designations tend to be mutually beneficial. In the case of Qatar, increased engagement with the US promises to strengthen its status as a security leader in the Middle East and benefit both the region as well as its superpower friend.

The views expressed in the article are solely the opinion of the writer. The veracity of any claims made are the responsibility of the author not Wargeyska Jamhuriyadda. The article was originally published on Fair Observer Website.

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