Small State with “Subtle Power”: Understanding Qatar’s Global Player Ambitions

Rethinking traditional notions of power within international relations theory

The business district West Bay in the Qatari capital Doha (Photo credit: Timo Al-Farooq)

The New Kid on the Block of power definitions

While we are quite familiar with traditional definitions of power within political science and international relations, none of these seem to apply to Qatar. With merely 12,000 active military troops, one of the lowest in the region, Qatar — despite being the richest country in the world by per capita GDP — does not exactly wield “hard power” which international relations scholar Joseph Nye described as “the ability to use the carrots and sticks of economic and military might to make others follow your will.” The underlining mechanism behind its execution is therefore coercion.

  • sports (for example via the Aspire Academy for elite sports development, the acquisition of international football club Paris Saint Germain with its star-studded line up of players, the sponsorship deals with football clubs such as AS Roma and Argentina’s Boca Juniors, and the hosting of international sports tournaments like the Asian Games 2006, the IHF World Cup 2015 and the upcoming FIFA World Cup in 2022)
  • media (via the Al Jazeera news network)
  • conflict mediation.

The Qatari edge

Having defined what subtle power is and explained how Qatar came about this specific brand of power, one question remains: why has it been Qatar that was able to amass this subtle power and not another Gulf state with seemingly similar socio-economic and political conditions? States like Bahrain and the U.A.E are also geographical entities relatively small in size, their rentier economies smack in the middle of a diversification process fuelled by their still abundant fossil fuel wealth, their societies governed by dynastic royal autocracies: why haven’t they amassed subtle power?

Journalist from the gentrified wastelands of Berlin, the capital of the Merkelian Postdemocratic Republic. Based in London.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store