Qatar - Regional and National Security Considerations

Qatar - Regional and National Security Considerations

In company with other gulf amirates, Qatar had long-standing ties with Britain but had remained under nominal Ottoman hegemony until 1916, when the British took over the foreign affairs and defense of Qatar. During the next five decades, Britain also exercised considerable influence in the internal affairs of the amirate. When the announcement came that it would withdraw its military forces from the gulf by 1971, Qatari leaders were forced to consider how to survive without British protection. Unable to support a large military establishment, Qatar has placed its reliance on small but mobile forces that can deter border incursions. Nevertheless, the Iran-Iraq War brought attacks on shipping just beyond its territorial waters, underscoring its vulnerability to interference with oil shipments and vital imports. In addition to seeking collective security through the GCC, Qatar has turned to close ties with Saudi Arabia, entering into a bilateral defense agreement in 1982.

The ruler in 1992, Shaykh Khalifa ibn Hamad Al Thani, had taken control of the country twenty years earlier, when the leading members of the ruling family decided that Khalifa's cousin, Ahmad ibn Ali Al Thani, should be replaced because of his many shortcomings as amir. As supreme commander of the armed forces, Khalifa ibn Hamad issued a decree in 1977 appointing his son and heir apparent, Hamad ibn Khalifa Al Thani, to the post of commander in chief. The same decree created the Ministry of Defense and named Hamad ibn Khalifa as minister. Hamad ibn Khalifa was a graduate of Sandhurst and had attained the rank of major general.

At the time of independence on September 3, 1971, the armed forces consisted of little more than the Royal Guard Regiment and some scattered units equipped with a few armored cars and four aircraft. By 1992 it had grown to a force of 7,500, including an army of 6,000, a navy of 700, and an air force of 800. In addition to the Royal Guard Regiment, the army had expanded to include a tank battalion, three mechanized infantry battalions, a special forces company, a field artillery regiment, and a SAM battery. The combined combat strength of these units, however, is estimated to be no more than that of a reinforced regiment in a Western army.

Initially outfitted with British weaponry, Qatar shifted much of its procurement to France during the 1980s in response to French efforts to develop closer relations. The tank battalion is equipped with French-built AMX-30 main battle tanks. Other armored vehicles include French AMX-10P APCs and the French VAB, which has been adopted as the standard wheeled combat vehicle. The artillery unit has a few French 155mm self-propelled howitzers. The principal antitank weapons are French Milan and HOT wire-guided missiles. Qatar had also illicitly acquired a few Stinger shoulder-fired SAMs, possibly from Afghan rebel groups, at a time when the United States was trying to maintain tight controls on Stingers in the Middle East. When Qatar refused to turn over the missiles, the United States Senate in 1988 imposed a ban on the sale of all weapons to Qatar. The ban was repealed in late 1990 when Qatar satisfactorily accounted for its disposition of the Stingers.

Three French-built La Combattante III missile boats, which entered service in 1983, form the core of the navy. The boats supplement six older Vosper Thornycroft large patrol boats. A variety of smaller craft are operated by the marine police.

The air force is equipped with combat aircraft and armed helicopters. Its fighter aircraft include Alpha Jets with a fighter-ground attack capability and one air defense squadron of Mirage F1s, all purchased from France. All of the aircraft are based at Doha International Airport. The planned purchase from the United States of Hawk and Patriot missile systems will give Qatar a modern ground-based air defense. British pilots on detail in Oman remain on duty with the air force, and French specialists are employed in a maintenance capacity. Nevertheless, an increasing number of young Qataris have been trained as pilots and technicians.

The lack of sufficient indigenous manpower to staff the armed forces is a continuing problem. By one estimate, Qatari citizens constitute only 30 percent of the army, in which more than twenty nationalities are represented. Many of the officers are of the royal family or members of leading tribes. Enlisted personnel are recruited from beduin tribes that move between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and from other Arab groups. Many Pakistanis serve in combat units. In 1992 there were still a number of British officers, as well as Britons, French, Jordanians, and Pakistanis in advisory or technical positions. More young Qataris are being recruited, and the number of trained and competent Qatari officers is steadily increasing.

Although official data on military expenditures are not published, the defense budget estimate of US$500 million for 1989 was 8 percent of the gross domestic product. The estimate of US$934 million for 1991, an increase of 80 percent over 1989, was presumably attributable to the costs of the Persian Gulf War. During the hostilities, the Qatari tank battalion was deployed to the Saudi-Iraqi border as part of Joint Forces Command East. Saudi and Qatari forces that had dug in to defend the road leading south from the border town of Ras al Khafji were forced to withdraw when the Iraqis made their only incursion onto Saudi territory on January 29, 1991. The three Saudi battalions and the one tank battalion from Qatar maintained contact with the Iraqi forces and participated in the coalition counterattack two days later that drove the Iraqis out of the town with considerable losses. The Qatari contingent, composed mostly of Pakistani recruits, acquitted itself well. The Qatari battalion also formed part of the Arab forces that advanced across Iraqi positions toward the city of Kuwait during the general coalition offensive on February 24, 1991. Beginning on January 22, 1991, Qatari aircraft joined other countries in carrying out strikes against Iraqi forces. United States, Canadian, and French fighter squadrons flew daily missions from Doha during the gulf war. One Qatari tank was lost in the engagement, and a number of Arab soldiers were killed or wounded. No Qatari combat deaths were reported during the war.

Although the amirate has experienced little internal unrest, the large number of foreigners--forming 80 percent of the work force--are regarded as possible sources of instability. Qatar is determined to maintain control over their activities and limit their influence. A significant number of resident Palestinians, some of whom included prominent businessmen and civil servants, were expelled after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Iranian Shia have not been the source of problems but are nevertheless looked on as potential subversives. Foreigners are liable to face arbitrary police action and harassment and often complain of mistreatment after their arrest.

The Ministry of Interior has controlled the police force of about 2,500 members since 1990. The local police enforces laws and arrests violators. The General Administration of Public Security, which in 1991 replaced the Criminal Investigation Department, is a separate unit of the ministry charged with investigation of crimes. The Mubahathat (secret police office), a nearly independent branch of the Ministry of Interior, deals with sedition and espionage. The army's mission does not include internal security, although the army can be called on in the event of serious civil disturbances. Nevertheless, a separate agency, the Mukhabarat (intelligence service), is under armed forces jurisdiction. Its function is to intercept and arrest terrorists and to keep surveillance over political dissidents.

Qatar has both civil and sharia courts, but only sharia courts have jurisdiction in criminal matters. Lacking permanent security courts, security cases are tried by specially established military courts, but such cases have been rare. In sharia criminal cases, the proceedings are closed, and lawyers play no formal role except to prepare the accused for trial. After the parties state their cases and after witnesses are examined by the judge, the verdict is usually delivered with little delay. No bail is set, but in minor cases, charged persons may be released to a Qatari sponsor. Most of the floggings prescribed by sharia law are administered, but physical mutilation is not allowed, and no executions have occurred since the 1980s.

The police routinely monitor the communications of suspects and security risks. Although warrants are usually required for searches, this does not apply in cases involving national security. The security forces reportedly have applied severe force and torture in investigating political and security-related cases. Suspects can be incarcerated without charge, although this is infrequent. The United States Department of State noted that standards of police conduct have improved in spite of a 1991 incident in which a group of Qataris were detained without charge for two months in connection with the unauthorized publication of tracts and letters critical of the government; at least one member of the group, which included several members of the ruling family, is said to have been beaten.

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