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The Swiss, Qatar and Neutrality 8, September 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait, Qatar.
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F5 Tigers(F5 Tigers – the places that the Swiss Air Force is seeking to replace)

The Swiss take their neutrality seriously. It is the bedrock of their society and has stood them in good stead in the recent past to the tune that they have not been to war since 1815. Nevertheless, they maintain a modern army and air force for the purpose of deterrence, the latter of which they are currently in talks to modernise. Specifically, Zurich based ISN reports that the Swiss are actively seeking to replace their F-5 Tigers and have already tested Sweden’s Gripen, France’s Rafale and the European consortium’s Eurofighter.

However, there are at least two other choices on the cards. Firstly, oddly enough, the Swiss may well buy second hand F/A18s from Kuwait. These would obviously be significantly cheaper that buying a fleet of brand new aircraft and with Kuwait’s close relationship with the US and their relatively blank cheque book when it comes to military acquisitions, they can and will replace these fighters with ease. Secondly, the Swiss might not buy any planes at all. There is a significant and growing movement within the central European country that wants Switzerland to renounce their military all together, befitting, it might be said, a neutral country.

Both points are contentious but from an academic point of view, fascinating. Both largely stem from the exigencies of the Swiss policy of neutrality. Not wanting to overtly favour either the Swedes or the French or any other country in Europe, the Swiss may well go, in the manner of a true neutral, elsewhere entirely rather than risk offending any European countries.

Getting rid of one’s military entirely is a bold statement that few countries in the world are able to even consider. The Swiss, with their natural defensive frontiers (the Alps) and their grip on so much of the world’s wealth in vaults under their streets, have two significant and unique aces in their pack. Nevertheless, relying solely on accrued good will, natural obstacles and what is – at the end of the day – something approaching a gentleman’s agreement not to attack, is quite a leap of faith.

Indeed, it says – or rather would say – something quite profound about the Swiss view of international relations. It would shun, reject and attack generations of scholars of the dominant realist school of politics who maintain – amongst other key tenets – that the international world is an anarchy in which every actor is out to maximise their own power through any means necessary. International agreements, friendships and law are but a light papering over the cracks of perpetual international division that can be – and indeed are – ripped asunder when a state’s interest is threatened or an opportunity presents itself.

Undoubtedly, the Swiss case is – as has been mentioned – somewhat unique and surely such a state of affairs could not be reproduced in, say, the Middle East, a region known for violence, war and tension?

Qatar has often been referred to as the Sweden or the Switzerland of the Middle East. This analogy is usually a somewhat flippant, quick and simple juxtaposition, seeking to get across the idea that Qatar at times acts like something approaching a neutral state. Its countless forays into international mediation; the use of its gas money to seek peace and for aid; its relatively good relations with diverse and antithetical actors such as Israel, Hamas, the US and Hezbollah and its support for ostracised actors like former Chechen terrorists, one of Osama Bin Laden’s sons and Saddam Hussein’s ex-wife signal, it can be argued, that Qatar seeks some level of neutrality.

Arguing to what degree Qatar seeks to be ‘neutral’ is open ended. At one end of the spectrum there are those that say that Qatar is simply seeking to publicise itself and will do anything for that end. These headline-grabbing instances are, therefore, merely tactical and not strategic. Such an argument would no doubt point out that Qatar is a member of regional organisations such as the GCC which negates the notion of a strict form of neutrality and that Qatar could never rid itself of its military guarantor (the US) as it is a small, exceedingly rich country in a tumultuous area of the world, bristling with arms, often angry ideologies and covetous glances.

Is there, therefore, any way at all that Qatar could survive without the American military blanket? Could they rely on the numerous international allies that have benefitted from Qatar’s munificence (Syria, Lebanon, Palestinian Authorities); that get large percentages of their gas requirement from Qatar (Japan, the UK, South Korea, India); that have had their companies invested in by Qatar’s cash (the UK, Germany, America, Indonesia); or that have hundreds of thousands of their workers working in Qatar, sending back huge sums of remittances (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines)? Could these countries around the world be relied upon to protect Qatar if an emergency occurred? The international community reacted relatively swiftly and certainly decisively when Kuwait, another small but rich Arab country, was invaded unjustly. Yet Kuwait suffered terribly from the invasion thus its liberation, whilst preferable, still came at a huge cost.

Either which way, there is no reasonable or justifiable answer to this nor, indeed, does it even matter. For can Qatari leaders, without a curious history of wealth storage and a few well places mountains, really sit and ponder the answer to this question when logic, prudence and international practice dictates that they must pessimistically fear and plan for the worst?

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