Gas mar­ket role may pro­tect Qatar

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY JON GAMBRELL

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMI­RATES | Nat­u­ral gas built the high-rises of Qatar’s cap­i­tal, put the Al-Jazeera satel­lite news net­work on the air and a fleet of pas­sen­gers jets for its state car­rier in the sky. Now, it may be what pro­tects Qatar as it is in the cen­ter of the worst diplo­matic cri­sis to strike the Gulf in decades.

As the world’s big­gest ex­porter of liq­uid nat­u­ral gas, Qatar’s sup­plies keep homes warm in the Bri­tish win­ter, fuel Asian mar­kets and even power the elec­tri­cal grid of the United Arab Emi­rates, one of the main coun­tries that has cut ties to the en­ergy-rich na­tion.

So far, its sup­plies have con­tin­ued un­in­ter­rupted since the diplo­matic dis­pute be­gan last week. Nat­u­ral gas mar­kets have yet to re­spond to the rift and prices have re­mained sta­ble. But Qatar wields a po­ten­tial eco­nomic weapon if the cri­sis es­ca­lates and coun­tries around the world that de­pend on its sup­ply may find them­selves need­ing to side with the tiny na­tion that is home to a ma­jor U.S. mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tion.

“If Qatari gas ex­ports were to be blocked, coun­tries like Bri­tain, Ja­pan, South Korea and China would have an en­ergy cri­sis and would have to scram­ble to get their en­ergy else­where,” said Kris­tian Coates Ul­rich­sen, a Seattle-based re­search fel­low at the James A. Baker III In­sti­tute for Pub­lic Pol­icy at Rice Uni­ver­sity, who has ex­ten­sively stud­ied Qatar.

“For any small coun­try, par­tic­u­larly a small coun­try in the Gulf sur­rounded by much larger and po­ten­tially ex­pan­sion­ary pow­ers, hav­ing in­ter­na­tional part­ner­ships is a key tool of your ex­ter­nal se­cu­rity,” he said. “I think that may be what the Qataris are bank­ing on right now.”

Pres­i­dent Trump has largely backed the tough Saudi-Egyp­tian line ac­cus­ing Qatar of tol­er­at­ing and fund­ing some ter­ror groups, but a num­ber of me­di­a­tion ef­forts — by the United Na­tions, France, Kuwait and Pak­istan, among oth­ers — have been launched in re­cent days to keep the Gulf diplo­matic cri­sis from spi­ral­ing out of con­trol.

Qatar, a coun­try of 2.2 mil­lion peo­ple where cit­i­zens make up over 10 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, dis­cov­ered the off­shore North Field in 1971, the same year it be­came in­de­pen­dent. It took years for en­gi­neers to dis­cover the field’s vast re­serves, which shot Qatar to third in world rank­ings, be­hind only Rus­sia and Iran, with which it shares the North Field.

It be­gan ex­port­ing nat­u­ral gas in 1997, just af­ter Qatari Crown Prince Ha­mad bin Khal­ifa Al Thani seized power from his fa­ther, Sheikh Khal­ifa, in a palace coup. Sheikh Ha­mad used rev­enue from the nat­u­ral gas to pur­sue a diplo­matic path away from Saudi Ara­bia, long the heavy­weight among Gulf coun­tries. Qatar also se­cured host­ing the 2022 FIFA World Cup, re­ly­ing on that money to build sta­di­ums and de­velop Doha, its cap­i­tal.

But all that time, Qatar kept a wary eye on its neigh­bors. Though both it and Saudi Ara­bia prac­tice an ul­tra-con­ser­va­tive form of Sunni Is­lam called Wah­habism, Qatar al­lows women to drive and for­eign­ers to drink al­co­hol. Qatar also has clashed with Saudi Ara­bia and Bahrain over ter­ri­tory in the past.

As a hedge, Qatar hosts some 10,000 Amer­i­can sol­diers and the for­ward head­quar­ters of the U.S. mil­i­tary’s Cen­tral Com­mand. Other na­tions also op­er­ate forces out of Qatar. Its mil­i­tary, num­ber­ing around 11,800 troops, is only big­ger than Bahrain’s.


Nat­u­ral gas ex­ports may help Qatar pro­tect it­self dur­ing ongoing dis­putes it with other Arab na­tions. Some of those coun­tries, as well as na­tions in Asia and Europe, rely on sup­plies from Qatar, which is the world’s largest ex­porter of liq­uid nat­u­ral gas.

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