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Thesis & Antithesis

A critical perspective on energy, international politics & current affairs

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Location: Washington, D.C.

greekdefaultwatch@gmail.com Natural gas consultant by day, blogger on the Greek economy by night. Trained as an economist and political scientist. I believe in common sense and in data, and my aim is to offer insight written in language that is clear and convincing.

15 July 2006

Qatar and the G8 summit

As the world’s leaders gather in St. Petersburg to discuss, among other things, energy security, my mind keeps going to a land far away: Qatar. Yes, I know Qatar is not part of the G8; and yes, discussions on the Middle East will focus on more explosive topics such as violence in the Levant or Iran’s nuclear program. And yet there is a reason to think of Qatar as the world grapples with the theme of energy security. Qatar’s recent history reveals a lot about how our energy world could be made more secure and stable.

Begin not with Qatar, but with the concept of energy security itself. At its core, energy insecurity is a political problem, emerging largely from the ambitions of producers who wish to extract political concessions through their energy resources. Think of “safe” energy producers: the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, Australia, etc. Their common denominator is that they do not use their energy reserves as a tool of policy, at least not in any significant way. Contrast that with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, or Russia, whom we would associate, quite correctly, with fiddling with their energy sources to achieve a variety of political objectives.

What distinguishes these two groups of producers? At first glance the question seems absurd—does one need to list the differences between the US and Saudi Arabia, or between Norway and Iran. But stay with me. For “safe” producers, oil or gas is not a policy tool because it is not a distinguishing feature of their place in the world. The US, the UK, Norway, Australia would still know what their role in the world would be even if they had no drop of oil. Granted, it helps that these countries discovered energy reserves late; but this is another reason they hardly think of how to make use of their energy sources to get a voice in the world.

What about our other group? What would Venezuela be without oil? Kuwait? Is it a coincidence that the Soviet Union, a superpower, never cut off gas supplies to Europe during the cold war, but that Russia used gas to achieve political objectives a multiplicity of times, most recently against Ukraine in January 2006? Or, is it a coincidence that Saudi Arabia has been a largely reliable producer (facilitated both by huge reserves and by finding a niche in being a swing producer) while at the same time being comfortable in knowing that it will remain the custodian of the two Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina?

A country will use what it can to find a place in the world, and oil is an ideal candidate for countries that feel they have little else with which to attract the world’s attention. This brings me back to Qatar. In 1996, Qatar founded Al-Jazeera, a pan-Arab TV station that has revolutionized how the news gets reported in the Arab world and which accords Qatar a great deal of soft power in the region. Qatar is also host to CENTCOM, the American military command in the Middle East, a privilege which gives it influence and protection. Slowly but steadily, Qatar has built a niche for itself, founded on energy but not entirely dependent on it. Meanwhile, the risks associated with doing energy business in Qatar are rather low, meager when compared to other energy-rich countries in the world.

Qatar’s lesson for energy security is that a country which feels secure about its position in the world is much less likely to fiddle with energy to try to get the world’s attention. And that is as good a starting point for energy security as one can hope for.

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Blogger Tyler Worgan said...

This is a nice thesis topic and I am very fortunate to read it.I must appreciate for the effort which you have given on this topic.I discovered about this page while searching about thesis in Qatar.I would love to see some more topics in future.

4:16 AM  

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