Turkey, Qatar and the evolution of soft power in a changing Middle East

Bachelor Thesis, 2013

41 Pages, Grade: 1,0




Soft Power Defined

Recent History

Sources of Soft Power

Soft Power for Human Security?

The Situation Today




Conventionally, politicians and diplomats defined power as the control over a territory and its population, the possession of natural resources, economic size, military force, and internal political stability. Today, this emphasis on using military force to exert control over a territory, its population and its natural resources which marked earlier eras is losing significance. Factors such as technology, education and economic growth are becoming more important in the international struggle for power. As the great powers of today are less able to use their traditional power resources to achieve their goals, private actors and small states have become more powerful. Joseph Nye (1990) identified five trends which contributed to this diffusion of power: economic interdependence, transnational actors, nationalism in weak states, the spread of technology and changing political issues. He argued that these trends suggest a second, more attractive way of exercising power than traditional means, and called this aspect of power “co-optive” or “soft” power.

Since the end of the Cold War, the concept of soft power has been used extensively in discussions about US foreign policy[1] and has more recently also been used to describe China's foreign policy.[2] But far less attention has been given to how this term can be used in other cultural contexts to describe intra-regional politics, such as in the Middle East (Rubin 2010). Turkey and Qatar are two countries that try to navigate through this dangerous region in a different way. But what they have in common is that they both managed to improve their reputation and increase their visibility in the past decade. This has translated this into increased policy impact on the regional and global stage. Is the concept of soft power useful to explain the increased power of attraction that emanates from these countries?

Traditionally speaking, and as will be described later, several factors were considered to make Turkey a country reliant on its hard power and securitized foreign policy. But the country's booming economy (CNBC, 2013) and decade spent under the leadership of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) have reintroduced Turkey as an active player in Middle Eastern politics in a different capacity, fuelled by soft power resources. In addition, the decline of two major Arab powers, Egypt and Iraq, and the civil war in Syria, have created opportunities for the non-Arab state of Turkey to appeal to Arab domestic audiences. Similarly, as we witness the emergence of new contours of power and influence in the Middle East's regional system and regional upheaval (Ulrichsen 2012), the tiny but very wealthy Gulf state of Qatar seems to be an outpost of stability and prosperity, developing into a regional power with an international reach. Qatar, along with other small Gulf states, has been able to cultivate unique forms of soft power due to the aforementioned structural shifts as well as major changes in information technology, communication and the way trade is conducted.

This dissertation will use the concept of soft power to explain Turkish and Qatari foreign policies over the past decade, as well as the most recent developments. It also aims to elucidate why both of the countries have built up their soft power resources, and does so by focusing on the concept of “human security”.

The paper will begin by defining the concept of soft power. It will do so first by illustrating how Joseph Nye contrasted it to “hard power”, before defining it more in detail and identifying the primary soft power resources (culture, political values and foreign policies). It will then move on to its main part, which is the case-study of Qatar’s and Turkey’s soft powers. It introduces the two states by giving some background information which is necessary to understand the following chapters. After having done so, Turkey and Qatar’s primary sources of soft power will be examined more closely, which include their culture, economic resources, political values and foreign policies. This leads to the fifth chapter, where the concept of human security is introduced as this dissertation tries to identify in what way Ankara and Doha benefit from soft power growth. Before the concluding chapter, light will be shed on the current situation. It is highly important to do so, as recent developments in the volatile Middle East have both been influenced by and had an impact on Turkey and Qatar. I will conclude by warning that Qatar’s and Turkey’s new foreign policy approaches might not be beneficial to their plans of wielding soft power in the Middle East.

Soft Power Defined

Before being able to analyse the role that soft power resources play in Qatari and Turkish efforts to guarantee security for their people and achieve foreign policy objectives, it is important to define the concept of soft power. In his 1990 book Bound to Lead, Joseph Nye first introduced the concept of "soft power" (Kroenig et al 2010). Power, according to Nye, is ‘the ability to get the outcomes one wants’ (Nye 2004:1). Hard power is “the ability to use the carrots and sticks of economic and military might to make others follow your will” (Nye 2004:4) In this concept of power, “carrots” are inducements such as the reduction of trade barriers, the offer of an alliance or the promise of military protection. On the other hand, “sticks” are threats including the use of coercive diplomacy, the threat of military intervention, or the implementation of economic sanctions. Soft power, in contrast, is a way of achieving a desirable result by ‘getting others to want the outcomes you want’ (Nye 2004:5). Soft power, therefore, ‘rests on the ability to shape the preferences of others’ (Nye 2004:5). In other words, whereas hard power changes the external costs or benefits facing an actor, soft power alters an actor’s perception of what is desirable or undesirable in the first place (Hall 2010).

Nye argues that it is through the mechanism of attraction that this happens primarily. As he writes, "soft power (...) is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments" (Nye 2004:5). This leads to the conclusion that "the intuition behind the idea of attraction is that something intangible belonging to certain attributes or modes of behaviour elicits the compliance of other actors" (Hall 2010:192).

Relevant hard-power resources include military and economic might. Nye identifies three primary soft power resources: "its culture (in places where it is attractive to others), its political values (when it lives up to them at home and abroad), and its foreign policies (when they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority)." (Nye 2011:84)

Culture for Nye (2011:11) is the “set of values and practices that create meaning for a society”. These can be conveyed by both the pathways of high culture (such as higher education) and of low culture (such as popular culture). Political values are those manifested in the broad domestic and international policies of a government. This includes those promoted in a government’s general foreign policy objectives as well as those manifested in its domestic and international discourse. Finally, foreign policy as a soft power resource refers to the ways in which governments frame their goals and go about pursuing them. Nye (2011:61) points out that “policies based on broadly inclusive and far-sighted definitions of the national interest are easier to make attractive to others than policies that take a narrow and myopic perspective.” The execution of foreign policy, such as the use of public diplomacy to convey a state’s position in the most positive light, also falls under this category (Hall 2010).

Hall (2010:192) frames the logic of Nye's argument well by summarizing that "the attraction that soft power assets, in the form of culture, values and foreign policy, generates can act as a resource that helps states achieve their goals without employing explicit inducements or coercion. This is accomplished by changing the preferences of others, or at least by eliciting their acquiescence."

Recent History

As discussed earlier, structural changes, including the decline of major actors, have shifted the political topography of the Middle East. At the same time, major changes in communication, transportation, and trade, as part of the process of globalization, have provided an environment for smaller states to have a greater impact on politics and society than in the past (Rubin 2010). New players have arisen with different types of soft power, reflecting a changing political landscape in the Middle East.

Small states have always been viewed as vulnerable actors in the international system, but at times they can capitalise on their unique vantage point in regional and international politics to make a noticeable impact (Cooper and Momani 2011) in global affairs - as has most prominently been demonstrated by Qatar in recent years.

Qatar aligned itself with the British system in the Gulf in 1916, officially delegating London to manage Qatar’s foreign policy, and Qatar was one of the last states to benefit from oil discoveries in the late 1940s. Until 1971, although Qatar certainly did not conduct all its foreign policy through London, many of the key decisions were, at the least, made in a British framework (Roberts 2012). As Britain withdrew from the region, Qatar refused to join the newly born United Arab Emirates and pursued an independent path, though as all of the Gulf states, it looked to Saudi Arabia for direction in policy matters and in terms of basic security. Unconventional or outlandish policies such as those Qatar has recently become so famous for were unheard of.

As the security situation changed significantly after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Qatar realised that they needed something more than merely being reliant on Saudi Arabia. U.S.-led Operations Desert Shield in the Gulf (1990-91) and Desert Storm in Iraq (1991) showed that Riyadh could not protect itself, so what were the chances that it could protect Qatar? As a reaction, the Gulf state signed basing agreements with the United States and subsequently became an ever more important ally of America in the region, hosting the largest pre-positioning base outside of America and the key base from which the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were run. Also, in the early 1990s Qatar was seeking to export is prodigious gas supplies by pipe to its neighbours in the Gulf. But Saudi Arabia was deeply obstructionist. This was a blow to the nascent Qatari gas industry and forced Qatar to look further afield and delve into liquefied natural gas. Border skirmishes in 1992 and 1994 further fractured relations.

Hamad Bin Khalifah was made crown prince and Minister of Defence in 1977 and began to be given more power as the late 1980s progressed. Unlike his father, he believed that Qatar needed to fundamentally change its position to become a leading, moderate, internationally-focused, socially-developing, knowledge-led country (Roberts 2012). On June 27 1995, Sheikh Hamad deposed his father Emir Khalifa in a bloodless coup.

Modern-day factors exacerbate Qatar's security worries as it is a hugely rich but small and intrinsically weak state operating in a volatile region which has witnessed three major wars in less than two decades (Roberts 2009). In this context the new Emir and the elites decided that only having a security guarantor was not enough. More was needed in order for the Gulf state to flourish in this dangerous region. The small state therefore began to increase its soft power by branding itself as a peacemaker and following a populist line appealing to both East and West.

As recently as 2006, Qatar was characterised as a ‘micro-state’ by J.E. Peterson in a research article in the Middle East Journal (Peterson 2006). Since then, extraordinary levels of immigration have trebled the Qatari population and propelled it out of the ‘micro-state’ category (2 million inhabitants today, of which only 20 to 30% are Qatari passport holders)[3]. However, Ulrichsen (2012) argues that neither its small territory nor population has constrained the projection of power and influence at levels that far outmatches many much larger, and more conventionally ‘powerful’ states. He identifies three factors as having been pivotal in enabling Qatar to overcome the constraints placed on small states in the international system. The first was the process of generational change that unfolded after the young Emir took power. The new rulers, who had benefited from modern education and professional training, generated and encouraged an entrepreneurial spirit. This led to the second factor behind the rise - the grandiose diversification projects and economic visions that got underway in the past decade. These two domestic factors converged with the third – international – factor that enabled small states like Qatar to project greater power internationally. This was the "changing nature of the concept of power itself in an intensely interconnected world" (Ulrichsen 2012:10).

As the link between size and power eroded, opportunities for small states flourished. Power and influence could instead be projected through multiple channels and in various ways, while the leverage and opportunities accorded by rising oil and gas revenues could be used to Qatar's advantage. It was in this context that ‘statebranding’ and ‘soft power’ emerged as potent tools in the contemporary era (Ulrichsen 2012). As will be discussed in more detail below, state-branding has been embraced by officials in Doha to portray Qatar as a Middle Eastern country which can offer political stability, economic liberalism, and a safe haven for foreign business and investment. Similarly, Ulrichsen (2012:10) argues that the rise of TV satellite network Al-Jazeera "symbolised the extension of leverage across national boundaries".

The modern Turkish Republic was founded by Kemal Atatürk in 1923, ending centuries of existence of the Ottoman Empire. Ever since then, Turkey's main concern has been to secure the existence of the State (Oguzlu 2007). The Westernisation process was seen by the Kemalist elite as the most important security strategy - Turkey's security would hinge on the country being recognized as Western by the West itself. Turkey’s Kemalist legacy, the role of the military officers in the foundation and functioning of the Republic, the geography of Turkey, and the external developments in Turkey’s vicinity are all considered as factors that make Turkey a hard power and a securitised Turkish foreign policy a likely outcome (Karaosmanoglu 2000).

In the past decade, Turkey has undergone a dramatic transformation. The secularist elite that controlled the country since its foundation in 1923 has been displaced by a new establishment representing formerly peripheral elements under the leadership of the pro-religious AKP (Onar 2011). The AKP dislodged the military from its longstanding custodianship of the national project and received a mandate from 58% of the electorate in the 2010 constitutional referendum to pursue constitutional reform. In the 2011 general election, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party won nearly 50% of the votes, comfortably beating the runner-up RPP Kemalist party by a 24% margin.[4] EU accession-oriented reforms undertaken in the first half of the 2000s have opened the door to vigorous debates on once taboo topics like the domestic Kurdish and Armenian questions (Onar 2011). Turkey's pro-active foreign policy agenda has also served the cause of rapprochement with formerly problematic neighbours such as Greece and Iran. AKP success has also translated into a booming economy. Having implemented IMF-prescribed structural reforms, Turkey has averaged 6 per cent growth and attracted up to 20 billion dollars investment per year in the past decade, up from just a billion in the 1990s (Onar 2011). This has enabled it to climb the ranks of the G20, with some analysts anticipating the country will have the world’s tenth largest economy by 2050 (Economist 2010)

Candar (2009) puts forward five reasons for Turkey's recent (re-)emergence as an autonomous regional power in the international arena. First, the decline of American influence in the region due to the United States' failures in Iraq. Second, the ineffectiveness and near-absence of EU policy in a region considered as its backyard. Third, diminished Sunni dominance of the region due to Egypt's and Iraq's collapses, leaving room for increased influence of Shiite Iran. Fourth, the aforementioned growing economic power of Turkey. And fifth, the political modernization of Turkey which, though still underway, has proved that Turkish democracy has matured enough to accommodate an Islamic party to lead its government. This has transformed Turkey into a role model for democratic Muslim societies.

Sources of Soft Power

As mentioned earlier, Nye identifies three primary soft power sources: a country’s culture, its political values and its foreign policies. Economic resources can also produce soft power behaviour. This part will closely examine Turkey’s and Qatar’s cultural, political and economic soft power resources, before moving on to analysing to what aim these resources have been used.

Rubin (2010) notes that many commentators have recently drawn attention to Turkey’s increasing cultural projection as a sign of the Republic’s growing regional influence. Similarly to Egypt in the past, Turkey’s cultural exports and outreach in the Arab world have been important complements of growing relations with Turkey’s Arab neighbours. Turkish movies, and especially its soap operas, are extremely popular (New York Times 2010) and Ankara launched its first Arabic-language satellite television channel in April 2010. Turkey also recently decided to eliminate visa requirements for some Arab countries, which is a major contributing factor to a steep increase in Arab tourism (Today’s Zaman 2010).

Qatar’s leaders realised early enough that we had entered an era where traditional metrics of power such as size or population were no longer the sole and ultimate determinant of power. They therefore moved the desire to promote the Qatari brand to the core of their foreign policy, and culture has been playing a central part ever since Sheikh Hamad has ruled the country. Al-Jazeera, the TV news station, led the way with “little less than a media revolution across the Middle East” (Roberts 2012:236), broadcasting critical coverage to people who had never seen anything of the sort previously. The path-breaking satellite television station began broadcasting in November 1996, but had, in fact, been envisaged by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa in 1994 while he was still Heir Apparent (Ulrichsen 2012). It reflected his wish for a television station that would broadcast the new Emir’s desired image of a progressive Qatar to the Middle East and the international community (Barakat 2012). Al-Jazeera was very successful in doing so; according to one early analysis, it “struck like lightning” as it captivated audiences across the Middle East and North Africa with its hard-hitting news coverage and Western-style debating programmes. (Bahry 2001) Al Jazeera, and the Saudi-sponsored Al Arabiya, have grown into the leading news sources in the Arab world during the past decade (El-Nawawy 2003), and it is widely accepted that Al Jazeera has become one of the most powerful media in covering socio-political events as they unravel (Salamey & Pearson 2012), reaching hundreds of millions of people throughout the region and around the globe.


[1] see for example Nye, J. S. (2004). The Decline of America's Soft Power - Why Washington Should Worry, Foreign Aff., 83, 16. or Parmar, I., & Cox, M. (Eds.) (2010). Soft power and US foreign policy: Theoretical, historical and contemporary perspectives. London: Routledge.

[2] see for example Gill, B., & Huang, Y. (2006). Sources and limits of Chinese ‘soft power’.Survival, 48(2), 17-36. or Nye, J. S. (2005). The rise of China’s soft power. Wall Street Journal Asia, 29.

[3] see CIA World Factbook – Qatar for more information https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/qa.html

[4] see Election Results of June 2011, Supreme Electoral Board: http://www.ysk.gov.tr/ysk/index.html

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Turkey, Qatar and the evolution of soft power in a changing Middle East
University of Bath
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Note im britischen System: 73 (first class)
Middle East, Nahost, Türkei, Turkey, Qatar, Katar, Soft power, Joseph Nye, Naher Osten, Erdogan, Golf, weiche Macht
Quote paper
Constantin Wiegand (Author), 2013, Turkey, Qatar and the evolution of soft power in a changing Middle East, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/283838


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