BRUSSELS: Qatar’s hopes of joining NATO have been well and truly quashed by the 29-member alliance.
NATO said that membership was restricted to the nations of Europe and North America, as specified in its founding treaty of 1949. New membership is restricted to Europe only.
And a Middle East defense expert dismissed Qatar’s aspirations as “mere posturing.”
The hope of NATO membership was raised by the Qatari defense minister Khalid bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah in a recent interview.
But an official at the organization’s headquarters in Brussels said that there was no possibility of the Gulf nation becoming a full member.
“According to article 10 of the Washington Treaty, only European countries can become new members of NATO. Qatar is a valuable and long-standing partner of NATO. It has contributed to our past ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) mission in Afghanistan and it has offered airlift to our Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.”
Al-Attiyah told “Altalaya,” the official magazine of the Qatari defense ministry: “Qatar today has become one of the most important countries in the region in terms of the quality of armament.”
“Regarding the membership, we are a main ally from outside NATO … The ambition is full membership if our partnership with NATO develops and our vision is clear.”
He added: “NATO appreciates Qatar’s contribution to combating terrorism and its financing.”
Qatar is accused by other Arab countries of supporting terror groups and has been under a boycott from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt for more than a year.
The Qatari defense minister — who is also deputy prime minister — was speaking on the first anniversary of the boycott, and the timing was no accident, said Michael Stephens, research fellow for Middle East Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think-tank in London.
“Everyone is feeling pumped up and flexing their muscles and trolling each other. None of this should be taken seriously.”
Al-Attiyah had suggested Qatar could “host one of NATO’s units or one of its specialized centers.”
But Stephens said that was neither likely nor necessary. United States Central Command (Centcom) already has a forward headquarters in Doha and “is already plugged into NATO,” he said.
He added: “The GCC as a bloc would be more able to contribute. The idea that nobody else in the region except Qatar can … well, it’s just not possible.”
Qatar could try to play up its role as a close ally of Turkey, which is a NATO member, but has increasingly strained relations with other nations in the alliance, particularly over its conduct in Syria.
Turkey has also benefited economically from the crisis between Qatar and its neighbors. With Qatar’s only land border with Saudi Arabia closed, goods are being flown in from Turkey. But the emirate does not need military help.
“Qatar’s security architecture is already adequate. It does not need to be frameworked in this way,” Stephens said.
“With the conflict between Qatar and the GCC now entrenched, this is just posturing.”