On January 31, US President Biden told the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, that the United States would nominate Qatar as a “Major Non-NATO Ally” (MNNA). This status recognizes the bilateral security cooperation between the United States and Qatar has matured to the level beyond the already deep defense partnership rooted in the foundational 1992 Defense Cooperation Agreement, which enables US military access to Qatari military facilities, allows prepositioning of US armor and other military materiel, and supports US training of Qatar’s military forces. The status as a MNNA recognizes Qatar’s growing responsibility as a strong and enduring US partner in countering violent extremism, combating terrorism, and deterring external aggressors.
Long before the January MNNA announcement, the United States and Qatar had increased defense cooperation across presidential administrations via agreements, strategic dialogues, and Qatar’s tangible contributions supporting US military operations throughout the Middle East. Most notably, the Qatari government has provided over $8 billion in funding for al-Udeid Air Base since 2003. These funds greatly expanded the logistical capabilities of the airbase, which hosts Air Force Central Command Forward, as well as US Central Command’s Combined Air Operations Center, Combined Joint Interagency Task Force-Syria, and the US Air Force’s 379th Air Expeditionary Wing. Qatar is also vital for regional maritime security. Doha serves as a hub for logistical resupply and crew rest for US Navy ships and the Qatari government provides support to the Combined Maritime Forces Combined Task Force 152, a multilateral regional maritime security arrangement in the Gulf.
Qatar’s elevation to MNNA status puts the country among the United States’ closest allies, like Australia and Japan. Qatar joins Gulf neighbors Bahrain and Kuwait, as well as Egypt and Israel, who are MNNA Mideast allies of the United States. Three other Gulf Cooperation Council states under consideration for MNNA status—Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—remain close security partners of the United States.
Beyond the symbolic expression of US respect and partnership, Qatar’s MNNA status confers a variety of security cooperation advantages not obtainable by non-NATO countries, such as benefiting from the same exemptions from the US Arms Export Control Act (AECA) that NATO member states enjoy, with preferential access to US military equipment and technology. As a result of AECA, MNNA allies may purchase more effective anti-armor ammunition, access surplus US materiel, expedite export processing of transfers to Qatar, and prioritize cooperation on training.
As a MNNA state, Qatar will have the option to conduct cooperative research and development projects on defense equipment and munitions with the United States, and private companies in Qatar will be eligible—as companies in NATO countries are—to bid on contracts to maintain, repair, or overhaul US military equipment. Further, Qatar’s goals for military acquisition and sustainment requirements will be given greater attention and care by the US government. The imperative for interoperability between Qatar, the United States, and NATO standards is not only valuable in and of itself, but will also allow greater information sharing at the operational levels.
Regionally, Qatar will continue to naturally protect its sovereignty, but the MNNA status will increase expectations on Doha to seek stability as Iran continues efforts to destabilize the Gulf and sponsor proxy entities contributing to increased threats of terrorist acts, missiles, and weaponized unmanned aerial systems. Globally, the MNNA status for Qatar also brings an augmented responsibility to protect the technologies and information shared by the United States. Qatar will need to remain diligent in protecting what will be shared via the heightened security cooperation partnership and in areas where operations will likely become more integrated. Additionally, the risks associated with state actors—like China or Russia—who seek to steal US and NATO technology or disrupt security cooperation among US partners isn’t new, but the management of such risks will be an increasing factor for the augmented security cooperation given Qatar’s MNNA status.
Although Qatar’s eligibility for MNNA status doesn’t automatically include a mutual defense pact with the United States, being designated a MNNA state is very much a declaration that the United States wants a deeper and stronger security-cooperation relationship with Qatar and expects the country to play a greater role in regional security.
R. Clarke Cooper is a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, former assistant secretary at the US Department of State, a former senior intelligence officer for the US Joint Special Operations Command, and a combat veteran.
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