Being a tribal city-state with weak military capacity, Qatar’s pre-eminent security concern has, for a long time, been Saudi Arabia. Starting with the Wahhabi desire to control the entire Qatari peninsula in the late 18th century, even the 1965 border agreement did not provide adequate assurance of independence since Saudi Arabia established de facto sovereignty over Qatar’s rulers by enforcing foreign policy alignment. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait diminished the deference of Qatar’s emirs to Saudi policy preferences as it demonstrated Saudi weakness in the face of Iraqi assertiveness. Border skirmishes with Saudi troops in 1992, 1993 and 1994, and coup attempts blamed on Riyadh in 1996, pushed Doha to strive for greater autonomy. Emir Hamad al-Thani brokered new protective arrangements with the US (Doha hosts the Al-Udeid airbase), the UK, France and Turkey. The newer arrangements with Turkey – in the form of the Defence Industry Cooperation Agreement of 2007 and the Military Training Agreement of 2012 – fit the model of a small state increasing its security via military collaboration with more significant powers. The Turkey-Qatar Military Cooperation Agreement of March 2015 on intelligence sharing as well as force deployment further upgraded the military partnership.
Turkish military deployments to Qatar began in mid-2015 as part of an initial plan to set up an advisory command group within the Qatari General Staff and to build a military base consisting of roughly 500 to 600 Turkish soldiers. Turkey’s deployments were, however, modulated downwards by Qatar’s ruler to avoid provoking the Quartet, in line with Tamim al-Thani’s more conciliatory approach towards Saudi Arabia from 2013 onwards. In consequence, the Turkish military presence was kept to about 100 soldiers without a command group in the Qatari General Staff until the outbreak of the 2017 crisis. Post-2017, Turkey has upgraded the capacity of the military compound – the ‘Turkish-Qatar Combined Joint Force Command’.
Military procurement and the development of military industry has been another area of cooperation between Turkey and Qatar. Since 2017, especially, Qatar has committed itself to purchase a broad range of modern combat equipment from Turkey, including 100 modern tanks, 585 armoured combat vehicles, 25 modern self-propelled howitzers, and six armed unmanned armoured vehicles (UAVs). Qatar has also provided loans for Turkish defence ventures facing financial difficulties and in 2018 invested $100 million in BMC, a government-backed armoured vehicles manufacturer, buying a 49,9 per cent stake in the company. Consequently, the Qatari Armed Forces, ranked 90th of 138 countries in terms of military strength in 2020, became the fourth biggest importer of Turkish military equipment, worth c. $139 million, just below the US and Germany. This represents a 1,336 per cent increase from 2018 (3rd quarter).