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When monarchies collide: case studies of “near misses” of monarchic war

A peace among similar political systems does not equal harmonious relations devoid of conflict. On the contrary, it allows us to exhibit a mechanism that contains and manages conflict rather than avoiding or negating it. The two following cases are thus chosen because they are cases of monarchic conflict and are some of the closest instances of Middle East monarchies going to war against each other. Before their consolidation into independent nation-states, war was a frequent occurrence. After developing an identity as a separate state and recognizing the other as equal, warfare stopped, even though their conflicts with each other continued.

Of the following two cases, the first is a likely case for ingroup identification and subsequent preference for de-escalating conflicts to better showcase the mechanism. The second is a harder case that attempts to establish the limits of the theory and the influence of confounding factors and generalizability.

The chapters show how the strong sense of commonality led to political and military restraint in the case of Bahraini-Qatari relations and how the consolidation of state borders and institutions and, later, a shared threat were necessary for an ingroup identification to arise, transforming the rivalry between the Al Saud and the Hashemites into a relationship based on cooperation rather than conflict.

Bahrain and Qatar - keeping conflict “in the family”: the Hawar Islands dispute

Despite being counted among the "most serious disputes” (Klialaf 1987) on the Arabian Peninsula,1 the conflict between Bahrain and Qatar also shows how a more developed and mature ingroup identification impedes conflict escalation.

Although a crisis slide into a full-out war was not likely even at the height of the conflict in 1986, it marked a shocking departure in the conflictual but usually nonviolent relations of the two statelets, thus fitting into the category of a “near miss”. The case is also important because it shows an ingroup that, unlike the other case smdies, had sufficient time to develop and is based on numerous more similarities than monarchy, heightening similarity in the dyad.

A formative aspect in Bahraini-Qatari relations was their territorial dispute about the 17 Hawar Islands and Zubarah, including the fashts (shoals/banks) of

Dibal and Jaradah. It lasted for 30 years since their independence until its resolution by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2001, but its roots were significantly older.

The following analysis will therefore focus mainly on the trajectory of the conflict and the actions and reactions of the Bahraini and Qatari ruling elites. The complete period of analysis from independence in 1971 to the resolution of the territorial dispute by the ICJ in 2001 will be subdivided into two periods to ensure greater legibility and stronger homogeneity within periods. After a short pre-independence historical summary, the two main periods will be divided by crucial successions in the emirates that markedly influenced bilateral relations: the dividing line is formed by the palace coup in Qatar that brought Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani to power in 1995. While the period between the two successions is especially fraught with tensions due to the incongruence of the worldviews of the rulers, once the generational change had transpired, the conditions for the resolution of the dispute were especially good. Even at the nadir of their relations, the tight bonds of similarity enabled a political (and ultimately military) restraint between Doha and Manama.

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