For many, opting out of the nuclear club means getting a bigger army, air force, or navy. Countries such as Turkey and Egypt have increased their air and land forces, yet it is undeniable that these institutions have lead to a militarization of these societies and unstable concentrations of power. Countries such as South Korea have looked toward the ocean and created naval forces. Developing a navy is a smart endeavor if you are a trading nation, but the idea of opening new markets or establishing new bases through naval force has not been an effective tactic since the 1800s. Finally there is a fourth path nations can take. Countries that are unable or unwilling to make nuclear weapons sometimes opt for the “poor man’s bomb.” Chemical and biological weapons can make countries feel safer, but they can also attract sanctions.
A novel idea for a nuclear weapon alternative is to invest in a national media service. Tiny Qatar is definitely ahead in this field. With Al Jazeera, Qatar is able to promote its national interest, employ citizens in a high-tech field and shape global opinion. To some extent, Al Jazeera’s Qatari staff can be seen almost as a defense reserve. As conflict increasingly moves to a “war amongst people model” as opposed to a “war between states model,” communication skills and the ability to frame a scenario becomes invaluable. Furthermore, the workload shouldered by Al Jazeera’s staff would also provide Qatar with highly-skilled individuals if conflict was to occur. It is important to remember that many of the requirements of a successful media service dovetail with modern, high-tech military needs. For example, Al Jazeera staff must understand satellite communication, cyber security and multi-variable logistics networks.
In an actionable sense, Al Jazeera also raises the clout of Qatar. Since Al Jazeera is seen by millions of global viewers, its programming inevitably impacts the world of politics. During the 2011 Egyptian revolution, Al Jazeera offered to suspend transmission to Egypt if Hosni Mubarak agreed to “deliver a lasting settlement for the Palestinians.” Furthermore, Qatar is able to leverage Al Jazeera to improve relations. Since 2009, Al Jazeera has promoted the US and the goals of the Obama administration. This decision coincided with improved US-Qatari relations vis-a-vis Iran in addition to a shifting of President Obama’s rhetoric pertaining to the role of the US in the Middle East. Al Jazeera is also used to promote Saudi-Qatari ties. Qatar and Saudi Arabia hit a low point with Qatar criticizing the Saudi royal family and the Saudi intervention in Bahrain. However, since 2009 Qatar has used favorable coverage of the Saudi royal family to mend fences.
Developing a national media service is an attractive alternative to nuclear weapons. Nations that take this route do not have to worry about drastically altering their security environment or getting the short end of crippling sanctions. Innovative security solutions such as these enrich national workforces and provide new routes to pursue the national interest.