Resolving The Militarised Territorial Dispute Between Qatar And Saudi Arabia

Resolving The Militarised Territorial Dispute Between Qatar And Saudi Arabia

Year(s): 1992 – 2001.

Location: Qatar/Saudi Arabia International Border.

UN Regional Group: Asia-Pacific.

Type of Conflict: Risk of an Interstate Conflict.

Type of Initiative: Diplomacy and the resolution of a militarised territorial dispute.

Main Implementing Organisation(s): The Government of Egypt.

Impact: Lasting.

Summary: The territorial dispute between Qatar and Saudi was resolved, preventing an interstate conflict from erupting over the contested territory.

Description of Case 

Although the territory of Saudi Arabia was never colonised by European powers, all its neighbouring states were. As a result, the contemporary international borders are the result of colonial era treaties drawn up in the 1920s and revised in later decades. The Saudi border with Qatar (a British protectorate from 1916 until 1971) was partially demarcated in 1965, but 20km of territory remained disputed. The situation was further complicated by a series of highly contested treaties in the 1970s in which the United Arab Emirates had ceded territory to Saudi Arabia, including land bordering Qatar. In 1990, the Saudis asserted their authority over the territory for the first time by closing the historic road between Abu Dhabi and Qatar and building some guard posts in the area. On 31 September 1992, Qatari and Saudi troops clashed at Qatar’s al-Khofous Border Crossing, leaving three dead. The following day, the Government of Qatar suspended the 1965 agreement with Saudi Arabia, leaving the entire frontier between the two countries as contested – and already militarised – territory. Just hours after the Qatari declaration, Saudi troops launched an attack on the border post.[1] The Qatari troops stationed there had been ordered to hold fire, preventing further bloodshed, but the crisis threatened to escalate into a much larger conflict on 4 October when the Qatari government issued a protest memorandum describing the incident as an unjustified military attack.[2] In the context of ongoing rivalry between Qatar and Saudi Arabia on a host of issues at the time, the prospect of further armed clashes on the border sparking an interstate conflict was reasonably high.[3]

Qatar boycotted the Gulf Cooperation Council in response to the crisis and its threat of withdrawal prevented the organisation from being able to serve as effective mediator. Fortunately, the Government of Egypt made noteworthy progress in its efforts to contain the crisis. Following a series of talks, the Qatari and Saudi governments agreed to form a technical committee to delineate the border, with Egypt serving as the guarantor of the committee’s findings.[4] The dispute became militarised again in 1994, with five skirmishes taking place along the border just as the committee was supposed to begin its work.[5] This delayed, but did not halt progress, and after agreeing to the findings of the committee in 1999, a formal agreement was signed in Doha on 21 March 2001.[6] In 2008, the two countries restored diplomatic relations and the following year signed a border agreement at UN Headquarters in New York, providing a symbolic final resolution of the issue.[7]

[1] Associated Press. “2nd Saudi Border Clash Reported.” The Washington Post. (1/10/1992) Available at: (Accessed 17/11/2021)

[2] Associated Press. “Qatar Demand Saudis Leave a Disputed Post.” The New York Times. (4 October 1992) Available at: (Accessed 17/11/2021)

[3] Gwenn Okruhlik & Patrick Conge. “The Politics of Border Disputes: On the Arabian Peninsula.” International Journal, Vol. 54, No. 2. (1999) p.236

[4] Ibid.

[5] Yoel Guzansky. “Lines Drawn in the Sand: Territorial Disputes and GCC Unity.” Middle East Journal, Vol. 70, No. 4. (2016) p.551

[6] Associated Press. “Saudi and Qatar End 35-Year Border Dispute, Sign Accord.” Al-Bawaba. (21 March 2001) Available at: (Accessed 17/11/2021)

[7] Guzansky. “Lines Drawn in the Sand.” p.550