The Kingdom of Morocco is described by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) as a "key strategic partner" and valued as a "driving force, engine and privileged interlocutor" of the Mediterranean Dialogue, a forum established by the allies to promote good relations and help bring security and stability to the Sahel and North Africa.
These are not words that have emerged in recent months, nor in the last three years. The former NATO deputy secretary general between 2012 and 2016, US Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, publicly stated in Rabat six years ago that Morocco is "a beacon of stability" in a region beset by conflict, which has been able to build a "solid" partnership with the Alliance, of which it is a "reliable partner".
The very positive appraisals that senior allied civilian and military officials attribute to their close ties with the North African country are not merely expressions of courtesy. They are a by-product of the extensive cooperation that Mohammed VI's government has been able to forge with the 30 member states, both in the framework of the Mediterranean Dialogue and bilaterally. Morocco is a country with vast strategic resources and the only one in Africa with a simultaneous view of both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.
Cooperation between Morocco and NATO is not new. It dates back to 1995, is nearly 30 years old, is continuously enriched and strengthened, and is underpinned by ongoing consultations between the two sides, in particular between the allied Military Committee and the Royal Armed Forces. This is why Rabat has a large permanent representation team at the allied headquarters in Brussels.
Every two years, the Moroccan authorities renew the terms of their bilateral partnership with NATO, whose well-defined objectives of common interest are spelled out in the so-called "Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme". The document outlines a set of cooperative activities aimed at working together to counter common threats. It emphasises the fight against terrorism, the protection of critical energy infrastructure, cybersecurity, modernisation of the military organisation and interoperability between NATO and Moroccan military forces.
A large part of the cooperation agenda - which is eminently practical - is geared towards military education and training for Royal Armed Forces commanders. The Alliance offers a range of training activities tailored to Rabat's needs, amounting to around 50 activities. Most of them are aimed at improving the security sector, developing new capabilities and achieving interoperability with allied military forces.
The attribution that Morocco is a "key strategic partner" of NATO means that the 300,000-strong Royal Moroccan Armed Forces enjoy a number of advantages not available to many other partner countries. Moroccan military units are regularly invited to take part in joint or combined land, naval and air exercises organised by the Alliance, either as an observer or as a participant.
Among the various examples of Moroccan units taking part in NATO exercises is its contribution to Operation Active Endeavour, an interest expressed by the Moroccan Navy in 2004. This is a naval air exercise that is carried out periodically, aimed at training in tactics and operational procedures to protect maritime traffic against piracy in the Mediterranean and also to detect illegal activities on the high seas.
The Sea Guardian manoeuvres are similar in that they encourage cooperation with non-NATO actors and allow the military capabilities and level of interoperability of third-country units to be assessed in order to execute missions according to NATO standards and procedures. Allied Air Command based in Rammstein, Germany, has also sent teams of military technicians to Morocco to train its air force in planning intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance operations, the so-called drone-based ISTAR missions.
The Rabat government is fully aware that its close relationship with NATO's different spheres is sponsored by the United States, of which it is a loyal ally, and through which it obtains important credits for the acquisition of all kinds of weapons systems. Thus, Mohammed VI and his government know how to balance the benefits they derive from the Atlantic Alliance with occasional contributions when the Military Committee needs them.
How does it do this? By assigning large contingents of troops to allied operations. Mohammed VI's army participated in the NATO Multinational Implementation Force (IFOR), which deployed to Bosnia and Herzegovina between December 1995 and December 1996 to enforce the Dayton Accords ending the war in the former Yugoslavia.
And it contributed to the constitution of the subsequent Stabilisation Force (SFOR) that took over from IFOR in the same territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which remained there until June 1998. Rabat also sent military units in 1999 to the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) to help monitor the cessation of hostilities between Serbia's military and Kosovar forces.
Morocco has a significant presence in the Alliance's Science for Peace and Security programme. This is a channel that provides funding and advice to scientific research and technological innovation projects that help identify, understand and respond to emerging security challenges.
It is a non-military relationship channel designed to engage Moroccan and Mediterranean Dialogue country scientists, academics and government officials in collaborative networks that address vulnerabilities and threats, including cyber defence, counterterrorism, and energy and environmental security.
The programme is developed within allied institutes through advanced research courses and workshops, which facilitate the pathway for the 40 partners from the 30 member nations. The doors are particularly open to Morocco, as it is the most developed of the African nations, for its technicians to take part in projects related to quantum, artificial intelligence and the threats posed by chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear agents.