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Western Sahara, a key issue in the US-Moroccan military relationship

The US defence budget for 2023 leans in favour of Morocco as the best candidate for the resolution of the Sahara conflict
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PHOTO/AFP  -   The flags of the United States and Morocco next to a map of Morocco authorised by the US State Department

The Moroccan Sahara issue has achieved a new success by not circumscribing in the US defence budget for next year any "restrictions" on strengthening the US-Moroccan military partnership, officially retaining it as one of the most important exercises of the "African Lion 2023" project in Morocco, along with other African countries, during the second half of next year. US President Joe Biden signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023, following a constitutional amendment process in the US Congress with consensus reached between Republicans and Democrats in both houses of Congress. 

The budget included in the act amounts to $770 billion, the largest defence spending ever approved in the world. Several areas include equipment procurement, maintenance and training, military assistance to countries, and domestic and foreign military exercises. The defence budget authorisation bill usually comes with demands on countries, this time targeting Morocco, where a pro-Algerian lobby led by James Inhofe, a former Republican senator known for his hostile rants against the North African country, has sought to attribute a series of impediments that restrict ongoing cooperation with Rabat. 

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REUTERS/ZOHRA BENSEMRA - Polisario Front soldiers stand at the entrance to the fifth sector of the Bir Lahlou base, Western Sahara.

The Kingdom of Morocco firmly maintains its territorial integrity with strong international support and does not compromise the historical and legal rights of its southern territories. In an active approach to upholding justice in national affairs, based on the far-sighted and far-sighted vision of King Mohammed VI, Morocco relies on continuous and active diplomacy. Thanks to this vision, expressed with determination and conviction, Morocco was able to recognise its achievements in 2022 at the United Nations. 

 Throughout October and early November, ambassadors and representatives of the OAU (Organisation of African Unity) and the regional bloc also expressed their confidence in Morocco's sovereignty over its southern territories, stressing the self-determination initiative as the only and exclusive solution to the conflict, in addition to the general dynamic of development that this part of the kingdom is experiencing. 

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PHOTO/ARCHIVO - Entrance to the future US Consulate General in Dakhla.

In the same decision adopted, the Security Council re-emphasised the role of Algeria as the main party to the regional conflict over the Moroccan Sahara and urged it to collaborate and engage with the UN Secretary General in the framework of the political process until the process is finalised. Through this new decision, the Security Council renewed its consistent commitment that the solution to the conflict must be political, real, practical and lasting. Hicham Moatad, an expert in international and strategic affairs, stressed that the renewal of unconditional US support for Morocco is in line with the strategic direction adopted by Rabat and Washington to boost the quality of the close cooperation between the two countries to the highest levels of coordination between the two countries. 

Each year, the US defence budget, overseen by the Pentagon, identifies specific threats to the national security of the American nation within its foreign policy, particularly in the military and security fields, as well as on issues of international cooperation and problems of its allies around the world. Under the leadership of former President Donald Trump, after Rabat recognised Morocco's sovereignty over the Sahara on 10 December 2020, Rabat managed to strengthen its relations with Washington. 

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PHOTO/AFP - Al-Mahbes area, where Moroccan soldiers guard the wall that separates Polisario-controlled Western Sahara from Morocco.

Inhofe, a former US senator, proposed limiting cooperation with Rabat and depriving Morocco of hosting African Lion exercises, claiming that the kingdom was putting obstacles in the way of resolving the conflict in the Sahara, a fallacy marketed by the separatist front and Algeria that resonated with lobbies hostile to Morocco's interests. As soon as there is no reference to Morocco's partner in the US defence budget, the proposal collapses. The former Republican senator's defeat in November's midterm elections has moderated his hostile rhetoric against Morocco, but he continues to lead efforts that do not appear to affect the kingdom's status as a reliable US partner. 

The international and strategic affairs expert explained that the renewal of US support for Morocco without any restrictions, despite pressure from some US lobby groups opposed to Moroccan interests, is a new political and diplomatic success for the long-established system of strategic cooperation between Rabat and Washington and a direct response to all regional and international confessors to this model of cooperation in the region, especially since its nature depends on the critical integration of many sensitive and complex geostrategic issues.

Americas Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra.