Algeria' s high military spending funded by hydrocarbon revenue forced Morocco to boost its weapons acquisitions accordingly and the result has been a prodigious arms race. The Algerian army is made up of 110,000 troops and 187,200 auxiliaries whereas Morocco has 175,000 ground troops and 50,000 auxiliary forces. In fact , Jeune Afrique points out Morocco has morethan kept pace with Algeria and its airforce has recently been boosted by the purchase of 24 Block 52 F16's which are more than a match for Algeria's Russian Sukhoi's and Mig 29's and Mig 25 Foxbat D's..Algeria's dominance in tanks -985 against Morocco's 555 but Morocco's purchase from the US of 200 M1A1 Abrams tanks will even up the balance against the Soviet era T90's and T70's.Algeria has a military surveillance satellite in orbit and both sides are building up their navies and naval bases.
The analysis by Jeune Afrique points out that Algeria has the numbers but Morocco has the qualitative edge, not only in more modern US and French equipment but also in terms of training and suport services. Whilst the Soviet philosophy still influences Algeria , Jeune Afrique says, Morocco has learnt from French and US military philosophy. Morocco has more full time professional soldiers and officers than Algeria which relies more on conscripts.Moroccans are more likely to take the initiative and are better at mobile warefare. For the moment, the analysis concludes that Morocco has the qualitative edge for the moment but lacks certain in certain areas like reconnaissance vehicles and armoured troop carriers. However the trouble with arms races is that they never end and large standing armies are very expensive which is why Europe and the USA are both cutting back.
During the cold war NATO and Europe maintained large ground and air defences in Europe to counter a very real Soviet threat.Large Soviet and Warsaw pact forces could have poured armoured columns backed by nuclear forces , superior air power and artillery into western europe.Regular exerciese on both sides could have led to a conflagration but mutually assured distruction held both sides back until the Soviet Union imploded because of the economic cost of the military effort combined with a very faltering Soviet economy burdened by excessive bureaucracy. Now most NATO forces are withdrawing from Germany; it is too expensive to maintain a standing army of that size when global recession is weakening economies.
As regards the military stand off between Algeria and Morocco, the regional and economic reprecussions of a conflict will hopefully prevent it. As in the situation prior to the second World War, the League of Nations failed to secure peace and world order.Unless the UN can act more decisively, perhaps it risks the same fate. History unfortunately does sometimes repeat itself.
Faced with the disintegrating security situation in the Sahel it is no bad thing that Algeria and Morocco have strong armed forces but the terrorist threat is elusive and extremely mobile, as the hostage attack at In Amenas proved. Suicide bombers are reeking havoc in Iraq ,Afghanistan and Syria.Conventional armed forces cannot stop them inflicting appalling casualties on a daily basis for years as Al Qaeda is doing in Iraq and increasingly in Syria.This distinegration of nation states into civil war is the nightmare of the 21st century brought on by a global recession.There is no longer any world power which can stabalise a situation solely because of its military or economic power.
In the light of the security situation in the Sahel and the instability in Egypt,Libya and Tunisia (President Moncef Marzouki said that civil war in Tunisia wasa possiblity on the BBC Hardtalk program recently ) it is to be hoped that the two nations who have withstood the disorder following the Arab Spring can use their mutual strength to help stabalise the region rather than divide it. The Sahara conflict with elements of the Polisario clearly involved with Al Qaeda needs to be resolved and this most long running dispute which is blocking the full development of the Arab Maghreb Union at the moment when the region needs to pull together , requires, if it is possible, for Algeria , the Saharwis and Morocco to finally agree a solution whilst there is still time .