Sahara: Will the Security Council broaden MINURSO’s mandate?

Following the uproar caused by the United States’ decision to propose a Security Council draft resolution that would include the establishment of human rights monitoring mechanism in the Sahara, laymen, experts and analysts in Morocco and elsewhere, are asking many questions: will the US go forward with this proposal and formally present this draft resolution to the Security Council? What role will France, the main backer of Morocco on this issue, play to prevent this from happening? In the event the draft resolution is tabled in blue to the members of the Security Council, would France veto it?

A number of people say that the US will not back down and will present its draft resolution, which will put Morocco in a delicate situation. But before jumping to conclusions, one should consider a number of factors that suggest that things will not be quite so simple, and that the US might end up never tabling the draft resolution to the 15-member council, or at least water it down in a way that would not significantly alter the situation on the ground.

First of all, the likelihood that France will veto a resolution submitted by the US is quite dim. From a moral and political standpoint, in spite of the privileged relations between Morocco and France, the latter won’t risk using its veto power for an issue that does not affect it directly.

Secondly, it would be quite difficult to imagine a left-wing-led government known for its advocacy for human rights vetoing a resolution in this regard. In addition, no matter how solid and exceptional are the relations between Rabat and Paris, the latter won’t risk upsetting Algeria, especially if we take into account the economic crisis France is experiencing and its need to recover its economic presence in this country.


Draft resolution to be watered down or shelved


The scenario that seems to be more likely to occur is that the draft resolution will be either watered down or shelved.

In this regard, many factors should be taken into account. The first of them is that the draft has not been, as of yet, circulated to the members of the Security Council. Many outside observers have been so taken aback or carried away by the US move to the point that they forgot that the text is still only being discussed between the Group of Friends of the Western Sahara, which in addition to the United States, is comprised of France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Spain.

It should be noted that not all the members of the Group of Friends currently favor it. While the United Kingdom seems to be in favor of the US move, France will do its utmost to prevent it from reaching the vote stage. What might play in favor of Morocco is that Russia, which usually plays a positive neutrality on the issue, is not in favor of the inclusion of the human rights monitoring mechanism in the Sahara. The Russian position stems from its firm principle of rejecting any interference in the domestic affairs of member states.

The UN practice in these cases, except rare instances, is that when a permanent member of the Security Council opposes any given draft resolution, the other (s) member (s) who sponsors it, “waters it down” to a point where they can reach the consensus of the whole membership.

In addition, all the resolutions on this issue adopted both by the General Assembly and the Security Council over the past 15 years have been adopted by consensus. All these resolutions call on the parties to exert their utmost efforts to reach a political, durable and mutually acceptable solution to the conflict. The approach adopted by the international community means that no solution will be imposed on the parties.

Therefore, the adoption of a resolution at the Security Council by vote might break this tradition of consensus and go contrary to the spirit of the previous resolutions, which stress that any step or decision regarding the conflict has to be accepted by both parties.

In this specific case, the US might be compelled to not only water down the draft resolution, but to shelve it until further notice. Why might the US go down this path after having made much noise about its intentions to urge the Security Council to include a human rights monitoring in the Sahara?

A number of factors could be playing in favor of Morocco. First of all, although the American administration adopted this unprecedented stance, we should not lose sight of the fact that Morocco is still a major US ally outside of NATO. The Americans still consider Rabat an unavoidable and strategic partner in the MENA and the Sahel region, especially in light of what is happening in the Mali. This status was strengthened last September when both countries launched the New Strategic Dialogue, which elevated the tradition of close cooperation between the two allies.

 It is not a coincidence that the US has been conducting over the past years joint military exercises with Morocco. This testifies to the trust that Morocco enjoys and will still enjoy among American policy-makers, regardless of any partisan consideration.

Moreover, the US perceives Morocco as one of the few Arab countries that have a more moderate view of the Arab Israeli conflict, and which can play a constructive role here. Add to that, Morocco is still perceived by Washington as the only beacon of stability in the MENA region, in particular since the eruption of the Arab Spring.

As the American journalist, Michael J. Totten, puts is in article published in World Affairs Journal, “Morocco has been an American ally and friend since 1786. Our alliance is not a wafer thin transactional one like it is with Saudi Arabia. It’s real. Morocco is a major non-NATO ally. So from a strict national interest perspective, there’s nothing complicated about our friendship with Morocco.”

Moreover, let’s not forget that Morocco, because of its moderate view of the Arab-Israeli conflict and its past relations with the Jews during World War II, enjoys a quite wide support from the Jewish lobby.

While Algeria and the Polisario enjoy the support of a strong lobby in the Congress, this support might be counterbalanced by the weight of this Jewish lobby in the event the Moroccan authorities benefit from their influence on US politics.

In light of the foregoing, chances are that the US administration will end up not submitting its draft resolution to the Security Council.

Some people may then ask then what was the rationale behind making such an announcement about its willingness to include a human rights monitoring mechanism within the MINURSO’s mandate.

A plausible answer might be that the US wanted to use its announcement as a strategic move to appease the calls of American NGO’s that were pressuring it to push for broadening the mandate of the UN mission to include human rights monitoring in the territory. By doing so, even if the draft resolution fails to pass the stage of the informal discussions, it would have shown that it took their demands into consideration. At the same time, this move aims also at conveying a message to Rabat that the rules of the game have changed and that it will have to be mindful of the situation of human rights in the Sahara.

Regardless of the outcome of the informal negotiations underway at the United Nations this week, this latest development should be viewed as a wakeup call, and Moroccan authorities need to review their strategies, if any, regarding the promotion of their position on this vital issue.

Now more than ever, if we are to make a progress towards finding a solution in line with our interest and legitimate rights, we need to rethink our approach and become more proactive in the defense of our position. Improvisation, lack of professionalism and nepotism should be excluded if we are to avoid any development that might harm our interest. Failure to do so will just put our country against the wall.

Samir Bennis is a political analyst. He received a Ph.D. in international relations from the University of Provence in France. His areas of academic interest include, relations between Morocco and Spain and between the Muslim world and the West, as well as the global politics of oil. He has published over a 150 articles in Arabic, French, English and Spanish, and authored Les Relations Politiques, Economiques et Culturelles Entre le Maroc et l’Espagne: 1956-2005, which was published in French in 2008. He is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Morocco World News.

By Samir Bennis