So much has been written about John Bolton’s “pro-Algeria” positions in the Western Sahara conflict, but the facts show that President Trump’s national security adviser is more of an anti-United Nations crusader than a self-determination champion.
With the arrival of Mr. Bolton to the White House and the renewed efforts of the current UN envoy to Western Sahara, Horst Köhler, to restart direct negotiations between the belligerents, the specter of the Baker plan II has reemerged.
The US national security advisers’ tough positions in the Sahara conflict and his staunch support to the former UN Envoy to the Western Sahara James Baker’s plan stem from Bolton’s dislike of United Nations’ missions that tend to last forever without ever finding final solutions to conflict that are purely political. The UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) fits these criteria.
His hard-charging approach to the conflict is a response to the “sluggish” work of the UN Security Council to address a stalemate that sees Morocco rule the territory and Algeria play spoiler.
The Algerian press hailed the appointment of John Bolton as a victory of the Algerian military backed Polisario guerrilla fighting Morocco over the control of the Western Sahara. In actuality, this development can benefit Morocco more than Algiers, if Rabat plays its cards right.
In fact, the first draft of the plan, AKA Baker 1, called for an autonomy for the Western Sahara within Moroccan sovereignty. Algeria and the Polisario rejected the proposal.
The former U.S. ambassador is a critic of multilateral institutions especially the UN and at the same time believes in defending American interests at any cost. In the case of the Western Sahara, he wants an end to the “wasteful” MINURSO but not at the expense of American national security in North Africa and the Sahel.
His aggressive advocacy of U.S. interests should fit in with Morocco’s cold policy and attitudes towards nations that are anti-American. On the other hand, Algeria has been courting and accommodating regimes that Bolton despises such as Venezuela, Iran and North Korea.
Furthermore, Mr. Bolton argument as was presented by Amy Tachco, political officer at the US mission in the UN, during the briefing in the Security Council on April 27, goes to the heart of the new American position aiming at finding a final solution to the conflict and an end the mandate of the MINURSO. However, Ms. Tachco never took a position on the “nature” of a final status for the Western Sahara.
Algerian diplomats wishfully refer to Mr. Bolton’s past endorsement of the Baker Plans as a sign of his support of the Polisario, a guerrilla movement that was heavily funded by Kaddafi and Castro in the 1970’s. Moreover, the Baker documents included several key Moroccan demands, called on Algeria to join the UN efforts as a party into the conflict, and did not reference independence as a preferred resolution.
While it is true, that Morocco objected to some elements of the Baker Plan II, it did not reject the spirit of the proposal. Rabat appreciated the inclusion of all eligible Sahrawi voters and the endorsement of autonomy as a feasible resolution, but opposed the idea of a Western Sahara Authority that would invite Algerian trained Polisario agents to destabilize the region.
Mr. Bolton regrets the abandonment of Secretary Baker’s settlement plan back in 2004. Nevertheless, this year may be an opportune time to revive and update the proposal to meet the current geo-political realities in the region and the world.
Washington cannot afford to have a failed state in the Western Sahara and therefore the option of “independence” is void and null and a local autonomy plan that includes some members of the Polisario looks more feasible.
By Hassan Masiky