A Moroccan citizen may consider the decision to unilaterally withdraw Moroccan troops from the buffer zone of the Guerguerat region an indication of the confusion and indecisiveness in response to the continuing escalation of separatists.
Before rushing to conclusions, a multi-faceted analysis of all the recent developments in the Guerguerat crisis should be carried out in regard to international law and paying attention to the geopolitical and geo-economic analysis— without overlooking the geostrategic considerations — in order to attain a clear vision and clarify the small details that might be hidden by quick readings.
First, from the perspective of international law and the need for international legitimacy, the withdrawal from the buffer zone can be considered as evidence of Morocco’s strong determination to continue supporting the United Nations’ wishes.
In this context, one can understand the telephone calls between King Mohammed VI and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the communique issued by Guterres which contains a clear emphasis on the need to respect the 1991 agreement as methods of stopping the provocations of the separatist group. Furthermore, the withdrawal marks the U.N.’s return to a neutral approach and the advent of a new approach in dealing with the recent dispute, which occurred two months after Guterres took his new post.
From a geopolitical perspective, the Guerguerat crisis is happening in a turbulent context that is open to numerous security risks, especially with recent indications of the major powers’ declining interest in the region. At the same time, it would be worthwhile to compensate for this geopolitical void by setting up a common defense policy with West African countries, disabling Algeria’s ability to put pressure on the countries of the region regarding security.
From a geo-economic perspective, it is expected that Algeria will try to use the Polisario Front to confuse the dynamic partnerships between Morocco and a number of important African countries in light of the recent dispute. It should also be noted that this unilateral withdrawal puts the Polisario Front in a position to be condemned and could legitimize the use of force against it because it threatens the international trade lines between Morocco and Mauritania.
The recent decision by Morocco to withdraw its troops from the buffer zone surprised the Polisario Front —and behind-the-scenes actors —as it finds itself in an increasingly marginalized position, in terms of its political and diplomatic sway as well as its international legitimacy.
In geostrategic language, the Moroccan troop withdrawal carries two meanings. The first is the possibility of a negative impact on the vital interests of Morocco, as it affects the trade line linking Morocco to its African roots.
The Polisario Front may take advantage of Morocco’s unilateral withdrawal to try to impose a fait accompli and claim that the Guerguerat regionis a “liberated territory” in order to continue its procrastination policy in light of the internal cracking of the Front and the erosion of the support it receives from abroad.
The second meaning suggests that withdrawal is a tactic intended to take advantage of fatal errors that might be committed by the Front at the incitement of Algerian military intelligence such as terrorist activities or threatening the safety of international trade. Morocco’s tactical approach seems consistent with its geographic power that enables it to arrange an efficient and prepared military response under the cover of international law and international legitimacy.
By Reda Elfallah, professor of international relations at the University of Ibn Zahr in Agadir
Translated by Kaoutar Benchouk