The US is becoming more involved in the Western Sahara conflict, which pits Morocco against the Polisario Front. The Polisario Front is a movement whose objective is the full independence of Western Sahara, a claim supported by Algeria.
A territory claimed by both Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), proclaimed by the Polisario Front in 1976, Western Sahara has never been a major problem in the eyes of the United States. However, for some time now, US diplomacy has been putting pressure on the parties to resume negotiations and accept the UN special envoy.
Since 1975, the conflict has been played out in the corridors of the United Nations and the capitals that surround it: from Algeria, the Polisario Front’s main ally, to France, Morocco’s closest ally, via Spain, the former colonial metropolis, and neighbouring Mauritania. Thus, American diplomacy is putting pressure on the parties to resume negotiations and accept the UN special envoy.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that President Joe Biden has inherited a cookie-cutter dossier since Donald Trump ignored international law to recognise Moroccan sovereignty over the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara. While Joe Biden’s policy on Western Sahara is not officially defined, his diplomats are lobbying in the UN corridors to appoint a new special envoy for the region and bring Morocco and Polisario to the negotiating table.
« Many Americans know nothing about the conflict, and most wouldn’t even know where Western Sahara is on the map, » says Stephen Zunes, a professor at the University of San Francisco and co-author of a book on the subject. « But given the power and influence of the US in the world, and the fact that it is the only power to have recognised the Moroccan annexation, it has been given a much more important role. The ball is now in the court of Joe Biden, who has so far resisted the idea of going back on the recognition of his predecessor, despite his repeated promises to replace international law as the normative pillar of relations between countries, » he added.
It should be noted that the dialogue between Morocco and the Polisario Front has been at a standstill since former German President Horst Köhler resigned as special envoy for Western Sahara in May 2019. Having become a global issue illustrating the rivalry between Morocco and Algeria, the Sahara issue is still blocking the construction of the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU).