Western Sahara

Pornography of the Conflict

Nafaa Mohamed Salem


During the many elapsing turbulent decades of the cold war, it was brought to our attention that small leftist countries and insurgencies threatened the global civilized Free World security because they were extensions of the Soviet Power. The innocent wandering Bedouins of the Sahara were considered part of the "menace". Supposedly, behind their stray slender camels stood the menace of the Red Giant.
Ironically, there was the fear that a communist regime might become possible on the summit of a dromedary which subsequently could affect the regional stability and become dangerous for the geostrategical interests of the West. It was in the autumn of 1975, when we were then fully living the Cold War between the two superpowers, a huge tempest blew and drafted strongly from Argentina- Chile to Zaire, from East Timor to Western Sahara. "I don't see why we need to stand idly by and let a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people," wondered Kissinger.
In this same autumn, the unfortunate people of Western Sahara were abandoned by their 100 years Spanish colonizers who illegally concluded the 14 November 1975 the "Madrid Agreement" by which this territory was handed over to Morocco and Mauritania when Dictator Franco was agonizing in hospital.
Wickedly, King Hassan II of Morocco rushed to The US leaders seeking help to stop "communism". King Hassan II lied that the Soviet Union is conniving with the Polisario Front guerrillas as part of a Soviet campaign to ''destabilize'' Morocco and other Western-oriented African countries.
Kissinger successfully helped secure American support for the regime of his newly befriended Juan Carlos (Juan Carlos Alfonso) King of Spain. Kissinger helped negotiate the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Western Sahara. There was considerable pressure from France and the United States for Spain to support Morocco's claims, through Kissinger twisting the arm of both the Spanish Foreign Minister Cortina and special envoy Vernon Walters going to Spain to work as an active intermediary with other Spanish officials. The United States threatened to cut off all military aid and technology assistance to Spain and to impose an even broader embargo if they confronted Morocco militarily. King Hassan II invaded Western Sahara, Kissinger whispered to President Ford: "[King] Hassan has pulled back in the Sahara. But if he doesn't get it, he is finished. We should now work to ensure he gets it. We would work it through the UN [to] ensure a favourable vote."

I bet that by that time, 99% of the then Bedouin Saharawi population did not know what meant communism. Sadly the Saharawis found themselves between the hammer of realpolitik and the nail of Containment Doctrine. Throughout the Cold War, the US and Western governments continued to back the brutal regime of King Hassan on the plea of that Polisario Front, and the Saharawi Republic who were receiving direct support from Algeria and Libya and were recognised by many nations worldwide, should not become a base for Soviet intervention. "The United States will not allow another Angola on the east flank of the Atlantic Ocean" articulated Kissinger. The Moroccans thumbed their noses after Henry Kissinger's three-day private visit during which he conferred with King Hassan II. Kissinger confidently advised his staff: "Just turn it over to the UN with the guarantee it will go to Morocco."

The decisions that underlined the dynamics of the conflict were therefore, obviously taken in Washington and not in Moscow and are prima-facie evidence that refuted the myth of a regional rivalries and antagonism between two leading states of the Maghreb, Morocco and Algeria.

Although the International Court of Justice rules that Morocco has no historical claims to the territory, the USA backs Morocco diplomatically and financially in the war to annex the area. The then US representative at the United Nations, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, bragged: "In both [East Timor and Western Sahara] the United States wished things to turn out as they did, and worked to bring this about. The Department of States desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success." It is true, "The solution to this problem presupposes a political agreement among all the governments concerned and interested. The exploration of the possibilities to arrive at such an agreement was plainly not covered by my mandate" complained UN Secretary General's Special Representative Swedish ambassador Olof Rydbeck. "There is a second reason why I felt that I should abstain from coming forth with any specific suggestions in my report to you. Assuming that an agreement between the parties concerned and interested could be reached and that they would thus cooperate in the process of consultation, it seems to me that the United Nations would have to be involved intensively if the right of the population were to be guaranteed", added Rydbeck in his report to the UN Secretary General, February 1976.

Nevertheless, after the Madrid agreement and the Green March, the UN somehow deduced that their role in the conflict would be limited to some exploratory visits and shows. "The Moroccan was the director of the comedy which had been played for me from the morning till evening with the purpose to "fill my eyes with blue vapour" (Swedish for: pulling the wool over a person's eyes" deplored Rydbeck. Just by a simple word, Rydbeck was not allowed to continue his mission. "When I accordingly to the plans flew to Geneva I was met by the message that I was no longer welcome in Morocco and in Mauritania" wrote Rydbeck. Olof Rydbeck had not since then showed up. But the UN miseries in Western Sahara did not end up at this early stage, UN Secretary General Perez De Cuellar deliberately deviated in his definition of the "Saharawi Population" allowing thus King Hassan II to introduce thousands of his subjects in the vote lists, he subsequently, as service rendered, was offered a high position in the Moroccan Company Omnium Nord Africain. Boutros Ghali, clearly siding Morocco, a friend and ally of King Hassan II, stubbornly postponed the transitional period, barred Frunk Ruddy from telling the truth in front of the Fourth Committee in 1996. "during my time in Western Sahara Morocco conducted without a raised eyebrow from Boutros-Ghali´s hand-picked representative who run the referendum, a campaign of terror against the Saharan people. These outrages were documented to Boutros Ghali´s representative in MINURSO by outsiders like me, but also by UN. Witnessed Rudy. Up to now, many high ranked MINURSO staff, both military and civilians paid sporadic uncovered visits to Morocco.

Besides France, the real Mother of the Moroccan Regime, U.S. policy has been one of solid political, diplomatic, economic, and military support for Morocco. Despite that no one believes that a micro-Bedouin-power like the people of Western Sahara, really threatens the survival of the sophisticated West. Miserably, it was said during the Cold War that these "people" were merely instruments of Soviet world aggrandizement. For decades, "soviet expansionism" served as the justification for Morocco to obtain "all what needed". "Because of the heavy Soviet arms employed by the Polisario, Morocco is actually fighting the Soviet Union" unconvincingly argued King Hassan II.

U.S. policy on the conflict; has always delighted the Kings of Morocco, and remained consistent under the five successive administrations of Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. No significant change under George W. Bush administration was noticed.

Described as longtime ally of the United States, the Reagan Administration massively increases its military assistance and sends generous packages of American arms aid to Morocco including as an example, 108 American M-60 tanks as well as reconnaissance planes and a huge influx of various other lethal equipments aid While the Moroccan Royal Forces were pinned down by the Saharawi Liberation Army throughout the late 1970s. In 1981, the Polisario had liberated 85 percent of their country, forcing the Moroccan occupation forces into a tiny area in the northwest corner of the country and a handful of garrison towns.

United States military delegations arrived in rescue to discuss the "matter" in Western Sahara and other regional security issues with Moroccan military and civilian leaders.

One famous 23-member mission, made up mainly of Air Force officers, led by James West, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. He conferred with Moroccan officials and toured the Western Sahara war zone aiming at assessing the extent of Morocco's military needs in battling Polisario guerrillas ending, in return, by Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. and King Hassan II conferring the possibility of landing rights for the Rapid Deployment Force being planned for the Middle East, shortly, Alexander M. Haig Jr disclosed that the United States and Morocco announced agreement on a joint military commission and on steps that lead to transit rights for American military forces. Not enough for a military takeover, the 1982 King Hassan II visit to the US helped boost the longstanding policy of American military aid to Morocco to get more American arms and support. Morocco bought $30 million worth of American military goods. The Reagan Administration increased that to $100 million the following year. U.S.-designed sophisticated electronic sand "wall" was built. The United States sought an agreement with Morocco giving American troops permission to use ''certain facilities'' and bases. The agreement that was initialed by Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. and Foreign Minister Mohammed Boucetta was formally completed in 1982. It allows American military planes to use air bases in Morocco during emergencies in the Middle East and Africa. Morocco was among few Arab countries that benefited from Cluster Bombs from the US.

However, besides the heavy arsenal of weapons offered to the Moroccan Royal Forces, the regime was utterly relying on outside publicly shown support which helped waging by proxy a very costly war for Morocco. In the other side, the Morocco military expenses were generously covered by brotherhood Arab monarchies like Saudi Arabia and at a certain extent Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

After thirty year, odds upside-downs, the dossier of Western Sahara fell in the hands of the American diplomats. Richard Armitage, the American deputy secretary of state told Al-Jazeera that Washington "supports the territorial integrity of Morocco……. But we do recognise that the people of Western Sahara have expectations about their own future." The US provided Rabat with arms to wage war in a territory where Morocco's claim to sovereignty was still not formally recognized by Washington, while on the other hand, it voted in the UN Security Council to authorize a referendum in Western Sahara, in which the Saharawis are expected to freely choose their fate. The U.S. direct military aid has largely ceased but unfortunately, has been replaced ad libitum by large loans and sales. Economic aid has been somehow reduced, though crucial U.S. support through international financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank sine die continues.

In spite of the called British "ethical foreign policy", just as example, Britain has refurbished 30 105mm cannons for the Moroccan regime. A 3.5 million contract has been undertaken behind the curtains to supply parts for these cannons, which are situated on the 'defensive wall' in Western Sahara.

As the smell of oil emerges off-shore the Sahara, Baker's former spokesperson at the Departments of State and Treasury and close personal friend, Margaret Tutwiler, quickly appointed U.S. ambassador to Morocco, obviously placed there to help cut oil deals. Next step, Kerr McGee formally implemented in Western Sahara. The deal began.

The king officially declared the referendum ballot was "no longer necessary". Baker resigned. Today, however, having led nowhere, the Baker II Plan appears politically dead. His resignation followed many years of failed attempts to get Morocco on trail again, but stubbornly met with rejection. There is no wonder for this since the US lifted no finger and showed no real intention of challenging Morocco's attitude but made that country a "major non-NATO ally" of the US and, additionally, arranged for Morocco to receive special funds basically designated for countries much poorer in addition to some other huge sums in the name of "War on Terror". Chirac enthusiastically applauded.

The Moroccan resistance to the UN multiple proposals, has repeatedly aimed at replacing them with bilateral negotiations with Algeria, with a blessing and vocal support from France.

If the international situation of the last decade of the Cold War was less favorable to a UN role in mediating and ending conflicts, there is no reason now for the UN's attempts to organize a referendum about the territory's future to be futile. In Western Sahara, in the era of post-cold-war, the UN's record appears less than successful, with apparent "failures" in organizing a referendum for 74.000 persons. When the UN appeared to have entered a new sphere of activity, after acting 15 years in peace in Western Sahara, the UN's achievements look less promising than at the end of the Cold War.

Nevertheless, the strategy that followed the PLO, ANC and other national independence movements of our time in abandoning the armed struggle in return for a fruitful rapprochement with the above mentioned super-powers did not unfortunately function with the unlucky people of Western Sahara.

Nafaa Mohamed Salem