More than seven years after the United Nations Security Council approved the process for a referendum on the fate of Western Sahara, and over 22 years after Morocco's takeover of the mineral-rich territory, it now appears that the Sahrawi people will finally have a chance to decide their own destiny. The long-running diplomatic stalemate was broken through the efforts of U.N. Special Envoy and former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III this past September in Houston in a historic agreement between representatives of Morocco and the Polisario Front, the nationalist movement of Western Sahara. The parties agreed on the identification process for voters and a code of conduct for the long-awaited plebiscite, scheduled for December 1998, to determine whether the territory becomes independent or is integrated into Morocco.
This breakthrough appears to have come not because of U.S. diplomacy, however, but despite it. And whether the referendum will finally take place as planned or, like previously scheduled votes, will be postponed due to disputes between Morocco and the Polisario over eligible voters and other logistics, may depend on whether the Clinton administration is willing to exert pressure on its Moroccan ally.
On Africa's Atlantic coast, at the western extremity of the Arab world, lies Western Sahara, site of Africa's longest post-colonial war. While over one billion people have been successfully decolonized over the past 50 years, Western Sahara is still recognized by the international community as a non-self-governing territory. Just prior to the scheduled end of Spain's colonial administration in 1976, the territory- then known as Spanish Sahara - was partitioned between Morocco and Mauritania. This came despite the landmark October 1975 decision by the International Court of Justice, which upheld the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination in the face Morocco's irredentist claims. Spain had promised the country independence, but pressure from Morocco forced the Spanish government, in the midst of its own delicate transition period to democratic rule, to back away from its commitment. Instead, in November 1975, Spain signed the Madrid accords, which granted Morocco administration of the northern two-thirds of the colony and Mauritania the remainder.
The United States apparently played a major role in pressuring the reluctant Spain to sign the accords, citing the possibility that the failure to meet Moroccan territorial demands might result in the overthrow of Morocco's King Hassan II, a strong American ally.1 The rigidly bipolar perspective of the U.S. State Department under Secretary Henry Kissinger also played a role in the decision, with Kissinger voicing concern over the possibility of an independent Sahrawi state, announcing in Madrid that "the United States will not allow another Angola on the East flank of the Atlantic Ocean."2
Still another concern, coming soon after Portugal's sharp turn to the left following the overthrow of the Caetano regime the year before, was that the Spaniards would be able to concentrate on possible domestic turmoil following Franco's death rather than on a conflict in North Africa.3 General Vernon Walters, then a special envoy, played a particularly important role in the 1975 negotiations.4 A friend of Hassan since the general's days as an intelligence agent in Vichy controlled North Africa, Walters was dispatched by Kissinger to convince the Spanish government of the need to acquiesce to Moroccan territorial demands. Walters apparently tied Spain's cooperation on Western Sahara with the renewal of the lease for U.S. air and naval bases on generous terms and with Spain's request for $1.5 billion in new U.S. weapons.5 Within two months of the signing of the Madrid accords, a five-year U.S.-Spanish treaty was signed which included agreements favorable to Spain. Walters, who has spoken quite candidly about other secret missions with which he was involved, such as arranging Kissinger's secret trips to China in 1971 and setting up the Paris peace talks between the United States and North Vietnam in 1968, has kept silent on his role here, saying, "It would look like the King of Morocco and the King of Spain are pawns of the U.S., and that wouldn't be in anybody's interest."6
The Polisario Front, the nationalist movement which had until then been battling Spain for independence, rejected the accords, so Morocco seized the territory by force. The invasion, which consisted both of a full-scale armed incursion and a largely-symbolic nonviolent march of 350,000 Moroccan volunteers, was widely condemned throughout the international community. Thomas Frank of the New York University Law School stated before Congress at the time that Morocco's invasion "constitutes a particularly destabilizing precedent for Africa and indeed the whole world."7 At the United Nations, there were efforts by Costa Rica, Sweden and Spain to enforce a Security Council prohibition of a Moroccan invasion, but this effort was blocked by France and the United States. U.S. Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan fought particularly hard to prevent effective U.N. action. In describing the episode, Moynihan observed that
The United States wished things to turn out as they did, and worked to bring this about. The Department of State 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.8
As a result, the Security Council could only pass a resolution "deploring" the invasion, relatively weak language for such a situation. However, they did call for the withdrawal of Moroccan forces and a negotiated settlement, reaffirming the "inalienable right of the people of Spanish Sahara to self-determination," calling for an end of the fighting and a referendum on the fate of the territory. However, no enforcement mechanisms, such as economic sanctions, were included. This policy to block diplomatic efforts to curb the Moroccan conquest was part of what Allan Nanes, a specialist in U.S. foreign policy for the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress, cited as a shift to a U.S. policy that "would not automatically reject a territorial transfer brought by force."9 The efforts by the United States to block effective U.N. action stands in particularly stark contrast to the American role fifteen years later in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
Morocco's invasion, which included widespread attacks on civilians, forced the majority of the population into exile in a desert region of neighboring Algeria. Nearly 170,000 Sahrawis now live in a series of refugee camps spread out over a vast territory southeast of Tindouf, where they have been granted effective autonomy by the Algerian government.10 Meanwhile, guerrillas of the Sahrawi People's Liberation Army (SPLA) had launched their war against the Moroccan occupation forces. In February 1976, the Polisario Front proclaimed the creation of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), and has maintained most of its offices in liberated territory within Western Sahara, even as most of the civilian population lives in exile in its administered refugee camps. Over 75 countries subsequently recognized the Western Sahara as an independent state, and the Organization of African Unity, the U.N. General Assembly, and the World Court have all called for Western Saharan self-determination. Although Mauritania ceded its claim to the southern third of the territory to the SADR in 1979, Morocco has since extended its occupation to this region as well.
The war in Western Sahara has not occupied the attention of U.S. policy makers as much as other conflicts elsewhere in the world. Yet the United State's has remained, along with France and Spain, among the most important extra continental actors in the conflict, having provided significant political, economic and military support for Morocco's war effort. Until the end of the Cold War, the United States demonstrated little support for a negotiated settlement.
The United States and Morocco have a longstanding special relationship. They have had a treaty of friendship since 1787, the longest unbroken peace agreement the United States has maintained with any country in the world. Morocco has a population of nearly 30 million, making it the second largest Arab county. Morocco is also rich in mineral resources, which may become more important to the United States in coming years.11 It is strategically located in the northwest corner of Africa, bordering both the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, including the Straits of Gibraltar. Since 1950, Morocco has received more U.S. aid than any other Arab or African country, except for Egypt. Indeed, since the beginning of the war over Western Sahara, Morocco has received more than one-fifth of all U.S. aid to the continent, totaling more than $1 billion in military assistance and $1.3 billion in economic aid.12
There has long been a close strategic alliance between the two countries, particularly during the early years of the Reagan administration. Morocco has allowed the U.S. Navy access to its port facilities and the U.S. Air Force landing, refueling and overflight rights. There has been close cooperation in intelligence and communications. Despite a history of close relations with Iraq, Morocco sent forces to Saudi Arabia in 1990 to support the U.S.-led war effort to liberate Kuwait. In addition, the United States and Morocco have cooperated militarily in supporting pro-Western regimes in Africa, including a major American air lift of Moroccan forces to put down an uprising in Zaire against the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1979. Moroccans have assisted in destabilizing efforts against radical African states as well, with apparent close collaboration with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Indeed, there were some striking parallels between U.S. Moroccan relations during the 1980s and the "surrogate strategy" the United States built with the shah's Iran during the 1970 s.13
Despite the increased support from the Carter administration and Congress, lingering American concerns about international law and human-rights issues caused the Moroccan government some worries about what they saw as an ambivalent attitude from Washington. The Reagan election victory in 1980 was met with great enthusiasm by Moroccan officials. According to Lissan Eddine Daoud, assistant director of the Maghreb Arab Presse, Morocco's official news agency, "We believe in God in this country and God balances things, so we got Mr. Reagan."14 Joseph Reed, President Reagan's ambassador to Morocco, was particularly eager for greater U.S. support for King Hassan's military struggle in the Western Sahara,15 stating,
Morocco is at the strategic straits of the Mediterranean. It is clear how Morocco is important to the survivability of Europe. My mandate is to illustrate to our friends around the globe that the Reagan Administration wanted to single out Morocco as the primary example of how America supported a proven ally and friend.16
When presenting his credentials to King Hassan on November 6, 1981, he said,
The United States is the true friend of Morocco. The leadership of the Reagan Administration has stated that your country's concerns are my country's concerns. The United States will do its best to be helpful in every area of need that may arise. Count on us. We are with you.17
According to Morris Draper, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, in Congressional testimony in March 1981,
It would not be in the spirit of this. administration's policy if support for America's traditional and historic friends - to meet reasonable and legitimate needs - were to be withheld or made conditional other than under extraordinary circumstances.18
Thus, the Reagan administration made a clear implication to Congress that it regarded Morocco's war in the Sahara as "reasonable and legitimate." Under Reagan, the already substantial U.S. support for the Moroccan war effort launched under Carter was greatly expanded to include direct assistance in counterinsurgency operations, efforts which effectively reversed the tide of the war in Morocco's favor.19 Morocco went from controlling a bare 15 percent of the territory in 1982 to nearly 90 percent by the end of the decade, protected by a "wall" of fortified defense posts, designed and outfitted by the Americans and the French. A war of attrition continued along the wall until the 1991 cease-fire.
THE U.S. AND THE PEACE PROCESS
The official position of the U.S. government on the Western Sahara has been that it is neutral as regards the final status of the Western Sahara territory.20 While not formally recognizing the Western Sahara as part of Morocco, the United States does recognize Moroccan administration of the territory.21 The United States formally declared that "a military solution to this conflict is neither possible nor desirable" and that "no side can win a clear-cut victory in military terms,"22 yet the arming and training of the Moroccan armed forces for counterinsurgency warfare appeared to indicate U.S. support for some sort of military solution.
While the Carter administration contended that arms aid was tied to Moroccan efforts to end the fighting, the Reagan administration made it clear that such concerns were divorced from the consideration of aid requests. Testifying before the Subcommittee on Africa on March 25, 1981, Draper stated, "We will not make decisions on military equipment sales explicitly conditional on unilateral Moroccan attempts to show progress toward a peaceful negotiated settlement."23
Both the Carter and Reagan administrations claimed that such military aid increased the chances of a peace settlement. Yet despite such pronouncements and congressionally . mandated language in the 1980 fore1gn-a1d legislation that American aid "should be related to Morocco's willingness to help achieve a cease-fire, to negotiate the relevant Western Sahara issues, and to cooperate with international efforts to mediate the dispute,"24 the aid appeared to have the opposite effect. For example, soon after the announcement of a large scale increase in aid in October 1979, Hassan vowed in a nationally televised address that Morocco would never discuss a withdrawal from the Western Sahara and would fight "forever and forever" to maintain its control. Later that month, Hassan was scheduled to go to Monrovia, Liberia, for a meeting of the Organization of African Unity hosted by the leaders of Nigeria, Tanzania, Sudan and Guinea to discuss the Western Sahara situation. Buoyed by the announcement of the increased aid by President Carter Jess than three days before the scheduled meeting, King Hassan abruptly decided not to attend.25 The Carter administration stated in early 1980 that the supply of counter insurgency weapons to the Moroccan government would "give Morocco a sense of support that can contribute toward negotiation of a solution which reflects the wishes of the inhabitants."26 However, King Hassan remained as adamant as ever in his refusal to negotiate with the Western Saharan government. The 1982, House Committee on Foreign Affairs Staff Study Mission observed that,
the qualitative change in military assistance the United States is providing may well have a negative impact on the achievement of a political solution in the Western Sahara....The concrete assistance and symbolic message these kinds of military cooperation send appear counterproductive to the U.S. commitment to a political solution.27
The report further criticized the Reagan administration's failure to communicate concerns over King Hassan' s opposition to efforts by regional and international bodies for a negotiated settlement or even to acknowledge that such opposition existed. 28
Meanwhile, the United States continued its efforts to block effective action by the United Nations, lobbying to prevent the Western Sahara situation from being placed on the agenda of the Decolonization Committee.29 Warnings by U.S. Representative Stephen Solarz in 1979 that arming Morocco would "encourage intransigence rather than flexibility" and that it would "prolong the war rather than shorten it"30 appear to have been correct. As the above examples indicate, the chances of a successful negotiated peace settlement would likely have been greater had it not been for U.S. diplomatic, economic and military support of the Moroccan war effort.
While U.S. military aid and cooperation with Morocco continued unabated, there were signs late in the Reagan administration, which continued into the Bush administration, that the United States might finally be willing to support a negotiated settlement. U.S. officials increasingly emphasized the necessity of a negotiated settlement and acknowledged the futility of a military solution. Peace efforts by the O.A.U. and the United Nations, which had previously been ignored or even undermined, finally received explicit State Department endorsements.31
A major reason for this apparent shift in U.S. policy may have been that, despite prior tacit support of Moroccan claims that the Polisario had been eliminated as a military threat, U.S. officials finally acknowledged that the war was indeed at a stalemate. The growing fiscal crisis in Morocco and a global trend toward the resolution of regional conflicts may have given impetus to those in the U.S. government willing to press Morocco to compromise. In addition, in times of fiscal restraint in the United States, foreign aid has traditionally been a tempting target for reductions; support for the Moroccan war effort and its fiscal consequences was becoming costly.32
By 1990, however, most attention was on the United Nations and recent progress towards holding a referendum to determine the fate of the territory. The United States, in both the General Assembly and the Security Council, voted with the majority in support of the Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar's peace efforts. This newfound American interest in a U.N.-led peace process may be attributed to several factors: First, it may have simply been a reflection of the generally cautious and pragmatic approach which the Bush administration had been demonstrating in several foreign-policy areas. Second, there was the effective end of the Cold War, negating some of the ideological rationale that often led the United States to support certain questionable policies of Third World allies. This also lessened the need for Morocco to play a surrogate counterweight for perceived Soviet designs in Africa. Third, U.S. relations with Algeria, the Polisario's principal backer, had improved dramatically, thus altering the perception of Algeria as a radical state opposed to U.S. interests.
Fourth, the successes of the "resurgent U.N.," and a willingness by the United States to support its efforts, allowed the United States to support the call for a U.N.-sponsored referendum. Fifth, the consensus at the United Nations for a peaceful resolution of the conflict was so strong that it would have been politically difficult for the United States to equivocate. Finally, an American acceptance of a plebiscite was made easier due to a belief among U.S. diplomatic personnel that Morocco would win.33
In 1991, a cease-fire went into effect,34 and the U.N. Security Council approved the implementation and logistics and granted funding to supervise the referendum. It involved the creation of MINURSO - the U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara35 - which would be involved in both peace making and peace keeping. However, a series of problems soon emerged: the Moroccans severely limited the rights of the Sahrawis to meet freely with U.N. personnel;36 human-rights abuses in the territories escalated;37 and the Moroccans brought thousands of new immigrants into the territory demanding that they be registered as voters.38 Furthermore, a delegation from the U.S. Senate observed during a January 1992 visit that "the situation has been exacerbated because of the Moroccan government's obstructions vis-a-vis MINURSO, while, since the beginning, the Polisario front extended full cooperation to the United Nations."39 There were also charges of a pro Moroccan bias among some MINURSO officials.40 Most problematic, the Moroccans were successful at convincing Perez de Cuellar immediately prior to his departure from his post as secretary general to consider accepting tens of thousands of Moroccans who could trace part of their ancestry to Western Sahara to be counted as voters,41 thereby tilting the balance decisively in Morocco's favor. Johannes Manz, the secretary-general's special envoy on Western Sahara, resigned in protest.42
THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION AND THE PEACE PROCESS
When King Hassan visited President Bush in Washington just weeks after the cease-fire, Bush declared his support for the U.N. plan. Under vigorous questioning at a congressional subcommittee hearing, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Africa acknowledged that Moroccan claims for an additional 120,000 people on the voter role was indeed a "violation" of the U.N. peace plan.43 Meanwhile, the Gulf War had placed the United States in a position where it had become far more difficult to be seen as blocking the enforcement of U.N. mandates or tolerating a blatant violation by one of its allies. Some State Department officials had stated privately that U.S.-Moroccan relations would be "seriously affected" if Morocco did not cooperate with the fair implementation of the referendum.44 Despite frantic efforts by the Moroccan embassy in Washington, a resolution passed by the House of Representatives in the waning days of Congress in the fall of 1991 called on all parties to comply with the peace plan, insisted on the presence of international observers, and called on the U.N. Security Council to "take firm action in the event of any failure to comply with or attempt to delay, the peace plan."45
Despite occasional bouts of archaic Cold War rhetoric alleging Cuban influence over the Polisario, U.S. policy began to take on a far more balanced perspective in the Bush administration as prospects for peace brightened. Quiet contacts with Polisario officials, suspended during the Reagan years, had resumed. Indeed, while at the 1990 Namibian independence celebrations in Windhoek, Secretary of State Baker met quietly with SADR President Abdul-Aziz.46 By all indications, the United States appeared to be willing to recognize the SADR, should voters have opted for independence. Washington also appeared willing to keep its distance and let the U.N.-sponsored peace process run its course. While not pushing Morocco to comply, the United States apparently was not attempting to undermine the agreement as it had earlier OAU efforts. Prior American efforts that centered upon insuring a Moroccan military victory and blocking mediation efforts had not been good for the U.S. international image. Said one top State Department official, "We would have everything to lose and nothing to gain by getting involved at this point."47
However, supporters of the peace process faulted the United States in its refusal to exert real leadership in this major test of the "new world order" that the Bush administration was advocating in the aftermath of the U.S.-led efforts to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation. Perhaps as a reward for their modest support during the Gulf crisis, the United States pulled back on its support of the peace agreement when Morocco became recalcitrant. According to the Los Angeles Times, "The problems have been exacerbated by the evident unwillingness of the United States to put much pressure on King Hassan."48 The embarrassment over its ally's behavior and the Bush administration's determination to keep the events out of the public eye led the State Department to refuse to allow Albert Zapanta, an American colonel serving as deputy military commander of the MINURSO peace-keeping operation and the highest-ranking American with the initial peace-keeping team, from testifying before a congressional committee hearing in February 1992. Zapanta says he would have testified that MINURSO was not being allowed to carry out its mission and that the United States needed to support the peace process more strongly.49 In that same hearing, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs John R. Bolton acknowledged that Morocco had been "unhelpful" but that Morocco's role in supporting U.S. foreign policy had to be taken into account in determining the U.S. response.50
The election of Boutros Boutros-Ghali as Perez de Cuellar's successor as secretary-general raised concerns among some Sahrawis, who cited the Egyptian diplomat's role as a staunch defender of Morocco's position in the OAU against Western Sahara as well as his personal friendship with King Hassan. It soon became apparent that Western Sahara was not a priority for Boutros-Ghali, as he delayed the appointment of a new special representative for several months. As a result of American pressure, Boutros-Ghali nominated Vernon Walters as the new special representative. The Polisario had been lobbying for the secretary general to name an American, despite the U.S. government's longstanding support of Morocco, in the hopes that it would bring greater attention to the situation.
However, Walters's close personal ties with King Hassan and his role in the Madrid accords made him totally unacceptable to the Polisario. Events in the previous months had so discredited the process that the secretary-general had difficulty finding any credible diplomat willing to take on the assignment. Finally, he chose Sahabzada Yaqub-Khan, who served as Pakistan's foreign minister under the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Zia al-Huq and who was also a personal friend of the king. It soon became apparent that Yaqub-Khan shared with the United States and the secretary-general a real lack of urgency regarding the situation. What pressures for compromise were taken over the next four years were primarily directed at the Polisario. Boutros-Ghali's strongest statements during his time in office were that the parties should avoid any provocative behavior.
The long-delayed voter identification process finally began at the end of August 1994. However, there began to be extensive evidence that the Moroccans were engaging in widespread intimidation and other irregularities which were sabotaging the fairness and credibility of the process. For example, in sworn testimony before a congressional hearing, Ambassador Frank Ruddy, an American diplomat who served as deputy chairman of MINURSO, repeatedly faulted the secretary-general's office for not forcefully responding to these abuses and has described many instances of Moroccan delaying tactics apparently designed just to thwart the process.51 In addition, contrary to its mandate, the Identification Mission refused to publish the list of 60,000 names which had been approved thus far or the criteria and evidence regarding the individual cases. This lack of transparency raised further questions regarding the objectivity of MINURSO's operation, particularly since Erik Jensen, Boutros-Ghali's acting special representative following Yaqub-Khan's resignation, had excluded Moroccan, Polisario and OAU observers from most of the process.52 Finally, in May 1996, the Security Council accepted Boutros-Ghali's recommendation by suspending the identification process.53
Meanwhile, the Security Council began to show signs of impatience at funding a peace-keeping operation that was not accomplishing anything, though critics charged that the paltry funding was part of the problem. The Polisario found itself struggling with dashed hopes; a new round of defections had begun, and frustration mounted over a peace settlement indefinitely postponed. Congress opted to cut off all American aid to MINURSO in 1995.
Given that the status quo appeared to be in Morocco's favor, Rabat had no apparent reason not to simply delay the process at every turn. While it would have been politically problematic to pull out of the process, Morocco clearly hoped that by continually prolonging it, the United Nations would give up on an interminable process that was costing the world body a lot of money and resources and was simultaneously wearing down the Polisario. In addition, the Moroccan government seemed to be going to great lengths to make sure that, if the referendum did take place, it would go in their favor. In addition to the Moroccan interference in the identification process, Hassan also stated his opposition to allowing the media or foreign observers into the territory to observe the actual voting. This served as a major obstacle, given the important role nongovernmental organizations had played in other recent referenda. Morocco's failure to dismantle the repressive police apparatus also left serious questions as to whether the population could campaign or vote without intimidation. Despite recommendations by the 1992 Senate Foreign Relations Committee report urging the United States to push Morocco to comply with the terms of the accord,54 the shift in U.S. policy back towards the strong pro-Moroccan position of the Reagan administration strengthened still further when President Bill Clinton assumed office. As with the Israeli Palestinian conflict, the Democratic Clinton administration appeared to have taken a position to the right of its immediate Republican predecessor.55 Ambassador Ruddy described how the U.S. ambassador to Morocco implied that there had indeed been a conscious shift on the part of President Clinton in favor of permanent Moroccan control over Western Sahara.56 In November 1995, the United States sponsored a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have forced the plebiscite to go ahead without Polisario approval based on largely Moroccan supported voter rolls. This resolution was withdrawn, however, as a result of vigorous protests from Algeria and South Africa.
At the same time, the United States occasionally played a moderating role, as when it blocked a French initiative in early 1993 favorable to Moroccan interpretations of the peace process and again in the summer of 1995, when the United States helped prevent MINURSO from collapsing under Moroccan pressure. Similarly, the United States intervened on occasion regarding the human-rights situation in Western Sahara and has pushed the reluctant Moroccans to engage in direct talks with the Polisario.57 However, just as U.S. encouragement for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to move forward with the peace process and to curb human-rights abuses does not constitute the kind of genuine pressure to reach a just resolution to the question of Palestine, similar measures aimed at Morocco meant little as long as the arms and aid to the occupying power continued to flow.
Well into 1996, the political balance appeared to be tilting decisively in Morocco's favor. Algeria - traditionally the Polisario's major military, financial and diplomatic supporter - was distracted by its bloody civil war. Non-aligned countries, which traditionally championed the Polisario's cause, were weakened by the fall of the Soviet Union and the debt crisis. United States foreign policy was focused on the demanding problems of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Tom Porteus, writing in Middle East International, observed, "This leaves the Moroccan monarch, who simply cannot afford to lose the referendum, with a free hand to ensure that it goes his way."58 Indeed, it appeared that King Hassan had not significantly moved from the position he had held since 1981 - that is, to give verbal support for the referendum while indefinitely delaying its implementation with the assurance that the international community would not apply sufficient pressure to deter his refusal to implement it. The failure of the _Security Council to invoke Article 25 of the U.N. Charter to make U.N. decisions binding on Morocco so as to insure its full cooperation made the prospects of successful implementation of the peace plan look highly unlikely. Indeed, had the United States responded forcefully in opposition to Morocco's designs on its southern neighbor back in the mid-1970s, the many years of war and tense diplomacy could have been avoided.
Given the leadership the United States had taken in the United Nations regarding other violators of U.N. resolutions - such as Iraq, Libya and Sudan - the apparent acquiescence to Morocco raised serious questions regarding the U.S. commitment to international law and its support of the United Nations as a neutral arbiter of international conflict. As with Israel, the Clinton administration appeared quite willing to make exceptions of countries it deemed to be its strategic allies. In that sense, it appeared that little had changed since the end of the Cold War, when the United States proved itself quite willing to sacrifice its more idealistic principles regarding international law, self-determination and human rights for what were viewed as the strategic imperatives of anticommunism. While communism was no longer a threat, the perceived need to support allied regimes - despite their rejection of international law and the authority of the United Nations - remained unabated.
ENTER JAMES BAKER
When Kofi Annan became the new secretary-general in early 1997, he soon made it apparent that breaking the deadlock on the Western Sahara peace process would become a major priority. In a surprise move, Annan appointed former U.S. Secretary of State Baker as the new special representative. Not only did the appointment bring the position unprecedented stature, Annan also made Baker his personal envoy, which allowed Baker to report to the secretary-general directly.59
Baker made it clear that he was not just interested in breaking the deadlock on the identification process, but was determined to work out an agreement that would insure the implementation of an entire peace settlement.60 While he was willing to make suggestions and offer ideas to facilitate the bridging of differences, he would not try to impose solutions on the parties. In an important departure from previous negotiations, Baker insisted that no agreement would be considered final until all outstanding issues were agreed upon.61 He also insisted on direct talks between Morocco and the Polisario, which the Moroccans had traditionally resisted. Baker was able to facilitate direct negotiations between the parties in Lisbon in June, London in July, and briefly again in Lisbon in August, culminating in the September talks in Houston that resulted in the agreement.
The accord reiterates and strengthens the key aspects of the original settlement regarding refugee repatriation, release of prisoners and troop confinement, freedom to campaign, access for accredited international observers, equal access to media and U.N. authority to intervene to insure the fairness of the process.62 The definition of eligible voters appears to be much closer to the Polisario's assumption of a legalistic territorial meaning than Morocco's rather vague ethnic referents.
From all accounts, Baker acted without direct consultation with his former colleagues at the State Department or with the Clinton White House. At the same time, the Clinton administration did offer its full support to his efforts. With an American presence in the thick of the negotiations, the Clinton administration did not feel a great need to interfere.
While State Department and Defense Department officials privately hope for a fair referendum in Morocco's favor, most realize that an unfair victory by Morocco would be highly problematic, so no one in the Clinton administration wants to disturb the process.
Why the Moroccans signed the Houston Agreement is not clear. There is some speculation that the Moroccans became overconfident that a former American secretary of state would not take such a firm and principled stance. Unable to back out without serious diplomatic consequences, the Moroccans had to agree to major compromises on most of their positions. There is also the possibility that King Hassan wanted to finally put the conflict behind him, as he was concerned about succession and the scale of popular discontent from the deterioration of the social and economic situation in the country. In addition, King Hassan was sensitive to pressure from the international community and concerned about Morocco's declining usefulness to the West. With the end of the Cold War and the decline of his government's role as incendiary in Israeli-Arab negotiations, Morocco's financial supporters have reduced their levels of aid.
Whether the December referendum will actually take place may depend on whether the Clinton administration is willing to take the leadership to insure its Moroccan ally does not once again seek to delay and sabotage the peace process. There is some speculation that the Moroccans actually hope for open American pressure to help blunt the domestic reaction should the referendum not go in their favor. As was the case during the Bush administration, Congress is taking some initiative in the manner through an unusual coalition of liberal and conservative lawmakers from both parties. In October, Congress passed a resolution supporting a "free, fair and transparent" referendum "held in the presence of international and domestic observers and international media without administrative or military pressure or interference" where "only genuine Sahrawis, as identified in the method agreed upon by both sides, will take part," and furthermore requested that the Clinton administration to "fully support" such a referendum process.63
Due to Baker's decisive role, the Polisario was quite eager to have him stay on as special envoy. However, Baker did step down at the end of 1997 due to other obligations. The secretary-general then named another American, Charles Dunbar, as the new special envoy. A recently retired career ambassador, Dunbar is known to be very knowledgeable about the region and a highly effective diplomat, though his role as a major Reagan adviser during Afghanistan's civil war - where he was a strong advocate of U.S. backing of the hardline Islamic fundamentalist Hekmatyar faction and close ties with the Pakistani military dictatorship - has raised questions as to whether he might allow his own perception of U.S. policy interests to take precedence over principle and the fair enforcement of international agreements.
Perhaps a bigger question is whether the Clinton administration is willing to take the leadership to insure that Morocco does not try to back out of the referendum. No matter how honest or effective the U.S. special envoy may be, as long as the Moroccans know that the permanent members of the Security Council are unwilling to enforce the mandate of the world body, they still may try to sabotage the peace process to avoid losing.
Whatever the moral or legal obligations of the United States regarding the resolution of the Western Sahara dispute, there are some clear strategic imperatives of supporting a fair peace process that would guarantee genuine self-determination. Traditionally, the United States had assumed that King Hassan would fall as a result of popular reaction to losing the referendum. While this may indeed still be the case, the fate of the aging Moroccan king may be less important than the stability of the regime itself, which could be threatened even more by prolonging the conflict further. Morocco's stability in the long run would likely be enhanced by ending the dispute, even if the referendum went against integration. The occupation has been a major economic drain, has threatened Maghreb unity, has alienated Morocco from many African countries and has cast the government as an international outlaw in the eyes of many.
In addition, it is important for the United States to avoid alienating Algeria, the most ardent backer of Sahrawi self-determination, given that country's ongoing internal crisis and its historically important role in the region. With the Cold War over and economic problems now recognized as the major threat to regional security, the importance of a peaceful resolution to this divisive and potentially dangerous regional flashpoint becomes all the more obvious.
In any case, the willingness of the United States to help guarantee the referendum process could be a litmus test for the credibility of U.S. diplomacy in North Africa and perhaps in the entire world. Whether the Clinton administration is ready to do so remains to be seen.
1 Tony Hodges, Western Sahara: Roots of a Desert War, (Westport, CT: Lawrence Hill & Co., 1983), p. 215. The Spanish government was internally divided on the question, with the U.S. throwing its weight behind the fascist Falangist party, which supported Morocco, against Spanish military and diplomatic official. See Richard B. Parker, North Africa: Regional Tensions and Strategic Concerns (New York: Praeger, 1984), p. 112.
2 Quoted in Leo Kamil, Fueling the Fire: U.S. Policy and the Western Sahara Conflict, (Trenton: The Red Sea Press, 1987), p. 10. Ironically, the Polisario Front, while identifying somewhat with the leftist Third World revolutionary tradition, never embraced Marxism-Leninism and never received aid from the Soviets, [see Yahia Zonbir, "Soviet Policy toward the Western Sahara Conflict," Africa Today, Vol. 34, No. 3, 1987].
3 Hodges, op. cit., p. 356.
4 Martha Wenger, "Reagan Stakes Morocco in Sahara Struggle," MERIP Reports, No. 105, May 1982, p. 22- 24.
5 Africa News, November 2, 1979.
6 Ibid. Still, it may have been mostly internal factors which led to the Spanish decision to forego their promises; all parties acknowledge the agreement was made in haste under difficult circumstances stemming from a desire to get Spain out of the Sahara crisis quickly to be better able to concentrate on internal problems. Handing the territory to Morocco and Mauritania was, in effect, an easy way out, despite the political, ethical and legal questions. Basically, the Spanish leadership felt they could not wait for an international solution, and the regime panicked.
7 U.S. Congress, House Committee on International Relations, Subcommittees on Africa and International Organizations, Hearings on the Question of Self Determination in Western Sahara, 95th Congr., 1st Sess., October 12, 1977, 19.
8 Daniel Patrick Moynihan, A Dangerous Place (Boston, M.A.: Little, Brown and Co., 1978), p. 247.
9 U.S. Congress, House Committee on International Relations, Subcommittee on International Organizations, Hearings on Human Rights in East Timor, 95th Congress, 1st Sess., June 28 and July 19, 1977, 79. The Indonesian invasion of the former Portuguese colony of East Timor had close parallels to the Moroccan invasion of Western Sahara just five weeks earlier.
10 This is the official estimate of the Polisario Front. Some U.N. officials estimate the actual total may be closer to 105,000 [Background Briefing, United Nations Secretariat, June 1996].
11 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittees on Africa and on International Security and Scientific Affairs, Hearings on Arms Sales in North Africa and the Conflict in the Western Sahara: An Assessment of U.S. Policy, 97th Cong., 1st sess., March 25, 1981, p. 42. The State Department emphasized Morocco's importance repeatedly, especially when Congress is considering foreign aid requests. According to State Department figures in this report, manganese and cobalt, for which the United States is 100-percent dependent on imports, are mined in Morocco. Nearly half of the world's known phosphate reserves - an important source for fertilizer which may be in short supply in coming decades - comes from Morocco. With the assistance of U.S. firms, Morocco is beginning to develop its vast oil shale deposits. There are also deposits of antimony, zinc, lead, coal and at least some oil.
12 United Nations General Assembly, Special Committee Records, 1337th Meeting, August 9, 1988, pp. 2-16, report from John Zindar, Center for Defense Information ·
13 See my article, "The United States and the Sahara War: The Sahara War and Regional Interests," Arab Studies Quarterly. Vol. 9; No. 4, Fall 1987.
14 The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 19, 1982.
15 The Washington Post, November 5, 1981.
16 The New York Times, February l, 1983.
17 The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 18, 1982.
18 Quoted in Tony Hodges, "At Odds With Self-Determination," in Gerald J. Bender, James S. Coleman and Richard L. Sklar, eds., African Crisis Areas and U.S. Foreign Policy,(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), p. 268.
19 See my article "The United States in the Sahara War: A Case of Low-Intensity Intervention," in Yahia Zoubir and Daniel Volman, eds., International Dimensions of the Western Sahara Conflict, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press,) 1993
20 See, for example, testimony by David Schneider, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, U.S. Congress, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittees on Africa and on International Security and Scientific Affairs, Hearings on Arms Sales in North Africa, p. 5, 98th Congress, first session, March 15, 1983.
21 The New York Times, February 1, 1983.
24 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, International Security and Development Cooperation Act of 1980, 96th Cong., 2d sess., April 16, 1980, 15.
25 Africa News, January-February 1980.
26 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittees on Africa and International Security and Scientific Affairs, Hearings on Proposed Arm Sale to Morocco, 96th Cong., 2d sess., January 24, 1980, 3.
27 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. Policy Toward the Conflict, 11.
28 Ibid., 18.
29 Ibid., 12.
30 Stephen Solarz, "Arms for Morocco?", Foreign Affairs, 58, No. 2, (Winter 1979-80), pp. 295-96.
31 Charles Redman, Department of State Daily Press Briefing, December 12, 1988 (Washington: Department of State, 1988).
32 Morocco's other two major sources of aid were also becoming less than reliable: France's then-Socialist government had been ambivalent about Morocco's Western Sahara policy and the world oil glut was limiting the level of Saudi contributions.
33 Background interviews with U.S officials in New York and Rabat, May-June 1990. This was not the view held by most independent observers, however.
34 Despite a tacit agreement prior to the cease-fire to refrain from offensive military action, Morocco's forces launched a major attack into Polisario-controlled territory just weeks before the cease-fire took effect. This was the first major Moroccan offensive since I 983, ostensibly in the name of rooting out "terrorists" prior to the referendum. The crisis brought a strong outcry from most of the international community, and Secretary General Perez de Cuellar threatened to call an emergency special session of the Security Council. The United States was the only permanent member of the Security Council to not directly condemn the offensive.
35 The French acronym was chosen since no pronounceable acronym was possible in English.
36 Barbara G.B. Ferguson and Tim Kennedy, "North Africa at Risk as Western Sahara Peace Plan Stalls," The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Vol. XI, No. 3, (August/September 1992), p. 92.
37 Kim Murphy, "Moroccan Throne Appears at Stake in a Historic Western Sahara Vote," Los Angeles Times, November 9, 1991, p. A16.
38 Stanley Meisler, "Failure Feared for W. Saharan Truce," Los Angeles Times, March 7, 1992, p. A6.
39 Cited in De Froberville, op. cit.
40 Ferguson and Kennedy, p. 92.
41 Meisler, p.A6. Not long afterward, the Moroccan news agency reported that a Moroccan corporations with close ties to the royal family had purchased Omnium Nord Africain, a French company, and appointed Perez de Cuellar as its deputy chief, leading to what one veteran U.N. reporter referred to as "uncharitable speculation." [Ian Williams, "United Nations Report: Expellees, Western Sahara, Bosnia and Nuclear Weapons on 1993 Agenda," Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April/May 1993, pp. 42-43].
42 According to the letter, dated December 13, "The transfer to the Territory of non-identified persons, during what is called the 'second Green March,' constitutes, in my opinion, an infraction to the spirit, if not to the letter, of the peace plan. It is therefore with great sadness that I discovered the content of your letter to the King of Morocco on this subject, dated November 18, which was sent without previously consulting or even informing me" (de Froberville, op. cit.). Manz was subsequently named the Swiss representative to the United Nations.
43 Wolf, op. Cit.
44 Background briefing, U.S. Department of State, January 1991.
45 HCR 214, I 02nd Congress, October 2, 1991.
46 SADR diplomatic source.
47 Background briefing, U.S. Department of State, January 1991.
48 Meisler, p. A6.
49 Hultman, op.cit., p. AIS.
50 Barbara Crosette, "Congress Scrutinizes Peacekeeping Test Case," The New York Times, March 1, 1992, p. 9.
51 Ambassador Frank Ruddy, testimony before the House Subcommittee on the Department of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary and Related Agencies, (Committee on Appropriations), "Review of the United Nations Operations and Peacekeeping," January 25, 1995. Ruddy talks in some detail about the failure of the U.N. Mission to respond effectively to Moroccan abuses in an April 21, 1995, speech before the Defense Forum Foundation in Washington, D.C. entitled "MINURSO: A Case Study on U.N. Peacekeeping Operations." Defenders of MINURSO note that Ruddy, a non-career diplomat appointed by President Reagan, is closely identified with conservative critics of the United Nations that have used MINURSO's problems as an excuse to attack the U.S. support for U.N. peace-keeping activities in general. However, even those familiar with MINURSO's activities who are generally supportive of the United Nations acknowledge that Ruddy's analysis was essentially accurate.
52 Jarat Chopra, "A Chance for Peace in Western Sahara," Survival, Vol. 9, No. 3, Autumn 1997, p. 54.
53 UNSC Resolution 1056, May 29, 1996.
54 Hultman, op. cit.
55 See, for example, my articles: "U.S. Policy at Odds With a Just Mideast Peace," Christian Science Monitor, August 24, 1994; "Washington's Hard Line: The U.S. as Obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian Peace," The Progressive, March 1994; "The Hebron Massacre and the American Connection," Z,. April 1994; "U.S. Policy Towards Jerusalem: Clinton's Shift to the Right," Middle East Policy, Vol. III, No. 2, Fall I 994; and, "The Israeli-Jordanian Peace Agreement: Peace or Pax Americana?" Middle East Policy, Vol. III, No. 4, Spring 1995.
56 Ruddy, Defense Forum Foundation speech, op. cit.
57 Chopra, op. cit., p. 57.
58 Tom Porteus, "Polisario's Weak Hand," Middle East International, June 28, 1991, p. 14.
59 Much of the impetus had actually come prior to Annan becoming Secretary General. In the fall of 1996, largely at the initiative of the U.N. General Assembly-frustrated at how the secretary general's office, with the acquiescence or encouragement of the Americans and French, had delayed the peace process-took the lead. The UNGA encouraged direct talks between the parties, an implicit vote of no-confidence in the Security Council's performance.
60 There were some reports at the time that Baker was pushing for a compromise autonomy plan that would bypass the referendum process altogether. These were apparently false.
61 Kofi Annan, "Report of the Secretary-General on the Situation Concerning Western Sahara," United Nations Security Council, S/1997/742, September 24, I 997.
62 "Rep ort of the Secretary-General on the Situation Concerning Western Sahara," op. cit.
63 HR 245, 105th Congress, First Session.