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HomeGlobal Perspective & Critical ResearchBiden Must Reverse Course on Western Sahara

Biden Must Reverse Course on Western Sahara

Author: John Bolton

Affiliation: U.S. National Security Council (2018-2019)

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Policy 

Date/Place: December 15, 2020/USA

Type of Literature: Article 

Word Count: 2100


Keywords: US Foreign Policy, Trump’s Proclamation, Western Sahara, Polisario, and Morocco-Israel Normalization


The author argues that outgoing President Trump’s declaration recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara in exchange for Morocco’s normalization of its diplomatic relations with Israel would seriously undermine decades of carefully crafted US policy. Therefore, President-elect Joe Biden, upon his inauguration, should abandon this declaration to free himself from the chaos that Trump leaves behind in the pursuit of his interests rather than the US interest. The importance of the article comes from the importance of its author, who served as Trump’s National Security Advisor and was a witness to many of his absurd decisions, in addition to being one of the most familiar with the Western Sahara file in the corridors of US decision-making, due to his work on this file since the President George H.W Bush era. Bolton asserts that Trump did not consult anyone in his decision, nor did he take into consideration decades of American support for holding a referendum whereby the Western Sahara people would decide their fate. The author talks about the past clash between James Inhofe and Trump. Inhofe is also one of the most knowledgeable of the Western Sahara file; he is a Senator and Chairman of the Armed Forces Committee in Congress. When Inhofe made clear (on May 1, 2019) his support for a referendum in Western Sahara, Trump responded to him that he had never heard of Western Sahara. The author stresses that Trump was deliberately ignoring the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination and was working to materialize the normalization deal. After providing a historical overview of the conflict and negotiations course (especially UN Resolution No. 690 requiring a referendum), Bolton affirms Morocco’s insistence for three decades to prevent the referendum and attempt to obliterate Resolution 609 with the support of France, Israel, and others in the Security Council. Furthermore, Morocco has worked on the ground to change the demographic composition of Western Sahara in the Moroccan favor, of which it controls 80% militarily. Thus, the author acknowledges the failure of the UN Mission (MINURSO) and believes that one of the options available is to terminate its duties and return to the situation that existed before 1991, given that Morocco broke the original agreement and has expressed its intention for three decades not to accept the referendum, so it does not deserve a cease-fire or a “false peace process.” The author refers to an important point related to the US Foreign establishment’s support for Morocco’s position and its assistance in consolidating Moroccan control over Western Sahara. With this support, in addition to Israel’s support, the Moroccan monarchy is no longer concerned about its stability, but rather believes in propaganda that it has created regarding its right to Western Sahara, covering up the issue of its occupation. The main reason for the Moroccan occupation— according to Bolton—is its desire “to control over possible substantial mineral resources buried under all that Saharan sand, fishing assets, and possible resort development opportunities for tourists.” In the final section of the article, Bolton calls on the incoming administration to immediately abandon Trump’s move, to limit and contain the damage, and urges Biden to insist on the referendum option. If he does so, Morocco will find nothing but silence and accepting what Washington insists on, which will postpone the possibility of conflict in the Maghreb; and Morocco’s reaction to Israel will be affected only slightly, especially after the UAE and Bahrain have already liberated Israel from its official diplomatic isolation. Accepting such would be in the interest of Netanyahu, who needs Biden’s support on more important issues such as the threat posed by Iran. Finally, the author calls for an agreement between Biden and Inhofe to fix the chaos caused by Trump’s unjustified offer, as this would contribute to a return to the pursuit of the US national interests rather than the interests of Donald Trump.


 By: Djallel Khechib, CIGA  Senior Research Associate



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