Over the years, as part of my academic research, I have spent many hours at the National Archives poring over diplomatic cables of the kind recently released by WikiLeaks. The only difference is that rather than being released after a 30+ year waiting period — when the principals involved are presumably dead or in retirement and the countries in question have very different governments in power — the WikiLeaks are a lot more recent, more relevant and, in some cases, more embarrassing as a result.
Letter to Middle East Quarterly regarding Samuel Spector’s “Western Sahara and the Self-Determination Debate”
To the editor: The small group of scholars (and even smaller group of policy makers) interested in Western Sahara always appreciate new contributions to the discourse. However, they should at least be based in fact. Samuel J Spector’s article ‘Western Sahara and the Self-Determination Debate’ (Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2009, pp. 33-43) unfortunately fails this preliminary test.
At the end of April, the UN Security Council will have the opportunity to make the right choice or the safe choice when it renews the authorization for the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). The right choice would be to give the new UN envoy a mandate for peace. To do this, the Security Council would have to secure the commitment of both sides of the conflict, Morocco and the pro-independence Polisario Front, to power-sharing and self-determination. The safe choice, meanwhile, would be to continue under the weak mandate that contributed to the failure of the previous UN envoy.
Published by Foreign Policy In Focus.
At the end of March, a relatively obscure Washington, D.C., think tank called the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies published a report — in conjunction with the conflict management program of the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University — arguing largely in support of Morocco’s 2007 autonomy proposal to solve the Western Sahara dispute. Framed in terms of US policy towards North Africa (‘Why the Maghreb Matters’), the report is a thinly veiled effort to provide academic and political legitimacy to a one-sided view of the Western Sahara issue. It precipitated a detailed response from the Western Saharan Union of Writers and Journalists.
In recent years, the Moroccan government has championed the idea of autonomy as a solution to its territorial dispute with pro-independence advocates over Western Sahara. Rabat has said it is willing to consider an autonomous, locally elected government in Western Sahara, which would have powers independent of the central government, albeit circumscribed by Morocco’s ultimate sovereignty. The movement for Western Saharan statehood, on the other hand, has rejected autonomy. It continues to claim the right of self-determination, to be exercised through a final status referendum among the territory’s indigenous ethnic Sahrawis.