Western Sahara: Against Autonomy

April 2007

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.

Neutrality or complicity? The United States and the 1975 Moroccan takeover of the Spanish Sahara

September 2006

From mid-October to mid-November 1975, the Spanish Sahara was the site of a tense standoff between the governments of Spain and Morocco. By the end of the crisis, Madrid had abandoned its colony to Rabat, precipitating the now thirty-year-old conflict for Western Sahara between Morocco and the independence front Polisario. For many years, analysis of the US role in the 1975 Sahara crisis has had to rely on much speculation and little fact. This investigation is based on recently declassified US records and archival sources, as well as documents obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act. It demonstrates that the Ford administration adopted an explicitly pro-Moroccan policy. Though avowedly neutral in the affair, behind the scenes the US government worked to make sure the Spanish Sahara went to Morocco.

in The Journal of North African Studies, Volume 11, Issue 3 September 2006 , pages 275-306.

Autonomy and Intifadah: New Horizons in Western Saharan Nationalism

June 2006

The Western Sahara conflict entered its thirtieth year last November. Celebrated by Moroccans and lamented by Sahrawi nationalists, the anniversary went largely unnoticed by the international community. Though it has been on the Security Council’s agenda since 1988, Western Sahara has defied resolution by three successive Secretaries General and Kofi Annan’s former personal envoy, former US Secretary of State James Baker. It is likely that a fourth Secretary General will take over management of the conflict next year.

in Review of African Political Economy Vol.33 No.108 (June 2006), pp255-267.

Western Sahara: The Other Occupation

February 2006

Imagine an Arab Muslim nation, most of whose people have lived in the squalor of refugee camps for decades in exile from their homeland. Most of the remaining population suffers under foreign military occupation, with a smaller number living as a minority within the legally-recognized territory of the occupier. The occupying power is in violation of a series of UN Security Council resolutions, has illegally brought in tens of thousands of settlers into the occupied territory, routinely violates international standards of human rights, has built a heavily-fortified separation barrier deep inside the occupied territory, and continues to defy a landmark decision of the International Court of Justice. Furthermore, and despite all this, the occupying power is considered to be a close ally of the United States and receives substantial American military, economic, and diplomatic support to maintain its occupation and colonization of the territory. This certainly describes the situation regarding Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian West Bank (including greater East Jerusalem) and Syria’s Golan region, as well as its quasi-occupation of the Gaza Strip. But it also describes the thirty-year occupation of Western Sahara by the Kingdom of Morocco.

How the US and Morocco seized the Spanish Sahara

January 2006

Last November marked the 30th anniversary of the Sahara crisis, triggered when Morocco successfully pressured Madrid out of its desert colony in autumn 1975. Despite the United States’ denials, declassified records reveal that King Hassan’s success was made possible through US intervention.

“Seized of the Matter”: The UN and the Western Sahara Dispute

June 2004

Since 1988, the United Nations has been actively involved in the Western Sahara dispute between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Western Saharan liberation movement known as the Frente POLISARIO. Over fifteen years later, there seems to be no end in sight for this seemingly intractable conflict. For the UN, the Western Sahara file is beginning to look less like East Timor and a lot more like Cyprus.

in Mediterranean Quarterly 15.3 (2004), pp.130-148.

Self Determination Struggle in the Western Sahara Continues to Challenge the UN

September 2003

After much wrangling from the French, the UN Security Council unanimously passed resolution 1495 right on the July 31st deadline for the rollover of the MINURSO peacekeeping operation in Western Sahara. In the best diplomatic tradition, the resolution affirmed the commitment to provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, even while it seriously compromised on it by supporting a peace plan that would allow the Moroccan settlers in the territory to vote on independence in five years. As with Israeli settlers on the West Bank, these Moroccan colonists are there in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits countries from transfering their civilian population onto territories seized by military force.

Indigestible Lands? Comparing the Fates of the Western Sahara and East Timor

January 2001

Book chapter in Rightsizing the State: The Politics of Moving Borders edited by Brendan O’Leary, Ian Lustick and Thomas Callaghy (Oxford University Press 2001).

The United States and the Western Sahara Peace Process

January 1998

Article in Middle East Policy, Vol. V, No. 4 (February 1998).

Western Sahara: Peace Derailed

May 1996

Article in Current History (May 1996).