Through analyzing the terminology of the Security Council resolutions on the Sahara, we draw four decisive conclusions.
Rabat – It is informative to analyze the Security Council’s terminology in Sahara resolutions in terms of its evolution and the dynamism of its meanings, as well as relying on the formulas and expressions within which these terms produce meaning.
In so doing, it is clear that this terminology has gradually shifted in the direction of abandoning gray language, towards the adoption of precise terms compatible with what a political settlement requires.
Referendum: This term has completely disappeared from the lexicon of Security Council resolutions on the Sahara. It may only be cited in the designation of the MINURSO mission. It was never mentioned separately and independently in its idiomatic sense.
Self-determination: When this term is mentioned once or twice, it is always associated with two basic conditions that surround and frame it. Firstly, it has to be consistent with the terms of compromise, realism, and a need for a practicable solution. Those terms are mentioned in advance to define its meaning, and it is linked in its purpose to the principles of the United Nations Charter, particularly the principle of sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Secondly, its mention is always associated with the Moroccan autonomy initiative, making an implicit but clear reference to the fact that it achieves the equation of reconciling self-determination with respect for the principle of territorial integrity and sovereignty.
Compromise: From 2008 to 2017, this term appeared once in every Security Council resolution on the Sahara. In 2018, an important development occurred when a resolution mentioned it three times. In 2019 and 2020, it was mentioned five times in each resolution. This included three mentions in the executive part of each resolution, which suggests a decisive shift in the United Nations’ and international perception of what is necessary in order to reach a political and a peaceful solution.
Realism: From 2008 to 2017, this term was mentioned once in every Security Council resolution on the Sahara. This is based on the recommendation of the former UN envoy Van Valsom, who expressed in his last report in 2008 the impossibility of the referendum and called for realism and compromise. 2018: Cited twice. Then in 2019 and 2020, it was mentioned three times in each Security Council resolution. It appeared twice in the executive part, thus proving that realism has become the compass of the political solution, which means that running after a separatist entity is synonymous with running after a mirage of wishful dreams.
Practicable solution: It was first mentioned in the 2018 decision and was mentioned once in the decisions issued in 2019 and 2020. This term constitutes an invitation to other parties to propose and obtain what is feasible instead of relying on static and obsolete theoretical propaganda.
Algeria: It was mentioned for the first time in 2018, when its name appeared three times. Then its name was repeated five times in 2019 and 2020 in each decision. It was mentioned twice under the description of “a neighboring country.” In total, the country was mentioned seven times in the last resolution. This is clear evidence that the Security Council seized the matter of this conflict in its complete understanding by deciding to hold Algeria as a party to this regional dispute.
Through analyzing the terminology of the Security Council resolutions on the Sahara, we draw four decisive conclusions. These are highly important for understanding the transformation taking place in the methodology of conflict management at the United Nations and within the framework of the Security Council’s attributions under Chapter VI of the UN Charter:
1. The term referendum has been buried definitively as has been reaffirmed by Omar Hilale, Morocco’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Everyone who talks about the referendum is talking about whims and delusions directed to enthusiastic consumption in the Tindouf camps or in the Algerian media.
2. The right to self-determination is an end and not a means. Therefore, the Security Council decided to strongly highlight the conditions that would guarantee its attainment, namely compromise, realism, and the desire for a practical solution. From this standpoint, self-determination can only be internal, performed on the ground through advanced regionalisation. It may develop in the southern provinces into a negotiated form of large autonomy in line with constitutional legality and international experiences in strengthening the regional competencies in the frame of sovereignty and territorial integrity.
On the economic level, the principle of self-determination finds its proper and realistic implementation in the development model of Saharian regions, which is consistent with the right to development as a building block of the right to self-determination.
3. Since 2018, the UN Security Council has been convinced that the autonomy plan Morocco presented in 2007 constitutes an appropriate framework within the conditions that the last three Security Council resolutions — between 2018 and 2020 — strongly reaffirm. These conditions are compromise, realism, and the desire for a practical solution.
4. The Security Council has redefined the Sahara conflict since 2018 as a regional conflict and therefore requires Algeria to act as a direct party to the conflict and to sit at the negotiating table. This should push Algeria to change its traditional position as part of the problem to a positive position as a part of the solution.
However, this hope for Algeria’s real, constructive involvement is seemingly utopian. It could only take place within the framework of a radical change in the doctrine of the Algerian military — which is based on a systemic animosity towards Morocco — and within a complete revision of the theoretical rhetoric on which Algerian diplomacy is grounded.