The UN’s reaffirmation of its Western Sahara stance comes amid an unprecedented, epoch-defining development in the dossier.
The UN General Assembly’s Special Political and Decolonization (Fourth) Committee has adopted a resolution calling for the resumption of dialogue to salvage the UN-led political process in Western Sahara.
The resolution, which Morocco’s state media said was approved in November, calls on all parties to “fully cooperate with the UN Secretary-General to achieve a political solution to this regional dispute.”
As doubts surround the viability of the increasingly in-question UN-led political process, the Fourth Committee seems to remain convinced a UN-brokered “just, lasting and mutually acceptable political” solution is the best way out of the Sahara crisis.
Amid suspicions of a fragile political process following recent escalations in Western Sahara, the document urges conflicting parties to fully respect all UN Security Council resolutions since 2007.
It echoed the latest UN reports and Security Council resolutions on the Sahara dispute, namely Resolution 2440, 2468, 2494, and 2548, describing “pragmatism,” “realism” and “compromise” as the driving spirit of any serious efforts to settle the Western Sahara question.
In recent years, mention of pragmatism and political feasibility has come to mean de facto support for Morocco’s stance, especially its 2007 Autonomy Plan. For many Sahara observers, recent tensions in the buffer zone originated from the Polisario leadership’s perception of an increasingly pro-Morocco UN consensus.
Having been outmaneuvered on the diplomatic front, the argument goes, Polisario saw in “calculated escalations” a way of altering the prevailing, pro-Morocco momentum and attracting international attention to the “frozen” territorial conflict in Western Sahara.
UN-led political process and the new US stance
At the same time, the UN’s reaffirmation of its Western Sahara stance comes amid an unprecedented, epoch-defining development in the dossier. Earlier this week, US President Donald Trump announced America’s recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the region.
While the US has long supported Morocco’s stance, successive American administrations had opted for an “intricate diplomacy” that consisted in tacitly — or diplomatically — supporting Rabat without overtly frustrating Polisario and Algeria.
With the latest Trump announcement, however, the US has overtly embraced Morocco’s stance and put to bed its decades-long practice of “strategic ambiguity.” As it happens, news of America’s fresh Western Sahara policy sent shockwaves in diplomatic circles and ignited debates over its long-term implications.
Some analysts have summarily dismissed the move as a short-termist, transactional decision by an outgoing administration eager to score some last-minute points before leaving the stage.
For others, America’s new Western Sahara stance will have far-reaching consequences on both the UN-led political process and other countries’ inclination towards Morocco.
In-between these two clashing interpretations, another suggestion is that while the US move might not single-handedly settle Western Sahara’s decades-long territorial dispute, Washington’s recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty will decisively shift the political discourse further towards Morocco.
The bulk of Trump’s presidency has been to oppose and repeal the Obama administration’s defining policies, as evidenced in the Paris Accord on the climate crisis and the Iran nuclear deal.
President-elect Joe Biden, who has been presented as a return to America’s default position on most issues of international prominence, is largely expected to define himself in opposition to most of President Trump’s flagship achievements or policies.
Nonetheless, many analysts agree that Biden, even if he wants to, ultimately may not be able to overturn a vast number of President Trump’s decisions.
Amid such mixed appreciations of Trump’s Western Sahara move and the UN’s persisting optimism about the prospects of its political process, the only certainty seems to be that most future discussions on Western Sahara will not be the habitual exercise in avoidance diplomacy.
Countries will have to choose between the two conflicting visions — Polisario’s referendum or Morocco’s Autonomy Plan — contending for the hearts and minds of the international community. As far as the two camps are concerned, half-hearted choices or non-committal support does not help much.
With the US having taken the plunge, observers expect some other countries to unambiguously embrace Rabat’s stance. But whether this, too, will only enrage an already frustrated Polisario and lead to other escalations remains to be seen.