In the nineteenth century the prime minister Lord Palmerston said that Britain had no friends, only interests. The foreign policy of any country is based on two basic principles: its national interests and the security of its borders. On the southern flank, Spain borders Morocco and Algeria, for this reason our relationship with these two countries is a priority. The first is vital in migratory matters and in the fight against jihadist terrorism (the Sahel is the new Tora-Bora), with the second we have a notable energy dependency. Rabat and Algiers have been in conflict since the 1960s for control of Western Sahara. As a former colonial power, Spain adopted in 1975 a position of strategic ambiguity that guaranteed us understanding with Algeria and Moroccan non-belligerence pending our recognition of Saharawi sovereignty.
On March 18, the royal palace of Morocco published a letter from President Pedro Sánchez in which he stated that the proposal for autonomy with respect to the former Spanish colony is “the most serious, realistic and credible basis” to achieve a solution to the conflict. With this letter, Sánchez erased with a stroke of the pen a foreign policy continued for almost 50 years. Almost four months later, Moncloa continues without giving explanations about this radical turnaround. In the absence of information, rumors arise. Spain’s desire to get closer to the Biden Administration and align itself with its policy towards the Sahara, inherited from President Trump, for example. On March 7, the US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, visited Madrid. There are those who see a direct relationship between this trip and the letter to Mohamed VI. Another hypothesis points to the urgent need for Minister José Manuel Albares to rebuild relations with Rabat after welcoming the leader of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, to be treated for covid.
Officials with whom I have spoken these days still see the swerve as inexplicable. «I would say that it was a decision of the Socialist Party influenced by Albares that He thus wanted to repair the other nonsense of taking Ghali to Spain to be cured without warning the Moroccans.” They regret the lack of foresight of a Ministry that is our external showcase: “It seems that they act without thinking things through”. Well, the letter from the President of the Government has opened a conflict with Algeria aggravated by the context of the energy crisis derived from the war in Ukraine. The Spanish government attributes Algeria’s hostility to pressure from Russia. But it is a side issue. Algeria participated in the Non-Aligned Movement, which was actually under the influence of the USSR. Despite this, Spain built a good neighbor policy with Algiers that is now broken to pieces.
The confrontation has a difficult solution. Not even a change of government would serve to restore relations. «We will have to go little by little, measuring decisions well, perhaps with small gestures with the Saharawis over the coming years”, they assure me. The conflict has another derivative: Ceuta and Melilla. Our ambiguity about the Sahara was a safeguard for the two Autonomous Cities that have now disappeared without Morocco having given us guarantees about their Spanish status. Bad business.