International Dimensions Of The Western Sahara Conflict, edited by Yahia H. Zoubir and Daniel Volman
There is an air of unreality about a great deal of what has been written about the Western Sahara conflict. During the 80’s and 90’s there was a period of hope with the end of the Cold War that the various parties involved would be encouraged to make a reasonable peace. And it is not as if the conditions for a reasonable peace would have been all that hard–work with the Spanish 1974 census and get people in Western Sahara and the refugee camps in Algeria to vote on whether Western Sahara wants to be a free country or part of Morocco, then go and enforce the decision with some developmental aid and assistance from other countries and encourage Maghrebian unity in the aftermath of a successful plebiscite. Yet it is now the 2020’s and progress has not been made for decades in the Western Sahara issue. Morocco seems content to try to wall itself in and occupy most of the area and leave the more remote desserts to a POLISARIO regime that it refuses to recognize, and no referendum has been made as far as the fate of Western Sahara is concerned. And none of these books written by academics about the conflict can explain why.
This book is between 250 and 300 pages long and it is divided into ten papers. The book begins with a foreword, and then has acknowledgements and an introduction. After that the first paper discusses the origins and development of the Conflict in the Western Sahara (1), after which another paper discusses the historical narrative and study of national transformation involving late Spanish and French imperialism in the region (2). After this there is a discussion of America’s low-intensity intervention in the Saharan War with support to Morocco (3), after which another paper discusses America’s strategic interests in the region (4). Another paper then discusses the subtle neutrality that Moscow sought to maintain in the area (5) given its interests across the Maghreb, which meant a distinct lack of support for POLISARIO relative to its support of other anti-imperialist revolutionaries in Africa, as in Angola. After that there is a paper that examines the international legal issues relating to Western Sahara (6), one that discusses the role of foreign military assistance in the Western Sahara war up to the book’s writing (7), as well the role of Western Sahara in discouraging the greater unity of the Maghreb as a whole (8). After this there is a paper on a proposed and abortive referendum in Western Sahara (9) as well as a look at the conflict in the Post Cold-War era (10), after which there is a glossary, selected bibliography, index, and information about the contributors.
It’s not as if this is a bad book. It certainly does what it sets out to do, and that is to explain some of the angles involved in the Western Sahara. It does go over the same sort of material that many other books do, especially those which come from a relatively pro-POLISARIO perspective, and seems to assume that Morocco can be gently nudged into playing nice and that the various parties involved want to solve the dispute. What seems most obvious to me, albeit as an outsider without any personal interest in any of the sides, is that no one involved appears to be motivated to resolve the problem. Morocco has a de facto but not a de jure occupation, there remain tens of thousands of refugees in Algeria that hardly anyone knows or cares about, and this book was written more than 20 years ago and would need very little updating to bring the reader up to date on the state of the Western Sahara dispute. It is immensely embarrassing that things have gone on for this long with no hint of resolution, but that is the benefit of a dispute being obscure in that there is no pressure for people to do anything about it.