After years of stagnation in the conflict over the Western Sahara, the Russian war on Ukraine and other recent events could create openings to advance long-stalled Western Sahara peace efforts. Unprecedented parallel visits by America’s top two diplomats to Morocco and Algeria last month suggest that the U.S. is exploring this new opening. The United States should firmly grasp any new chance to end this often-forgotten conflict, which helps breed conditions for extremism and transnational crime, prevents much needed economic growth, and which risks worsened instability from the Mediterranean to Africa’s Sahel region.
Morocco notched a diplomatic win this week as the United Arab Emirates opened a consulate in the Western Sahara, where Rabat has long sought international recognition of its claim over the disputed territory. It also signaled a troubling regional shift. The hostility between Turkey and the Saudi-aligned Arab states risks embroiling the Maghreb region, much as it already complicates conflicts and politics from Libya to the Red Sea region. In North Africa, as across the greater Middle East, a widening of the Turkish-Saudi confrontation is heightening the risks of destabilization and threats to U.S. regional and counterterrorism interests.
U.N. ceasefire monitors patrol the Smara region of the Western Sahara. U.S. pressure for negotiations aims to end the four-decade conflict, including the costs of U.N. involvement. (U.N. photo/Martine Perret)