Foreign Policy Panel: A State in Western Sahara would pose a Threat to Global Security & Regional Stability.
The Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA) hosted the panel at the Council on Foreign Relations which included Dr. J. Peter Pham, Senior Fellow and Director, Africa Project, National Committee on American Foreign Policy, and ASMEA Vice President; Ambassador Herman J. Cohen, former Assistant Secretary of State for Africa; and Dr. Ricardo Rene Laremont, Professor of Political Science and Sociology, SUNY Binghamton.
Dr. Pham presented his new paper, "Not another Failed State: Toward a Realistic Solution in Western Sahara," and asserted that "resolving the Western Sahara conflict does matter, now more than ever." He pointed out that "an independent Western Sahara wouldn't be viable; in fact, it would be a threat to the international community, to the region, and to the people who lived there." Such a scenario raises "the terrible specter of another failed state, one that neither Africa nor the world needs."
Pham highlighted numerous factors contributing to a failed state in a Polisario-controlled Western Sahara. He concluded that the Polisario, in its current manifestation, lacks all of the basic structures of a state, including a permanent population, a defined territory, international recognition, and a viable system of governance.
Dr. Pham called Morocco's autonomy plan "the best way forward for all interested parties" and "for the stability and security in the region." He urged the US to work on the ground to establish conditions for autonomy and sustainable development. He also highlighted two recent letters signed by 233 US House members and 54 US senators which expressed concern about regional stability in North Africa and the Sahel and called on the US Administration to support a solution based on autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.
"The world has changed dramatically since the conflict began," Dr. Pham warned; "no longer can a frozen conflict in an ungoverned region be safely ignored." Dr. Pham stressed that this is especially the case in the Sahara where terrorists such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and criminal groups seek to undermine state authority and foment instability. Dr. Laremont added that Western Sahara is part of the Sahel, a region in ecological and political crisis extending all the way across Africa, often ignored, but vitally important as a highway for illegal trafficking in humans, narcotics, and illicit goods, and a haven for terrorist networks.
Amb. Cohen said Morocco's compromise autonomy "proposal is the best possible deal" for Sahrawis because it gives them control over local government and institutions and guarantees their economic means to survive. He called the plan "an extremely good offer for all parties involved" and said the reason "it isn't happening is Algeria."
Dr. Pham concluded his remarks citing humanitarian concerns of the decades-long Western Sahara conflict: "None of the guarantees of international law are being provided to the Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf." He added that poverty in the refugee camps in Algeria was also becoming an urgent security concern, creating conditions in which extremism can flourish, and a recruiting pool that can be easily exploited by terrorist groups in the area.
Dr. Pham's paper appears in the inaugural issue of ASMEA's new Journal of the Middle East and Africa.
To obtain a copy, please contact Suzanne Kurtz with ASMEA at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.680.9255.
For a recent column by Dr. Pham on the issue, go to: http://www.nationalinterest.org/Article.aspx?id=23280