A War in Limbo
The predictable return of a forgotten conflict
As one of the last acts of his term of office, in December 2020 U.S. President Donald Trump effectively recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. This was in exchange for the restoration of full diplomatic relations between Rabat and Israel. Trump’s decision was in defiance of the 1991 United Nations resolution that ended the war between the Moroccan army and the Polisario Front troops –
who for 15 years had fought for dominance over Western Sahara – and imposed the organization of a referendum to determine the sovereignty of the disputed territory. Following the 1991 resolution, the Saharawi people spent almost 30 years waiting in vain for the referendum, while living in refugee camps in Algeria, to the general indifference of the international community.
The outcome of Trump’s decision was predictable: after a ceasefire lasting three decades, the Saharawi troops, who are mostly elderly veterans from the first war and equipped with weapons dating back to that era, have resumed hostilities against Morocco. Despite their overwhelming strategic superiority, the Moroccan army is trying to maintain a low profile. This is in order to avoid attracting international attention and to enable Rabat to continue undisturbed in its exploitation of Western Sahara’s vast resources.