The Pillars of France Doctrine in Western Sahara

The Pillars of France Doctrine in Western Sahara


Ali El Aallaoui

International Relations Expert


6188e16260ad5dc844849f79092cbaacA great confusion and disagreement encircle France’s position over the Western Sahara conflict, mainly that France’s position is in favor of Morocco to undermine the peace process initially signed in 1991 between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front (Frente Popular Para la Liberacion de Saguia el-Hamra y del Rio de Oro)[1]. To recall, after many years of United Nations’ efforts, an agreement could finally be reached with the coming into force of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara also known as MINURSO.

However, MINURSO diagnostic rapidly revealed a big and weak spot in its activities, namely the failing to achieve its work to hold on a referendum, the lack of human rights monitoring body and the weakness to control or supervise the extraction of natural resources such as fish and phosphates present on the Western Sahara territory and which are presently illegally extracted by Morocco, ignoring thus the choice of the Western Sahara people.

In that sense, the question of self-determination of the Western Sahara people remains in danger and is threatened by France’s ambiguous position. This leaves an analyst to say that “it’s fair to acknowledge that there are double standards in the Middle East, with particular scrutiny on Israeli abuses. After all, the biggest theft of Arab land in the Middle East has nothing to do with Palestinians: it is Morocco’s robbery of the resource-rich Western Sahara from the people who live there”[2] As a result, the UN colonial Declaration, GA Resolution 1514(1960) faces a big dilemma with France’s doctrine which wants to stop the self-determination of the Western Sahara people by any means.

To understand France’s strategy and position in that conflict since Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara in 1975, it is important to look at the function of France’s diplomacy which would shed light on the perception of the geopolitical framework into which the Western Sahara conflict is plunged.

1-The France’s Doctrine of Interventionism

The intervention of France in this conflict was conducted by the doctrine area of influence, namely the Maghreb. It is in this context that enters the Lamantin operation between December 1977 and July 1978 when France’s military forces and aircraft intervened in the war against the Polisario Front by helping Mauritanian forces. In the meantime, Morocco also received arms supplies from Paris. This intervention inaugurates a new cycle of France opposition to Western Sahara independence.

During this period which was also under the Cold War, France and other Western chancelleries such as the USA believed that Morocco’s Monarchy could slide into chaos if the Polisario won the war which would, in turn, threatens Western countries’ interests.

Also, this politics of French interventionism in Western Sahara’s conflict is in line with the core of France’s doctrine called Françafrique[3]. These politics inaugurated at the beginning of the Fifth Republic under Charles de Gaulle (1958-1965) and Georges Pompidou (1969-1974) remains as such until now. And indeed, during the presidential mandate of Valery Giscard d’Estaing (1974-1981), France intervened directly with its military forces in Western Sahara.  The two three presidents, Jacques Chirac (seven year period 1995-2002 and quinquennium 2002-2007) Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-2012) and François Hollande (2012-2017) followed the same interventionist policy. The only exception was Francois Mitterrand (1981-1995), who tried to install some equilibrium in France’s position by pushing King Hassan II of Morocco to accept the principle of a referendum. The reason behind such position seemed to be conducted by his progressive intellectualism and the influence of his wife Danielle who was known for her sympathy for the Western Sahara people.

2-France Doctrine of Self-determination

France’s interpretation of the concept of self-determination is in many ways ambiguous as French law tends to deny the notion of indigenous people. For instance, in a decision of 9/5/1991 on Corsica, the Constitutional Council affirms that there can only be one French people. Morocco uses the same position concerning the Western Sahara territory by endorsing some concept of regionalism. However, in doing so, Rabat ignores the article 73 of the UN Charter on Western Sahara which underlines that it is a “non-self-governing territory”, and therefore cannot be the object of regionalism or federalism without the consent of its people.

Moreover, as the fifth member of UN top providers of assessed contributions to UN peacekeeping operation for 2016, France uses its rank to intervene in the peace process of Western Sahara. In that way, France managed, for instance, to push the former Secretary General Kofi Annan in February 2000, to admit that a political solution instead of a referendum would be best in order to put an end to this protracted Western Sahara conflict.

3-France-Morocco Vigorous Allied

France’s culture and language enjoy the status of a genuine second language in Morocco and the Moroccan Diaspora living in France plays a big role in that situation. Furthermore, France plays also a major role in the Moroccan economy. For example, in 2016 French exports to Morocco increased by nearly 20%, with a significant increase in agricultural and transport equipment, confirming its position as the first foreign investor in Morocco. In 2015, France also contributed to 17% (€484 million) of the total net foreign direct investment (FDI) flows received by the Kingdom of Morocco, largely concentrated in the industry. With around 750 subsidiaries of French companies listed, Morocco is, in fact, the first destination of French investments on the African continent. On the other hand, Moroccan exports to France are mainly concentrated on textile products, electrical and electronic components as well as agro-food products.

Bilateral visits also remained dense in 2016, with more than 20 official visits in both directions. The mass media lobby in France is very powerful within the circle of French decision-makers and play therefore a significant role on France’s pro-Moroccan position. In this regard, the majority of mass media in France is largely silent when covering the Western Sahara conflict. In addition, intellectuals and politician like Bernard-Henri Levy, the former IMF boss who was embroiled in a sex scandal, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Jack Lang and many others regularly give a fragmented and biased image of the strangle Western Sahara people by predicting that an independent Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) would only be a microstate affiliated to Algeria.

 4-Can the New President Macron Changes the Doctrine of France in Western Sahara?

In 2003 Nicolas Baverez published a book with a resounding title, ‘France falling’[4]. In his book, Baverez insists on the economic decline of France citing as an example the decrease of the volume of France share in the world trade, indicating that if in 1996, France had an excess of 1.98% of its GDP, this figure would drop to -1.26% by 20154. An alarming situation that partly explains Emmanuel Macron’s recent election as an ultraliberal personality affiliated with corporations and the business worlds.

Today, in this era of globalization, France is still attached to the nostalgic ideas of the Congress of Vienna of 1815 which put an end to the imperial enterprise of Bonaparte. This, in turn, has contributed to the decline of France which has now become an average power[5] in the face of emerging economic countries like China, which also threatens French post-colonial interests in Africa. In that context, from a geopolitical and geo-economical viewpoint, the Western Sahara conflict is highly perceived by France’s deciders as the remedy for French power and a strong foothold in Africa.

Also, bearing in mind these major points, and in order to fill these gaps, the Polisario Front should place priority to open canals with France’s government by using, for example, the African Union (AU) institution to explain the viability of the SADR as the sixth future state in Maghreb which would conserve the interest of France in the region and beyond. But at the same level, the SADR must strengthen the role of international jurisdictions to tighten the clamp against French companies.

The Western Sahara people must also find a deal with the superpowers mainly the USA, Russia and the UK to push France to respect the democratic choice of the initial settlement agreement by referendum, putting an end to the ongoing dangerous volatile situation of no war and no peace.

The law of nations has, as Kant says, to be based on the freedom and the moral integrity of each nation. In that way, can the new French President Emmanuel Macron endorse Kant’s freedom for people of Western Sahara?



[1] Security Council documents S/21360(June 18, 1990) and S/22464(April 19, 1991) comprise the settlement Plan on Western Sahara.

[2] Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times, June 30, 2010.

[3] The term “Françafrique” is used, generally in a pejorative way, to designate the special relationship between France and its former colonies in sub-Saharan Africa.


[4] Nicolas BAVEREZ, La France qui tombe, Paris, Edition Perrin, 2003.

[5] Bertrand BADIE, Nous ne sommes plus seuls au monde au autre regard sur l’ordre international, Paris, Editions la Découverte, 2016.


2 thoughts on “The Pillars of France Doctrine in Western Sahara

  1. Pingback: The Pillars of France Doctrine in Western Sahara - صوت الجماهير

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s