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Algeria wants to become a satellite of Western interests in Africa

By Lucas Leiroz | June 1, 2020

The current geopolitical situation in North Africa and the Sahel can be radically changed and hardened if the new Algerian constitution allows the army to participate in operations outside its national borders. Paris and Washington are already supporting this change.

Article 95 of the new Constitution under review will open up the possibility for the “National People’s Army” to participate in “efforts to maintain peace at the regional and international level”. None of the five previous Algerian constitutions since independence from France in 1962 offered this possibility. As it appears in the constitutional project, the decision of this eventual military participation abroad must be approved by two thirds of the Parliament and it would not depend on the unilateral decision of the president, who is also the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces.

According to the text, Algeria would always act in response to the mandate of the UN, the Arab League or the African Union. The interpretations of the measure, however, go far beyond what is formally written on paper. In this specific case, a careless interpretation and an imprudent decision could generate terrible risks.

Algeria participated in two of the Arab-Israeli and Libyan wars against the United States’ incursions. In peace missions, the African country also sent forces to Cambodia, Ethiopia-Eritrea, Haiti and Lebanon.

Some opposition voices interpret the new initiative more as “an act of servitude to the imperialist powers” than as an “evolution of the concept of national security”, which must be taken into account in the study of the project. After all, is Algeria really guaranteeing its own interests by sending troops abroad in advance? Or would it be serving foreign interests as well?

Several specialists on military topics are criticizing the reform and point to it as absolutely anti-strategic in a particularly delicate “transition” period in the history of the country and the entire region. Others add to this circumstance the concern about the global pandemic of COVID-19. In the specific case of the country, the new coronavirus has left the streets free from the protests that were calling for a regime change since February 22, 2019.

The new Algerian constitutional project appears to be particularly interesting for French interests in the country, from different perspectives. For example, one of the innovations brought by the new law is the possibility for citizens with dual nationality to occupy high positions in the public administration, which has never been possible since the country’s independence and will particularly benefit France, due to the large number of French people in the region.

On a military level, Paris is particularly interested in Algerian aid in the Mali issue, since France is the foreign country most active in fighting this country’s jihadists. Now, under an international mandate, Algiers could send troops to Mali and, due to its clear interest in seeking closer ties with France (as seen in the constitutional project), everything indicates that the country could occupy a position of satellite of the French interests in Africa. It is also necessary to remember that, due to the geographical proximity, many times, Mali terrorists have made incursions into Algerian territory, which also raises the Algerian interest in the fight against the jihadists. Recently, the government of Emmanuel Macron provided a symbolic aid of 400,000 euros to Algeria. Finally, everything indicates a convergence of interests between Algeria and France.

By its part, the United States is taking the opportunity to show solidarity with Algeria. Washington recently sent two million dollars in aid to fight the coronavirus in Algeria. Amid the global dispute for medical and health diplomacy, Washington does not want to give space to Russia and China – which has also joined the group of Algeria’s main arms suppliers; Algeria is Africa’s main arms buyer, with 6% of its product for this sector.

Lately, bilateral trade between the United States and Algeria has increased significantly, with Washington interested in being more deeply involved in current issues in North Africa. Indeed, the new Constitution, if passed, will be the perfect opportunity for Americans. The same means that try to favor French interests can serve for American ones; and, possibly, they should favor even other world powers that come to invest in political and economic questions of Africa.

In fact, if Algeria ends its non-interventionist doctrine, the diplomatic impact on North Africa and the Sahel could be considerable. The new Algerian leadership seems ready to regain the international weight it lost in the Buteflika era. Being closer to France and opening such possibilities for Washington is a current strategic path for Algeria to become a western military satellite in Africa, increasing its role in international relations. The consequences of such decision will be revealed soon.

Lucas Leiroz is a research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

June 1, 2020 - Posted by | Militarism | , , ,

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