By Dr. Arslan Chikhaoui, Chairman of Nordsudventures.com
20 August 2021
While the post-pandemic era will see a major shift in Algeria’s foreign policy strategy, its basic tenets remain steadfast and dependent on principles of self-determination, respect for the sovereignty of other states, and non-interference in their internal affairs.
Through its diplomacy and international lobbying actions, Algeria recently succeeded in introducing a motion to the African Union (AU) commission relating to granting Israel observer status in the AU. This action was taken despite the objections raised by a number of African states. To Algeria’s credit, the chairman of the AU commission, Mr. Moussa Faki, agreed to table this motion until the next AU Executive Council. Algeria’s position was clearly stated that any decision taken without the benefit of prior consultations with all the member states lacks the authority to support the practice of naming new observers. This practice would be totally incompatible with the values, principles, and objectives enshrined in the Constitutive Act of the African Union.
Algeria was therefore the first country to respond and hold Mr. Moussa Faki’s decision to the AU’s basic principles, as well as Algeria’s promotion of its foreign policy that supports international legal principles and the defense of oppressed peoples to self-determination. This step by Algeria is seen as a diplomatic move to call into question the Kingdom of Morocco’s promotion of Israel to observer status with the AU.
In line with Algeria’s more assertive role reestablishing itself in Africa, the new head of Algerian diplomatic corps, Mr. Ramtane Lamamra, offered the services of Algeria to find an African solution for the current stand-off between Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt. Algeria’s goal is to find a “win-win” compromise to the dispute between the three countries over the GERD (Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam) water project. This project has enormous economic impact on all three countries, as well as other countries sharing water in this neighborhood, and should undoubtedly be a factor of cohesion and not of division, according to Algeria’s vision of cooperation.
Algeria has a long history of supporting an international order that defends the sovereignty of states and their right to self-determination. Since its independence in 1962, Algeria has mobilized its diplomatic efforts to promote the African and Arab revolutions and the rights of developing countries of self-determination; respect for the colonial-determined borders; non-interference in the internal affairs of states; the peaceful settlement of conflicts; good relations with neighboring countries; and non-interventionism whether military or other. Algeria’s struggle for its own independence produced an uncompromising foreign policy vis-à-vis any foreign interference. This steadfast position made Algeria an outlier during the wave of Arab uprisings of 2011 and limited its strategic options in its immediate neighborhood.
Faced with the realities of a rapidly changing region, emerging security threats, needed regional integration and convergence of national interests, Algeria is indeed forced to deal with new challenges adapting and evolving its foreign policy doctrine to effectively reposition itself on the international scene, whose contours are being dramatically “redrawn”.
The challenge for Algerian foreign policy
The world has been radically and quickly changing for the past 30 years. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the dismantling of the Eastern bloc, the end of the Cold War, as well as the multidimensional crisis Algeria was confronted with in the social uprisings in October of 1988, required it to rethink and completely recreate its foreign, defense and security policy. Its international relations had fallen into disuse, giving way to a series of activities without vision or direction. It was at this point that Algeria’s foreign policy clearly needed a major paradigm shift.
Since the end of the bipolar world, the vision of Algeria’s role on the international scene continues to be reflected in its current foreign policy. It is true that Algeria has, since the end of the 1990s, given a new importance in its foreign policy to relations with the United States of America and NATO. However, equally as important was diversifying its partnerships beyond the U.S. and the European Union, both strategically and economically. The main motivation behind this strategy is economic openness, the desire to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), and the desire diversify its oil-rentier economy.
Despite these motivations, Algeria will continue to defend the principle of the right of peoples to self-determination, as demonstrated by its position on the issue of Western Sahara. Along these same lines, this non-interference in the internal affairs of states and its commitment to the peaceful settlement of conflicts has extended to its refusal to support the proxy war in Libya; its refusal to send troops to military intervention in Mali, Syria and Yemen; containment of the growing extremist Islamist threat; and, more recently, its non-involvement in Tunisia’s internal political crisis.
Looking at Algeria today, it seems to be heading towards a new era where it is trying to adapt to the new and rapidly changing global realities. This adjustment is reflected in subtle signals to the international community, such as its involvement in NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue, which marks a turning point in Algeria’s relations with the West. In addition, its call for the resolution of Low Intensity Conflicts (e.g., in Libya, Mali, etc.) through inclusive political dialogue and its willingness to actively facilitate these efforts using its experience and expertise negotiating with Iran-Iraq, Iran-USA, and Ethiopia-Eritrea, etc.
This new approach moves Algeria towards realpolitik of interest and away from its historically more dogmatic approach. With its gradual reintegration onto the international scene, Algeria is determined to enhance its credibility in a regional and international context. This dramatic shift in strategy began, among other things, with its accession to NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue, the signing of an Association Agreement with the European Union, and its participation in the ongoing negotiation process for its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
These recent changes are nonetheless built on its strong and enduring commitments. At the multilateral level, Algeria relies on active membership in cooperative organizations at the regional and sub-regional scale. These include:
- Active member in the African Union;
- Member since 2000 in the NATO Mediterranean Dialogue and participation in several joint NATO exercises;
- Stakeholder in the framework of dialogue and cooperation of the “5 + 5” of the Western Mediterranean;
- Founding member of the Global Counter Terrorism Forum launched in September 2011 in New York;
- Stakeholder in the Joint Operational Staff Committee (CEMOC) created in 2010 and based in Tamanrasset (southern Algeria) to fight terrorism and organized crime in the Sahel region;
- Participant in the Pan-Sahelian Initiative of 2002, which became the “Trans-Saharan Counter Terrorism Initiative” in 2005;
- Promotor of a Non-Proliferation of Weapon of Mass Destruction in the region and in the African continent;
- Host of the headquarters of the African Center for Studies and Research on Terrorism (CAERT);
- Host of the headquarters of AFRIPOL.
Likewise, Algeria is pursuing strengthening its bi-lateral relations especially since the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic. Specifically, it is actively engaging with and deepening its strategic alliances, namely with China and Russia. However, it also continues to develop its predominantly economic ties with Germany, Spain, Italy and Portugal, to build strategic cooperation with the United States of America, and to mature its relations/partnership with France beyond its historic “paternalism”. Yet as its partnership and relations evolve, and new security threats emerge even on its borders, Algeria remains steadfastly committed to its doctrinal principles. It continues to refrain from taking part in any military intervention outside its national territory and remains very actively engaged in regional and international cooperation, in particular in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, human trafficking, illegal immigration and transnational crimes.
This renewal and refocus on its diplomatic and mediating strength has become the centerpiece of Algeria’s strategy as it takes up a more active regional and international role. Its desire to reimagine itself on the international scene as a key partner in the region, without calling into question the fundamentals of its foreign, defense and security policy is the real challenge as it goes forward. The Arab revolutions and the upheavals that continue in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are undoubtedly shaking up the established order. Against this backdrop and the reshaping of geopolitical and geo-economic realities, it is necessary for Algeria to continue to challenge existing thinking, evolve its strategy, and reposition itself on the international stage accordingly.
Without denying its doctrinal principles, Algeria must continue to adeptly navigate independence in its foreign policy, which is firmly founded on unwavering support of the aspirations of the peoples and opposition to any foreign interference.
In short, despite Algeria’s commitment to play an increasing international role in the post-pandemic era, it will continue steadfastly supporting its principles of self-determination, respect for the sovereignty of states, and non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states.
The views presented in this article are those of the speaker or author and do not necessarily represent the views of DoD or its components.