Foreign policy and defense
Algeria is a nation in Northern Africa. Its capital city is Algiers. Algeria has traditionally built its foreign policy on alliance freedom and solidarity with the third world. In the early 2000s, relations with the US and the EU were the focus. More recently, Algeria has taken an active role and sought to act as a stable peace broker in an unstable region. However, relations with Morocco have been strained for a long time, due to the conflict over Western Sahara.
Unrest and border threats have forced Algeria to adjust its foreign policy and try to assume a regional leadership role. In three neighboring countries, it has been turbulent for a few years: Tunisia, Libya and Mali. In the latter two cases, state power has lost control of parts of the country. In all cases, the threat from violent Islamists has at times been strong. The increased security risk also applies to the Sahel belt in other respects, that is, the states immediately south of the Sahara. That unrest in the region also affects Algeria became evident in an attack on a natural gas plant in In Amenas 2013. The country now has three new fronts with jihadist insurgency at its borders – a new strategic reality. This is particularly evident in the vast and heavily guarded southern Algeria where trade in arms, drugs and people has long been ongoing.
- Countryaah: Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Algeria for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
Algeria highlights its own experience of dealing with radical groups and integrating moderate Islamism as a model, following the bloody civil war of the 1990s (see Modern History). The argument is that neighboring states with a similar approach, with de-radicalization and reconciliation measures, can stop violent Islamism. Algeria’s leadership also advocates strong centralized states and seeks to counteract disintegration, which could lead to increased social conflicts.
Neighboring countries are causing concern
After the uprising that triggered the wave of Arab protests and forced Tunisia’s dictator Ben Ali in 2011, algae arose when an Islamist party won the election in the neighboring country that year. The fears turned out to be unjustified, instead Tunisia became a somewhat troublesome example for the authoritarian leadership in Alger, with its rapid transition to democratic rule. The biggest concern, however, is the violent Islamists who are active in Tunisia, not least along the border between the countries.
The situation in Libya creates even greater uncertainty. When the uprising broke out in neighboring 2011, Algeria offered a sanctuary for the toppled Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s widow and three of the couple’s children. However, they were forced to leave the country in 2012 (and were granted asylum in Oman). Algeria opposed the NATO-led intervention in Libya, citing the risks of internal clan battles, weapons inflows and increased jihadist attacks – and was essentially right. Since the transitional government in Libya collapsed in 2014 – and two rival governments established in each part of the country – Algeria has acted in a mediating role in cooperation with the UN envoy. Algeria opposes proposals for new military intervention from abroad and instead seeks to contribute to reconciliation between all parties except “terrorists”. In Libya, besides several domestic jihadist groups, there are also remains of Islamic State (IS), which in 2015-2016 had control over certain areas along the coast.
Mediation in Mali
When riots broke out in Mali in 2012, Gaddafi’s fall in Libya last year was a strong contributing cause. Tuaregans who returned from Libya, together with Islamist groups, revolted against the central government and took control of northern Mali in a short time. As a result, the government fell and foreign troops came to the country. Algeria has a leading role in peacekeeping and is working to prevent increased fragmentation of the neighboring country. A peace agreement was reached in 2015, but the situation remains extremely unstable (see Mali: Modern History and Mali: Current Politics).
The growing terrorist threat has led to increased security cooperation in the region. With Mali, Niger and Mauritania, Algeria in 2010 collaborated to counter the al-Qaeda extremist group in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim). The idea was, among other things, to try to prevent terrorists from seeking protection by moving across borders. In 2013, another collaboration between the countries was launched to support a moderate form of Islam, among other things, by training imams (spiritual leaders in Sunni Islam).
Conflict with Morocco
Morocco is a rival to Algeria in terms of influence in West Africa. However, the major source of conflict between the countries is Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara, and Algeria’s support for the Western Sahara Liberation Front Polisario (see also Conflicts: Western Sahara). When Morocco invaded Western Sahara in 1976, when the colonial power left Spain, tens of thousands of Western Saharians fled to Algeria. There, Western Sahara still lives, most in camps in the desert near the border between the countries. According to Algerian authorities, there are approximately 165,000 refugees in the camps, while the UN expects around 90,000.
The Algerian regime’s war on armed Islamists in the 1990s once again worsened its relationship with Morocco, after Algeria accused Morocco of giving up its territory to Algerian Islamists (see Modern History). The border between Algeria and Morocco has been closed since 1994.
Despite Algeria’s bitter war of liberation against colonial power France 1954–1962, the countries have had relatively good relations after independence. But the fight against the militant Islamists has periodically strained relations. Radical Algerian Islamists were suspected during the 1990s to be behind a series of bloody bombings in France. In 1994, members of the armed Islamist group GIA hijacked an Air France plane. Western European airlines then stopped flying to and from Algeria, which was even more isolated when the GIA threatened to kill all foreigners in the country.
Improved Western relations
When Abdelaziz Bouteflika became president in 1999, he gradually broke the country’s isolation. Airlines in the west resumed flights to and from Algiers, and in 2000 Bouteflika visited France as the first Algerian president in many years. In 2002, Algeria signed an association agreement with the EU. At the same time, more and more Algerians were arrested in Europe, accused of terrorist activities. In 2003, French President Jacques Chirac made his first French state visit to Algeria after independence. France also admitted some abuses during the liberation war. In 2007, French President Nicolas Sarkozy made his first foreign state visit to Algeria. The following year, the countries signed a cooperation agreement to develop nuclear power and to cooperate militarily and within the banking system.
During the 1970s, the Soviet Union exerted a strong influence on Algeria, including as a weapons supplier. After taking office in 1978, President Chadli Bendjedid managed to establish good contacts with the United States as well. During the 1990-1991 Kuwait crisis, the Algerian government criticized both Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the US-led alliance’s counter-attack. Following the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001, relations between the United States and Algeria improved significantly. Bouteflika visited President George W Bush in the United States three times between 2001 and 2003. From the United States, Bouteflika met with an understanding of Algeria’s long fight against terrorism. Today, the United States mainly contributes with training of Algerian security forces and has conducted joint military exercises with Algeria.
China and Japan
Algeria has also been approaching Japan and especially China. Both Asian countries have shown great interest in investing in Algeria’s oil and gas industry. In 2011, China and Algeria signed several agreements on increased economic cooperation.
Chinese companies with Chinese staff are behind a number of infrastructure projects, including Alger’s newly built large mosque. The ties between the two countries are not only strong but also old: when Algeria fought for independence from France, China in 1958 was the first non-Arab country to recognize a provisional government as legitimate. Algeria has thanked for the help not only through purchasing, but also by supporting China in the UN.
When relations between Algeria and Morocco were temporarily improved in the late 1980s, the two and Libya, Mauritania and Tunisia formed the 1989 Arab Maghreb Union (UMA). It was intended to be a “North African EU” with free movement of goods, capital and labor, but cooperation has been slow.
The FLN’s military branch during the Freedom War against France, ALN, was renamed after the independence to the People’s National Army. FLN’s close ties to the military are still partially in place. The image of the army as a popular freedom army and state builder was razed when it struck strikes and riots in 1988. Democratization in 1989 established that the defense would be transformed into a professional armed force and left politics. However, the military has remained an important part of the regime’s power base, although its political influence is strongly questioned.
Algeria has a general military duty of 18 months for all men.
FACTS – DEFENSE
110,000 men (2017)
The air Force
14,000 men (2017)
6,000 men (2017)
Military expenditure’s share of GDP
5.7 percent (2017)
Military spending’s share of the state budget
16.1 percent (2017)