Foreign policy and defense
Based on geographical map from Digopaul, Morocco is a nation in Northern Africa. Its capital city is Rabat. The question of Western Sahara dominates Morocco’s relations with the outside world. No other country has recognized annexation of the area, leading to some isolation for Morocco. In addition, the country strives to maintain good relations with the United States and Europe as well as with the conservative monarchies of the Arabian Peninsula.
Western Sahara is called Africa’s last colony. Morocco has occupied three-quarters of the former Spanish colony since the 1970s and, for historical reasons, considers itself entitled to the entire area. The Nationalist Polisario, in turn, is fighting for an independent state. The UN has demanded that the indigenous peoples themselves choose whether Western Sahara should become an independent country or part of Morocco. A referendum on this was the condition for a UN-mediated ceasefire concluded between Morocco and the Polisario in 1991. Contradictions about whether the Moroccans who moved into Western Sahara since 1975 would have had the right to vote permanently postponed. Meanwhile, Morocco continued to expand its presence in the area and encourage immigration.
- Countryaah: Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Morocco for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
Occupation of Western Sahara causes some problems in Morocco’s relations with the rest of Africa. Morocco, in protest of the African Union’s (AU) predecessor, left the OAU when Polisario’s exile government in 1984 was accepted as a member, and then stood as the only country on the continent outside the AU. In 2016, Morocco applied for re-membership, despite the fact that nothing has changed in the case of Western Sahara, and at New Year 2017/2018 AU welcomed Morocco as a member country again. Morocco has good relations with many African countries even outside the AU’s framework, especially in West Africa.
The conflict over Western Sahara has blocked cooperation within the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA), formed in 1989 by Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Libya and Tunisia. The hope was initially to create a regional free trade area and close political cooperation, but within just a few years Algerian-Moroccan conflicts had paralyzed the Union. Some UMA meetings are still held regularly, but at a low level.
Relations with Algeria have remained poor. Algeria supports Polisario, which has its headquarters in Tindouf in western Algeria. Although the relationships were periodically extremely tense, wars have been avoided and nowadays the relationship can be described as chilly but correct. The border between Morocco and Algeria has been closed since 1994. This creates financial problems for Morocco, as the border cuts off important trade and transport routes.
In the Arab world, Morocco is closely associated with Saudi Arabia and the other oil monarchies on the Persian Gulf. These have seen financial and political support for Morocco as a way to support another conservative and Western-friendly monarchy. Morocco, in turn, needs help to cover its constant budget deficit, and over the years has been the largest beneficiary country for Arab aid. During the spring of 2011, Morocco was offered unexpected membership in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). No membership has been lost, but Morocco receives political and financial support. In 2014, investments for $ 120 billion over ten years have been promised, a substantial increase from the $ 5 billion in investments made during the previous ten-year period.
Since then, the strong western-oriented Morocco has friendly relations with the United States. Morocco is seen as an important ally in the fight against terrorism. The US has described Morocco as the role model for the Arab world in terms of reforms and in 2006 a free trade agreement came into force. That same year, Morocco gained status as an important US ally outside NATO, leading to increased economic and military assistance.
Morocco signed a trade agreement with the EU’s predecessor EEC as early as 1976. An association agreement with the EU came into force in 2000. Morocco was the first Mediterranean country to have “advanced status” in its relations with the EU in 2008. Morocco is the country that receives the most aid from the EU in the called the neighborhood policy. In 2011, however, the European Parliament stopped a fisheries agreement between the EU and Morocco, citing the occupation of Western Sahara, and a new agreement was signed only two years later. When, for the same reason, the European Court of Justice annulled a trade agreement concluded by the parties, it resulted in Morocco in early 2016 temporarily suspending all relations with the EU, in protest. At the beginning of 2019, both a new agreement with Morocco on agricultural products and a new fisheries agreement were approved in the EU, despite the fact that Morocco has in no way backed down from its claims on Western Sahara.
Morocco’s main arms carrier in Europe is Spain and France, which are concerned about stability and development in northwestern Africa. France supports Morocco’s line in the Western Sahara issue and both trade exchange and French aid are extensive.
Spain and Morocco have a more complicated relationship. A constant dispute concerns the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla and a number of small islands in the Mediterranean, which Morocco claims. The Western Sahara issue is also very much alive in Spain and many Spaniards are opposed to Morocco’s occupation. Nevertheless, during the 2000s Spain has approached Morocco’s position and, among other things, expressed cautious support for King Mohammed’s attempt to make Western Sahara an autonomous Moroccan province.
Since the flow of migrants to Europe has decreased through EU agreements with Turkey, the route via Morocco and Spain has become increasingly important. The pressure on Morocco to block traffic has also increased (see Calendar).
The Moroccan defense force has been strictly loyal to the royal house since a couple of coup attempts in the early 1970s. The military duty was abolished in 2006, but in 2018 a decision was made to reintroduce it, beginning in the fall of 2019. Men aged 19-25 must serve one year. For women and people with dual citizenship, military service becomes voluntary (see Calendar).
Morocco participates in several UN peacekeeping efforts, mainly in African countries. However, angry that UN chief Ban Ki-Moon 2016 talked about the “occupation” of Western Sahara, however, the government threatened to completely withdraw its support for UN efforts, and to order UN representatives from Western Sahara.
In Yemen, Morocco’s air force has participated in the Saudi-led attacks against a Shiite Muslim rebel movement that began in 2015.
The Armed Forces have been expanding in recent years. Since 2017, several major contracts have been signed with the United States and France among other countries. The agreements include the purchase of fighter aircraft, attack helicopters, combat vehicles and robotic systems.
FACTS – DEFENSE
Army: 175,000 men (2017)
The air Force: 13,000 men (2017)
The fleet: 7,800 men (2017)
Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 3.2 percent (2017)
Military spending’s share of the state budget: 10.7 percent (2017)