Revival of Algerian diplomacy
and doctrinal principles of its foreign policy
By: Dr Arslan Chikhaoui, Geopolitical Expert
(Originally released in French in Algerian media “Liberté” on 8 August 2021)
Algeria recently succeeded, through its diplomacy and international lobbying actions, in introducing a motion to the chairman of the African Union (AU) commission relating to the reservations expressed by a number of African states who rejected the granting Israel observer status with this continental organization. As a result, the chairman of the AU commission, Moussa Faki, has put this motion on the agenda of the next AU Executive Council. Algeria’s position was clearly stated specifying that “his decision, taken without the benefit of wide prior consultations with all the Member States, has neither the vocation nor the capacity to legitimize the practices and behaviours of named new observer which are totally incompatible with the values, principles and objectives enshrined in the Constitutive Act of the African Union.”
Algeria was therefore the first country to react and respond to Moussa Faki’s decision, in line with the doctrinal principles of its foreign policy, continuously and irrevocably supporting international legality and the defence of the right of oppressed peoples to self-determination. This step by Algeria shows that it has just diplomatically established the Kingdom of Morocco, which had considered granting Israel observer status with the AU a diplomatic failure for Algeria.
Concomitantly and to restore its rightful place in Africa, the new head of Algerian diplomacy, Ramtane Lamamra, internationally renowned for being a network’s man, has during his last tour in Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, offered the good offices of Algeria to find an African solution through a “win win” compromise to the dispute between the three countries about the GERD water project (Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam). This project with enormous economic and neighbourhood policy stakes should undoubtedly be a factor of cohesion and not of division, according to Algerian vision.
Since its independence in 1962, Algeria has always fought for an international order that defends the sovereignty of States and their right to self-determination. In this sense, it mobilized its diplomacy to carry the voice of the African and Arab revolutions and was a promoter of the rights of developing countries by supporting in the various international fora the principles of self-determination, respect for the borders inherited from the divisions. colonialism, non-interference in the internal affairs of States, the peaceful settlement of conflicts, good neighbourliness and non-interventionism whatever its nature (military or other). Its struggle for independence produced an uncompromising foreign policy vis-à-vis all foreign interference, although for some this position made Algeria uncomfortable during the wave of Arab uprisings of 2011 and limited its strategic options in the face of tensions in its immediate neighbourhood.
Faced with the new challenges of a rapidly changing region, security issues, regional integration and convergence, Algeria is undoubtedly in a phase of adapting and consolidating its doctrine on foreign policy for its strategic repositioning on the international scene, the contours of which are being “redrawn”.
The challenge for Algerian foreign policy after the end of the cold war
The fall of the Berlin Wall, the dismantling of the Eastern bloc, the end of the Cold War, as well as the multidimensional crisis which Algeria was confronted with in the fall of 1988 (social uprisings in October) constituted a challenge for its foreign, defence and security policy. The benchmarks structuring international relations have for the most part fallen into disuse, giving way to a scheme with imprecise outlines. It was at this point that Algeria’s foreign policy entered a new paradigm.
Since the end of the bipolar Era, the paradigm that has driven the vision of Algeria in relation to its role on the international scene continues to weigh on the current vision of international relations. It is true that Algeria has, since the end of the 1990s, given a new impetus to its foreign policy by getting closer to the United States of America and NATO and by diversifying its partnerships, both strategic and economic. The main motivations are economic openness and the desire to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and to create a substitute economy for the oil-rent economy. However, Algeria will continue to defend the principle of the right of peoples to self-determination, as is perfectly illustrated by its position on the issue of Western Sahara. Just as it refuses any interference in the internal affairs of States and is committed to the peaceful settlement of conflicts, as evidenced, for example, by its refusal to support the proxy war in Libya, its non-participation by its troops in a military intervention force in Mali, Syria and Yemen to contain the growing extremist Islamist threat and, more recently, its non-involvement in Tunisia’s internal political crisis.
It seems today that Algeria is heading towards a new Era where it is trying to adapt to the new global context. It expressed this through a few signals to the international community such as its involvement to NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue, which marks a turning point in Algeria’s relations with the West and its call for the resolution of Low Intensity Conflicts (Libya, Mali, etc.) through inclusive political dialogue and offer its good offices as a facilitator with regard to its experience and expertise in the field (Iran-Iraq, Iran-USA, Ethiopia-Eritrea, etc.) As a result, Algeria would move towards realpolitik of interest away from any dogma.
With its gradual reintegration into the international scene, Algeria is striving to strengthen its credibility in a regional and international context undergoing profound change. This process 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 World Trade Organization (WTO).
At the multilateral level, Algeria relies on privileged cooperation platforms to activate at the regional and sub-regional scale. This is how it is:
- Active member of the African Union;
- Member since year 2000 of the NATO Mediterranean Dialogue and thus participates in several joint 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 of 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.
- The headquarters of the African Center for Studies and Research on Terrorism (CAERT);
- The headquarters of AFRIPOL.
On the bilateral scale, Algeria is consolidating, especially since the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, its relations with its strategic allies, namely China and Russia. However, it continues to structure its predominantly economic ties with Germany, Spain, Italy and Portugal, to build strategic cooperation with the United States of America, and to develop its relations with France which must stand out from any “paternalism”. However, Algeria remains deeply attached to its doctrinal principles materialized by the fact that despite a context of permanent insecurity at its borders, it continues to refrain from taking part in any military intervention outside its national territory, but remains very active in regional and international cooperation, in particular in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, human trafficking, illegal emigration and transnational crimes.
This renewal of the diplomatic dynamic initiated by Algeria indicates its desire to reposition itself on the international scene as a key partner in the region, without calling into question the fundamentals of its foreign, defence and security policy in the face of new actors who are undoubtedly shaking up the established order. The upheavals that the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, in particular, is currently facing and the redistribution of roles in the context of a geopolitical and geo-economic reshaping of the region necessarily push Algeria to rethink and display its positioning strategy.
In the absence of a systematic alignment which would be synonymous with a denial of the doctrinal principles on which Algeria has built since its independence its foreign policy or of an intransigent opposition that would isolate it, Algeria seems to opt for a policy of non-dogmatic interest on the basis of the unwavering support of the aspirations of the peoples and the opposition to any foreign interference in any form whatsoever.
In short, despite this committed opening up which will certainly continue with more acuteness within the framework of progressive regional integration and a convergence neighbourhood policy, Algeria’s foreign policy paradigm will remain irrevocably dependent on its principles of self-determination, respect for the sovereignty of States and non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign States.
Dr. Arslan Chikhaoui is member of the Expert Advisory Council of the World Economic Forum (WEF-Davos), of the United Nations Forum for the follow-up and implementation of Resolution 1540 (UNSCR 1540). He is an Alumni of the NDU- NESA Center for Strategic Studies (Washington DC) and is a stakeholder in various ‘Track 2’task forces of the United Nations system dealing with security in the Mediterranean region, North Africa and the Sahel, and the Non -Proliferation of Weapons of Massive Destruction in the MENA region.