World Politics Review, By The Editors, Global Insider (July 9, 2012) — In June, Morocco requested $1 billion in US-funded upgrades to 200 M1A1 Abrams tanks. In an email interview, Yahia H. Zoubir, a professor of international relations and international management and the director of research in geopolitics at Euromed Management in Marseilles, France, discussed U.S.-Morocco defense relations.
WPR: What is the historical background of U.S.-Morocco defense relations, and how have they evolved?
Yahia H. Zoubir: The United States considers Morocco a friend and ally, with formal relations dating from the 1787 Treaty of Marrakech, the oldest unbroken treaty in U.S. foreign relations. Foreign military assistance to Morocco began immediately after Morocco’s independence in 1956 to keep it within the Western camp. The kingdom is strategically located in the northwest corner of Africa, bordering both the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, including the Straits of Gibraltar. Taking advantage of this strategic location, the United States maintained military and naval bases there until 1978. In 1982, the United States signed a bilateral defense cooperation pact with Morocco that gives American air and naval forces emergency transit, staging and refueling rights at five Moroccan air and naval bases.
Since the late-1950s, Morocco has received more US aid than any other Arab country except for Egypt. By 1990, Morocco had obtained more than one-fifth of all US aid to Africa, totaling more than $1 billion in military assistance alone. In 2002, Morocco received 72 percent of the total US assistance to the three Maghreb countries, while in 2005 the figure amounted to 81 percent, or $58 million. In 2004, Morocco was designated as a major non-NATO ally of the United States.
WPR: How extensive are current US-Morocco defense relations in terms of weapons sales, joint training and military cooperation?
Zoubir: The two countries have maintained extensive military and security ties since the 1950s. In 2002, the two countries established the US-Morocco Defense Consultative Committee. For years, they have conducted annual joint maneuvers, with the latest, the Saharan Express and Phoenix Express, taking place in May in southern Morocco. In 2004, Morocco entered an arms race with Algeria, which prompted Rabat to continue acquiring more equipment from the US. Morocco has purchased CH-47D helicopters and, more importantly, 24 F-16s — ordered in 2007 at a cost of $2 billion — as well as more than $300 million worth of T-6 training aircraft.
Under the Obama administration, aid has extended to other allocations, such as the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP), through which Morocco receives military and security assistance. In 2010, security assistance amounted to $35 million. The US congressional budget request for fiscal year 2011 was set at $43 million. In June 2012, Morocco also requested upgrades for 200 M1A1 Abrams tanks and associated parts, equipment, logistical support and training worth more than $1 billion, to be funded by the United States. Between 30 and 50 Moroccan officers are sent to the U.S. for training annually. In 2011, Morocco received close to $2 million from the International Military Education and Training allocation.
WPR: What role does Morocco play in the United States’ wider regional defense network in North Africa & Middle East?
Zoubir: Morocco is perceived as an ally in the war on terror and as a bulwark against radical forces in the region. It is also seen as an important player in the fight against drug trafficking and illegal migration to Europe. Since 2002, Morocco has been a member of the US-funded Pan-Sahel Initiative and its successor, the TSCTP. Morocco has consistently supported US policy objectives in the Middle East and North Africa. In 1991, for instance, it sent troops to the Persian Gulf to force Iraq out of Kuwait. Morocco has also engaged in US peacekeeping activities and has sent troops to assist friendly countries, such as Côte d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.