THE archives of the American Legation at Tangier record that 74 years ago the Sultan of Morocco, disturbed at the predatory methods of certain European Powers who looked covetously in the direction of Morocco and particularly Tangier, expressed the desire to turn over his entire empire as a protectorate to the United States. We were not then in the mood to assume transatlantic responsibilities and courteously declined the offer. In 1942 French Morocco and Algeria were occupied by American troops, following the failure of France to protect her North African empire. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that after this war the Sultan of Morocco might again make a somewhat similar proposition to the United States. What are the American interests in Morocco, and more particularly in the enclave known as the International Zone of Tangier -- an area of about 145 square miles with a population of about 100,000? What are the French, British and Spanish interests?

Strangely enough, although the United States has never recognized the Tangier Zone as a special entity, we played a leading rôle in bringing about its internationalization. As far back as 1797 we supported our consular officers in their efforts to obtain international control of public health and quarantine measures in Tangier. In fact, the consular and diplomatic corps of Tangier served as a Sanitary Council for the city from 1840 until the International Statute was put into effect in 1925, and after 1929 the United States took over sole control of the remaining functions of this body. The powers of this Council had finally become so great that it could supply water, clean and pave streets, provide a sewage system and even control the slaughterhouses and markets.

In similar fashion the United States in 1865 joined with nine other Powers to administer the lighthouse at Cape Spartel through an International Commission. This lighthouse, eight miles from Tangier and some 30 miles from Gibraltar, has been administered internationally for three-quarters of a century, and every year the Congress of the United States has appropriated money for its maintenance.

The internationalization of Tangier came about as the result of two factors -- the rivalries of European Powers, particularly France, Spain and Great Britain; and the special status of the city due to the degree to which its institutions were controlled by the diplomatic corps. Historically and geographically, Spain had the most substantial claims to Morocco, but France, having general control of Algeria and Tunis, possessed the best strategic position. Great Britain actually possessed Tangier from 1661 to 1684, but after a costly struggle with the Moor, Mouley Ismail, she abandoned it voluntarily to the Berbers. Her withdrawal from this side of the Straits was over-hasty, however, and when she obtained Gibraltar in 1713 she made it a fixed policy to prevent any other Power from seizing Tangier.

When the twentieth century opened, the European rivalry for the control of Morocco became more intense, with Germany and Italy playing important rôles. France was able to obtain a special position by secret agreements with Italy, Great Britain and Spain; but Germany was aware of the diplomatic jockeying and the Kaiser, while cruising in the Mediterranean, disembarked at Tangier early in 1905 and publicly proclaimed Germany's interest in an independent Morocco. This brought about such a serious crisis that President Theodore Roosevelt stepped in and urged the Powers to meet to discuss the question. The Conference of Algeciras was the result, and the principal World Powers, including the United States, subscribed to the maintenance of the independence of the Sultan, the integrity of his territory, and commercial liberty in Morocco for all nations.

French imperialist ambitions were not discouraged by this arrangement, and internal troubles in Morocco aided French expansion. Again Europe faced the threat of war when in 1911 the Kaiser sent a German gunboat to Agadir. France now bought Germany off by surrendering almost half of her Congo territory, and signed a new agreement with Spain which delimited her zone of influence. The final agreement before the First World War was the French Treaty of March 30, 1912, with Morocco, which gave France a protectorate over most of the Sultan's empire.

During these diplomatic manœuvres, Great Britain kept her eye fixed upon Tangier, determined that no strong Power should possess this vitally strategic area opposite Gibraltar. Lord Nelson and Joseph Chamberlain had both made plain the importance which British policy attached to the status of Tangier. In the secret Franco-Spanish arrangement of 1904, it was agreed that Tangier was to keep the special character which the presence of the diplomatic corps and the particular nature of the municipal and sanitary institutions had given the city. Immediately after France obtained a free hand from Germany in 1911, Great Britain notified France that Tangier would have to be internationally controlled and suggested the International Settlement at Shanghai as a model.

A tripartite technical commission representing Great Britain, France and Spain was set up in June 1912, and after a number of drafts had been submitted and revised, a final convention was agreed upon on November 5, 1914. This Convention and the Shereefian decree establishing the International Zone of Tangier were never put into operation, due to the outbreak of the First World War.[i] Great Britain and France wished to make it effective at once but Spain refused, hoping that if Germany were victorious she herself might incorporate Tangier in the Spanish Zone.

As a result of the Allied victory, France insisted upon incorporating Tangier into her sphere of influence. The Spanish Ambassador, speaking in London on February 20, 1920, declared that "Tangier belongs geographically, ethno-graphically, psychologically and therefore logically to the Spanish Zone. . . ." Again Great Britain cast the deciding vote; at the Cannes Conference of 1922, Lord Curzon informed M. Briand that Great Britain had recognized the French protectorate over Morocco with the definite understanding that Tangier was to be internationalized, and that Britain expected action to be taken to accomplish this objective. A conference was held in London in June 1923 to draft a project for the government of Tangier. Although at first Spain and France vigorously maintained their respective positions, Spain finally swung to the British side in favor of internationalization, and a draft was signed by the three Powers December 18, 1923.

During the Conference, Italy insisted that she be admitted as an important Mediterranean Power, but she was informed that the proceedings were merely a continuation of the negotiations begun in 1912 in which Italy had not participated. The United States also notified the three Powers upon two different occasions during the course of the Conference that, as signatory of the Act of Algeciras, it was fundamentally interested in the maintenance of the Open Door and trusted that the Conference would do nothing to violate this principle. The French Government gave assurances that the Open Door would be maintained and all foreign interests in Tangier protected.

The Convention regarding the Organization of the Statute of the Tangier Zone became legally effective May 14, 1924, with the deposit of the ratifications of France, Great Britain and Spain.[ii] The other Powers signatories of the Act of Algeciras were forthwith invited to accede. All did so except the United States. Secretary of State Hughes felt that the representation accorded this country was so small that we should have no real influence in the formulation of policies and that, therefore, we could not afford to take responsibility for them. Italy not only did not accede but refused to recognize the new régime. The intransigent attitude of Italy, coupled with the demands of Dictator Primo de Rivera of Spain that the Statute be revised to give Spain a more favorable position, finally forced a new conference. The revised Statute signed in Paris July 25, 1928, brought Italy into the international administration on an approximate parity with Great Britain and gave Spain a somewhat more privileged status than before.

The Zone of Tangier was governed by the terms of the revised Statute of 1928 until Spain took over the government by military force in June 1940, with the alleged object of maintaining the neutrality of the Zone. Before the end of the year the laws of the Spanish Zone were extended to Tangier and all of the international administrative machinery except the Mixed Court was suppressed. In spite of this unilateral violation of the international status of the Zone, the French were in no position to protest effectively and Great Britain deemed it expedient to recognize the occupation de facto for the duration of the war. No Power has recognized the Spanish occupation de jure and the United States has given it no recognition whatsoever.

Lack of space prevents more than the most cursory description of the international administrative machinery of the Zone. The Statute was concluded for a period of 12 years, beginning in 1924, and automatically renewed for an additional 12 years -- until 1948. The sovereignty of the Sultan was recognized and vested in a Mendoub appointed with the consent of France. Legislative powers were vested in an International Legislative Assembly consisting of 27 members: four French and four Spanish, three British and three Italian, one American, one Belgian, one Dutch and one Portuguese, nominated by their respective consulates, and in addition six Moslem and three Jewish subjects of the Sultan nominated by the Mendoub. Since the United States did not adhere to the Statute, no American has ever been named.

Although this international assembly was given the power to legislate for the Zone, the real power was in the Committee of Control which was composed of the consuls of Belgium, France, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. It could veto acts of the Assembly, dissolve the Assembly, and could ensure economic equality for the signatory powers and the execution of laws and regulations.

The actual administration was in the hands of an administrator aided by three assistants in charge of health, finance and judicial services. The first administrator was French and his assistants were Spanish, British and Italian. Subsequently a Spanish administrator was chosen and a French assistant took over the health work. A Mixed Court of five judges of Belgian, British, Spanish, French and Italian nationalities dispensed justice under a very elaborate code of laws. Since the United States was not a party to the Statute, the capitulatory régime was still maintained by the United States.

The chief criticisms justly leveled against the Statute are that the Tangier electorate was disenfranchised, that the financial burden of fixed charges was too high, and that the economic interests of the Zone were disregarded. On the other hand, the administration was competently carried on and justice fairly well administered.

It is almost a certain conclusion that Spain will not be allowed to remain in military occupation of the Tangier Zone. Neither does it seem likely that the Zone will be incorporated into the French protectorate. Therefore, it would appear that either the former international régime will be revived with some modifications or a new international arrangement will be made. It might be assumed that although Spain would resist control by a single Power she would accept internationalization. The fact that the Spanish delegate to Tangier, General Uriarte, withdrew from Tangier late in 1944 would seem to indicate that Spain recognizes that the days of Spanish military control of the international area are numbered.

It is doubtful if the part played by either France or Italy in any future system of international control will be as important as in the past. The new organization might well indeed be made a genuinely international one, instead of merely representative of the most interested Powers. If the international governmental machinery is to be successful, the people of Tangier must be adequately represented and the debt charges must be substantially reduced. Above all, the economic interests of the Zone must be given careful consideration. The International Zone cannot support itself by agriculture, grazing or fishing, but its geographical and climatic advantages are very great As a free zone it might well serve as the port of entry for all Morocco. With its excellent beach, with a climate equal to the Riviera, with wooded hills and snow-capped mountains, with sunlit markets and the picturesque charm of the east, Tangier is potentially a magnificent tourist resort.

If, then, the Powers devise a truly international Statute, which eliminates the weaknesses of the previous organization, the United States, which has played such a leading rôle in the previous international agencies of Tangier, may well return to her former policy of active participation and help to make the International Zone of Tangier a genuinely representative international administration.

[i] It is believed that these documents have never been officially published; but an authoritative copy of the French originals can be found in the author's "The International City of Tangier." Stanford University: Stanford University Press, 1931, Appendices III, IV.

[ii] Due to delays resulting from technical difficulties, the Statute did not actually operate until June 1, 1925.

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  • GRAHAM H. STUART, Professor of Political Science, Stanford University; author of "The International City of Tangier" and other works
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