The last remaining colonial conflict drags on in Western Sahara, on Africa's northeastern coast. The disputed territory -- a mostly desert region roughly the size of the United Kingdom and with a population of only several hundred thousand -- was a Spanish colony until the mid-1970s, when Spain ceded sovereignty to Morocco and Mauritania. This tripartite agreement ignored the 1975 International Court of Justice opinion in favor of self-determination and the claims made by the local nationalist movement, the Polisario Front, which soon turned to armed rebellion. Zunes and Mundy disentangle this complex history with skill, before turning to recent events. Their account is generally sympathetic to the local nationalist movement, which they view as authentically popular, and critical of Morocco's claims, which they see as motivated by interests within the Moroccan security apparatus and the lure of the rich fishing grounds off the territory's coast and the phosphate reserves in its soil. They are particularly critical of long-standing French and U.S. support for the Moroccan government on this issue, despite diplomatic pressure from various multilateral forums.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.