The Arms Race between Morocco and Algeria: A Strategic Assessment

The recent breakdown in diplomatic talks between Morocco, and Algeria has caused a relational strain between the nations. Moreover, the subject of the recent breakdown links to the ongoing Western Sahara conflict. Thus, an arms race between Rabat and Algiers has emerged, further threatening regional security and worsening diplomatic ties.  

Key Judgment 1: It is highly likely that Morocco will continue to challenge Algeria’s military and regional hegemony by increasing its defense investments. 

  • The tensions between Morocco and Algeria, the biggest arms spenders on the African continent, have been rising since 2021 [source].
  • Both North African countries achieved this last April, increasing total African military spending by 51 percent [source].
  • There is a realistic probability that Morocco will soon match Algeria’s capabilities [source].
  • Algiers doubled its defense expenditure in 2014, reaching the total amount of $10304 million in 2019 [source].
  • Algeria’s annual defense spending has stayed near below $10000 million since 2019 [source].
  • The territorial dispute between the two states focuses on the Western Sahara conflict [source].
  • Morocco’s Minister of Defense labeled the 2022 arms budget as “moderate and realistic”, which makes up 4 percent of Morocco’s national GDP [source].
  • From 2011 to 2021, Morocco increased its defense spending increased by 54 percent [source].

Key Judgment 2: If Israel continues to involve themselves in the Morocco-Algeria rift, it is almost certain that their tensions will further sharpen.

  • The major increase in military spending (12 percent and 8 percent respectively) suggests a prospective conflict for the region [source].
  • However, war and even a low-intensity conflict are highly unlikely [source].
  • Apart from its traditional partnership with the US and France [source], Rabat has continued to strengthen its relationship with Israel [source].
  • Morocco has signed successive treaties with Israel to purchase weapons, defense systems and missiles. [source].
  • After the Negev Summit with the 3 Arab countries, Rabat expressed its intention to continue cooperating with Israel [source].
  • Rabat has submitted a purchase request to an Israeli defense company for the Iron Dome system [source].
  • Tel Aviv is delivering air systems technologies to Morocco, including drone-mounted systems for its recently gained drones [source].
  • Unless Israel settles the Palestinian problem acceptably, Algeria will not welcome Israel’s presence in the region [source].
  • The Algerian military has regained political power within the country [source] and has continued with its traditional defense partnership with Russia [source].
  • Algiers recently purchase systems such as the S-350 Russian missiles [source].
  • As a direct consequence of Morocco’s recent defense agreements, Algeria has turned to Moscow, Iran and Beijing [source] [source].

Key Judgment 3: It is almost certain that Morocco’s major military modernization and highly dynamic FP will continue to strengthen Rabat’s position and control over the Western Sahara and its expansionist agenda towards the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla

  • While Morocco’s armament comes 90% from the US, Rabat also has agreements with France, UK, Turkey and Israel [source].
  • Morocco can afford great military expenditures due to help from the US and UAE [source]. 
  • Apart from the 140 fighter jets, 64 combat helicopters and 24 Apache Helicopters purchased by Rabat, “its jewel of the crown” is its land army [source].
  • The historical military gap between Spain and Morocco [source] and also between Algeria and Morocco is fastly tightening in favor of Rabat [source].
  • Within the Negev Summit, the Arab countries expressed their support towards Morocco in the WS conflict [source].
  • The summit also showed that Israel-Morocco relations are at a high point [source].
  • Morocco’s agreement with Russia in nuclear energy will increase its leverage in relation to Washington [source].

Intelligence Cut-Off Date 26th of November 2022 

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