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Mauritania Table of Contents



War in the Western Sahara

From the 1960s through 1987, Mauritania's foreign policy was directed toward protecting the country's national sovereignty (see Foreign Relations , ch. 4). Mauritania at first sought and received French support to prevent Morocco from attempting to annex the country. Then, after Morocco recognized Mauritanian sovereignty, Mauritania distanced itself from France and cultivated ties with various Arab countries, including Algeria and Morocco, in hopes of avoiding regional disputes.

Yet by 1976, Mauritania was again involved in regional conflict. Along with Morocco, Mauritania, as party to the Madrid Agreements, claimed a portion of the Spanish Sahara (now generally called Western Sahara). As the struggle of the Polisario (see Glossary) for sovereignty in the Western Sahara escalated, it became clear that Mauritania's armed forces were incapable of either asserting its territorial claims in the Western Sahara or defending its own territory. Mauritania sought assistance from France and Morocco in its struggle to defend itself against Polisario guerrillas. After relinquishing its claims in the Western Sahara in 1978, Mauritania again sought foreign military support from France and also Morocco (see Consolidation of Power , ch. 1).

As the Western Sahara war continued into the mid-1980s, Moroccan advances forced Polisario guerrillas into Mauritanian territory. In response, Mauritania placed troops along its northern border. In 1987, when Mauritania found itself unable to defend its 2,500-kilometer border with the Western Sahara, the country feared it would be dragged back into a conflict from which it had extricated itself nine years earlier.

Data as of June 1988