Libya: abandoning its weapons pursuit; Algeria: past proliferation concerns; Morocco and Tunisia: non-proliferation credentials

AThe Maghreb (Arabic for ‘land where the sun sets’) forms the western wing of the greater Middle East region and marks the limit of the westward expansion of the Islamic and Arabic cultures. The greater Maghreb area includes Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, which, together with Mauritania, form the Arab Maghreb Union, a political cooperation organisation. Despite a significant terrorist threat and Libya’s until-recent pursuit of nuclear weapons, the Maghreb is a relatively tranquil area as far as major geopolitical evolutions are concerned. None of the countries faces an external threat, but relations between some remain tense (particularly between Morocco and Algeria over the sovereignty of Western Sahara). Four of the Maghreb countries have expressed an increasing interest in the development of nuclear technology, for a mix of economic and political reasons, not least prestige. Morocco, Algeria and Libya speak of building regional nuclear centres of one sort or another. Given that each country is watching the others closely, a desire to keep up with one’s neighbours is at play too. In late 2007 French President Nicolas Sarkozy ambitiously promoted nuclear-cooperation agreements with the Maghreb countries for reasons that were more political than commercial. He wanted to send a message to Iran that state-of-the art nuclear technology is available to nations with transparent non-proliferation credentials. Political commitments are not easily translated into commercial deals, however. Largely lacking are the conditions needed for the rapid development of nuclear power: electricity grids, expertise, safety regulations and legal-responsibility frameworks. Financial means also remain limited, given the huge costs involved in building nuclear power plants and associated infrastructure and training. Even though limited or small-scale projects may be in order, Western industries are unlikely to invest heavily in nuclear power in areas where the market is not large enough for the development costs to be amortised through more than one or two reactors when better investment opportunities exist elsewhere. Even if Western companies were interested in such investments, it is unlikely that they would be supported by their governments without strong non-proliferation conditions, including IAEA Additional Protocols being put in place. However, other nuclear-industry operators, such as in Russia and China, may not impose the same conditions. The absence of any nuclear-weapon state in Africa, and the existence of the 1996 Pelindaba Treaty establishing a continent-wide nuclearweapons- free zone (NWFZ) – which has yet to come into force – theoretically ensure that there will be no nuclear weapons in the sub-region. However, Libya’s past weapons programmes, as well as questions about the activities and uncertain domestic political evolutions of Algeria, make it an area that deserves continuing attention from a nonproliferation perspective.

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