As NATO is considering expanding its partnerships in the South and energising the Mediterranean Dialogue (MD) and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI), cooperation with Maghreb countries just reached new objectives. On 17 May NATO announced the successful conclusion of the first scientific cooperation activity with Algeria.
The multi-year project launched in 2017 within the framework of the NATO Science for Peace and Security (SPS) programme and involving the École Militaire Polytechnique (Bordj el-Bahrhi, Algeria), the Université Savoie Mont Blanc (Chambéry, France) and the KTH Royal Institute of Technology (Stockholm, Sweden), resulted in the development of the first terahertz imaging technology in North Africa.
The technology will enable the detection of dangerous materials, such as firearms and explosives, significantly strengthening critical infrastructures protection from terrorist threats, but it could also be expanded to other applications, such as body scanners and environmental monitoring.
However, it is clear that, among the emerging security challenges, terrorism still figures prominently on Algeria and NATO’s agenda. It is worth noting that the launch of the scientific cooperation followed the March 2016 attempted attack against the Krechba gas treatment plant, that was claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), whose affiliated groups were also responsible for the 2013 attack against the Tigantaourine gas facility.
By reinforcing and modernising Algeria’s defence and security bodies, NATO is both following up on its mission of projecting stability beyond its borders and stepping up its engagement with partners in the South in an incremental perspective. Indeed, other joint activities with Algeria, such as an R&D project on CBRN defence and advanced training courses on counterterrorism are also in the pipeline.
While providing incentives for other MD partners to join in, all these activities and programs could also be instrumental in moving NATO partners from a security consumer to a security provider perspective. This change has peculiar implications for Algeria, where a recent constitutional amendment allows the Armée Nationale Populaire (ANP, Algerian army) to be deployed outside the national territory for peacekeeping missions.
Nevertheless, the recent escalation in Western Sahara offered a reminder of the zero-sum game still framing the geopolitics of the Maghreb, where NATO has to navigate a shifting regional landscape in the aftermath of the normalisation process between Israel and four Arab States.
In a swinging context, Morocco’s recent diplomatic row with Germany and Spain vividly contrasts with Algeria’s good relations with Berlin (corroborated by the fact that Germany is now the second main arms supplier after Russia) and Madrid (which has hosted Brahim Ghali, the leader of the Algerian-backed Polisario Front, for medical treatment).
At this critical juncture that could provide a thaw between Algeria and the West, general elections looming on the horizon (12th of June) represent a litmus test for the resilience of the Algerian regime, which has recently intensified its crackdown against the Hirak opposition movement.
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Associate Fellow for the Conflict, Security and Development Programme at the IISS and Maghreb Analyst for the NATO Defense College Foundation, he regularly publishes on issues such as political developments, security and terrorism in the North Africa region