This article is the English version of : Geoff D. Porter, « Le non-interventionisme de l’Algérie en questions », published in Politique étrangère, Vol. 80, Issue 3, 2015.
Algeria is one of the few countries in the world that so clearly and so consistently articulates its foreign policy principles. Ever since independence in 1962, Algeria has adhered to a foundational principle of non-interventionism. Article 26 of Algeria’s 1989 and 1996 constitutions states: “Algeria does not resort to war in order to undermine the legitimate sovereignty and the freedom of other peoples. It puts forth its efforts to settle international disputes through peaceful means.” While other aspects of the Algerian constitution have been flexibly implemented, Article 26 is almost never challenged or questioned. (Article 89 of the 1976 Constitution contains similar wording, although the original 1963 constitution did not.) Unlike other countries, which may or may not engage in cross-border or extraterritorial conflicts according to specific circumstances and in pursuit of specific interests, Algeria never does. This position has numerous advantages, but also significant disadvantages. The unprecedented worsening security situation surrounding Algeria in Libya, Mali, and Tunisia will put the country’s commitment to its principles to its hardest test yet.
Algeria’s adherence to non-interventionism
Why Algeria maintains this strict adherence to non-interventionism is complex. In part it has to do with Algeria’s historical experience and in part it has to do with what Algeria wants in the future. It is often said that policy is the nexus of memory and desire. When states make policy, they base their decisions on what they have experienced – or what they remember of those experiences – and what they want in the future. And this combination is precisely from where Algeria’s commitment to non-interventionism arises.
A large reason underlying Algeria’s non-interventionist stance is the country’s colonial legacy. Algeria emerged from a prolonged colonial experience frustrated, anguished and angry at having borne the yoke of oppression for so long and having had to fight so hard to free itself. Algeria suffered foreign intervention in its most egregious form for so long that it was committed to never to subject another country or people to the same hardships.
As an expression of this desire to protect its sovereignty and the sovereignty of others from imperial or neo-imperial interference, Algeria joined the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) as soon as it was able and it has remained a committed member ever since, even as the Non-Aligned Movement’s raison d’être has waned. In fact, in 1973 Algeria hosted the NAM’s 4th summit under the leadership of the NAM’s Secretary General, Algerian President Houari Boumediene. The high-profile event was intended to convey to the world Algeria’s commitment to the NAM’s guiding principles, including, according to the NAM Charter, “abstention from intervention or interference in the internal affairs of another country… Refraining from acts or threats of aggression or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any country… [and] settlement of all international disputes by peaceful means, in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations.”
Other countries’ commitment to the Non-Aligned Movement’s principles may have weakened, especially with the end of the Cold War, but Algeria has remained an active NAM member. In fact, as recently as May 2014, it assumed the presidency of the movement and hosted the NAM’s 17th Ministerial Conference. Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal and Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra reiterated Algeria’s commitment to the NAM and its capacity to be a useful institution for the peaceful resolution of problems related to security and conflict.
Non-interventionism is intended to augment and legitimize the role that Algeria has cast for itself on the international stage, but has only infrequently been able to play. Algeria sees itself as an above the fray arbiter, an impartial actor pursuing only peace and stability. For Algeria, the real life manifestation of its vision of itself, when it was fully able to be how it envisioned itself, was its role in the resolution of the 1979 hostage crisis. In 1980, Algerian Foreign Minister Mohammed Seddik, working alongside the American Secretary of State Warren Christopher, negotiated the release of American hostages who had been held captive in Iran for 444 days. Upon their release, the Americans boarded an Air Algerie plane and flew to Algiers before traveling onward to the US.
The importance of this event still resonates today and represents the archetype of how Algeria sees its role in the international community. For example, in April 2013, the former Secretary General of the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the time of the hostage crisis, Mohamed-Salah Dembri, led a conference on the subject. According to El-Moujdahid, the official Algerian state media outlet, Dembri emphasized how important Algeria’s role was in finding a peaceful solution to the crisis at such a “critical time in international relations.”
Lastly, Algeria’s commitment to non-interference is the inverse manifestation of how Algeria wants to be treated by others. Algeria is very protective of its own borders and is very sensitive to any perception of threats to its sovereignty. For example, in March 2008, Algeria accused the United States of interfering in its internal affairs after the US Ambassador met with leaders of political parties and civil society. Similarly, on the grounds of protecting its sovereignty, Algeria resisted World Trade Organization (WTO) requirements that it allow for alcohol imports if Algeria wished to join the organization. Thus in a certain sense, Algeria abstains from interfering in the affairs of others because it does not want others interfere in its own. […]
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