The special Morocco-US relationship

The United States (US) over the last century has developed diplomatic relationships with many nations spanning from the Middle East to Europe. Some relationships are even deemed as ‘special’ in the cases of the Anglo-US or Israeli-US relation. However, it is overlooked by many that Morocco and the United States have had diplomatic relations since 1777.Morocco was the first nation to seek diplomatic ties with the United States when they recognised them as an independent sovereign nation on 20th December 1777.1 Formal relations however, begun when Morocco signed a Treaty of Peace and Friendship with the US in 1786. With this treaty the King of Morocco Mohammed III opened Moroccan ports to the US. This treaty is still in place today making it the longest running relationship in Moroccan and US history. Additionally in Tangier, Morocco remains home to the oldest US diplomatic building (the American Legation). From this it can be seen that Morocco in its own way has created a ‘special’ relationship with the US. Though this does raise the question why have Morocco overall had good diplomatic ties with the US for so many years?

Morocco-USA relations since World War One

During the First and Second World Wars Morocco grew closer to the United States. Morocco was aligned with the allies in both wars, and provided support to British and American troops. Additionally, Casablanca hosted many meetings, including the pivotal one in which President Roosevelt offered support for Morocco’s fight for independence against the French.2 Following Moroccan independence in 1956, the United States and Morocco worked together to improve cooperation between the two nations. This was reflected by a somewhat strong US presence in Morocco, especially after the Suez Canal Crisis.3 As Britain retracted to a policy ‘East of Suez’ Communism began to spread within the region. Morocco was a staunch ally against the fight against Communism in the region and this led to stronger relations between Morocco and the US as they both shared similar ideological objectives. The two nations cultivated their relationship in a Cold War World that had grown hotter in Africa. This was achieved through a series of visits of high level government officials from both nations.

After the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 the Morocco-US partnership lost some of its strategic importance, for the US if not for Morocco. In the year and a half that followed, military and economic support remained low. However, it is argued by Professor Yahia Zoubir that the relationship between the two nations grew stronger in the early 1990s. This can be seen as Morocco supported the Gulf War in 1991. The situation was further exacerbated as Algeria became increasingly unstable. Professor Yahia Zoubir observed that this put Morocco “once again in the role of bulwark against extremist, anti-Western forces.”4 In addition to this, Morocco played a role in the US led peace initiatives during the Palestinian Israel conflict. This was during a time in which Morocco attempted to enforce many free market reforms and this too coincided with American economic ideological goals. Furthermore in the aftermath of 9/11 Morocco renewed its obligation as a strong United States ally. Thus the United States initiated dialogues with Morocco via embassies and other governmental officials in regards to Morocco’s role in the war on terror. Since then security cooperation has also greatly increased.

Current relations

The Morocco-US relationship today remains extremely strong, as Morocco collaborate with the United States in a number of areas. This is seen by the Moroccan commitment to encourage free trade, economic development, support for both human rights and democratic reforms, and combating terrorism. The US State Department has stated Morocco is ‘As a stable, comparatively moderate Arab Muslim nation, Morocco is important to U.S. interests in the Middle East as well.’5 Furthermore, United State policy towards Morocco seeks sustainable relations with the US. The two fundamental factors that do sustain this bond are the war on terrorism stance and free trade. King Mohammad VI has also attempted to strengthen this partnership as he has accelerated democratic and economic reforms working closely with American President’s Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barrack Obama. This has led the United States to see Morocco as a model of modernity for the rest of the Middle East to follow.

The United States has recently attempted to combat terrorism by attempting to deny potential safe haven nations. The United States does this by working with allied nations to strengthen national security. Morocco has once again been a model for other nations in the region to follow as they cooperated greatly with the United States on this initiative. Moreover, Morocco has taken a range of methods to fight against terrorism. These methods include the creation of specially trained counterterrorism military units, clamping down on illegal immigration, blocking terrorist access to financial resources, promoting ethnic and religious tolerance and accelerating economic growth through rehabilitating the agricultural sector. Due to Morocco’s attempts to remain a stable nation many such as Matthew Chebatoris of the Jamestown Foundation has described Morocco ‘as a beacon of hope in the often tumultuous North African political environment.’6 Thus it can be seen that through mutual interest and common ideological goals the United States and Morocco have been strong allies.

Moroccan Defence and NATO

The CIA and FBI respectively maintain strong ties to Morocco. Directors of both establishments have visited Morocco in the past years for consultation purposes. In addition to this Morocco is heavily involved with the NATO Mediterranean Dialogue initiative. It has played host as well as participated in NATO military exercises. Morocco has also assisted NATO’s Operation ‘Active endeavour’ in which the Mediterranean Sea is monitored for terrorists. Through the ‘Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative’ which began in 2005 by the USA. Morocco provides the USA with support to partner countries to prevent terrorism. This is done by strengthening aviation and border security, building support against extremism and encouraging democratic governance.

Due to Morocco’s non-NATO ally status it is eligible for many benefits. For instance Morocco has contributed to research and development programs, and is recipient of the US government loan which guarantees ‘programs for the purchase of military material.’7 The Morocco-US relationship has further developed as Morocco has purchased three billion dollars’ worth of military equipment from the US. This in turn has benefited US companies and promoted US jobs. Purchases have included 24 F-16 aircrafts, 90 AGM-D Maverick air-to-ground missiles and 200 Abrams M1A1 tanks. The Pentagon’s Defence Security Cooperation Agency has also suggested that Morocco has made an immense contribution to the United States foreign policy and national security objectives. This is because Morocco’s has enhanced its capability to support US efforts in the global war on terrorism. This demonstrates that the Morocco-US relationship has developed due to Morocco sharing similar foreign policy objectives with the US. This has in turn had an effect on both military and economic relations between the two nations.

Morocco-US economic relationship

Through development assistance and free trade agreements, the United Sates aims to promote economic growth by liberalizing trade policies. This aim was to an extent reached with Morocco as the two nations signed the US-Morocco Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in 2004. The agreement was meant to increase trade between the two nations and provide both nations with new investment opportunities. Professor Gregory White has argued that the FTA is an example of Morocco’s importance to the United States he stated that ‘the crucial thing to stress with a free trade agreement…is that it constitutes a policy choice on the part of the government.’8 The FTA has strengthened Morocco-US economic ties greatly.

The US has increased aid to Morocco in recent years to support counter terrorism programmes. It also aims to further democratize the nation, building trade capacity and fight poverty. Just in the last fiscal year the Obama administration requested $43.3 million for developing assistance for Morocco. It is suggested in the US Congressional Budget Justification that the US objective in providing development assistance to Morocco include ‘promoting political reform and addressing the challenges of the youth in order to maintain government stability.’9 American economic aid has promoted sustained economic growth. It has aimed to invest in people through improvements in the Moroccan education system, and has, to an extent, promoted democracy and good governance. The aid provided by the United States has also brought various sectors of society into public life, such as the Moroccan youth. As of late Morocco also receives development assistance through the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) (this is a democracy promotion programme). MEPI’s main objective is to provide ‘small grants to Moroccan NGOs that work to advance peace, participatory democracy and prosperity for Moroccan citizens’.10 Due to this, Moroccan NGOs on average receive $1 million per year for public awareness campaigns, and performing civic duties. This has also led to democratic developments in Morocco including programs to empower women, improvements in the education system, additional legal and judicial reforms, while also creating jobs.

Overall, it is clear that Morocco has enjoyed a strong and lengthy relationship with the United States. The reason for this is mainly due to similar ideological objectives the nations have shared. This can be seen in the promotion of Free Trade and religious freedom. In earlier years they were both united against a common enemy such as Communism. Lastly, the geographical positioning of Morocco has/will always prove to be strategically valuable. This has all allowed the United States to forge a strong bond with Morocco, and is one that has clearly withstood the test of time.

1 Bookin-Weiner, Jerome B. and El Mansour, Mohammed eds. The Atlantic Connection: 200 Years of Moroccan-American Relations 1786-1986 (Edino 1990), p. 20. return to main text
2 Relations in the Modern Era, World War II and Beyond.” United States Diplomatic Mission to Morocco, return to main text
3 For a more in depth understanding of the Suez Canal Crisis see Anthony Gorst’s The Suez Crisis. return to main text
4 Zoubir, Yahia H. and Karima Benabdallah Gambier. “The United States and North Africa Imbroglio: Balancing Interests in Algeria, Morocco, and the Western Sahara. Mediterranean Politics 10, no. 2 (2005): 181 202, pp. 188,189. return to main text
5 Areiff, Alexis. “Morocco: Current Issues.”Congressional Research Service, June 20, 2012 return to main text
6 Chebatoris, Matthew. “Morocco’s Multi-Pronged Counterterrorism Strategy.” Terrorism Monitor 7, no. 13 (May 2009),[tt_news]=35004&tx_ttnews[backPid]=26&cHash=fc74ab4c69 return to main text
7 Wolf, Jim. “U.S. plans Lockheed F-16 sale to Morocco.” Reuters, December 19, 2007, return to main text
8 White, Gregory W. “Free Trade as a Strategic Instrument in the War on Terror?: The 2004 US-Moroccan Free Trade Agreement”. Middle East Journal, 56, no. 4 (Autumn 2005): 597-616, p.598-599, pp. 606-607. return to main text
9 Ibid. return to main text
10 return to main text
In her visit to Morocco on February 26, 2012, Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State is greeted by Saadeddine Othmani, the Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs (since 3 January 2012) in the new Government headed by his party (the Justice and Development Party). Ms Clinton confirmed America’s support to Morocco as a model for the rest of the region: “Let me congratulate your government and His Majesty on the successful constitutional referendum and parliamentary elections that occurred during this momentous last year. Morocco stands as an example, as a model of what can be achieved.”


Moroccan troops being shown by an American corporal means of suspect restraint and individual search as part of the African Lion 2008 exercise, a bi-lateral, combined-arms exercise between U.S. and Moroccan forces from May 26 to June 29, that is repeated annually.


Moroccans protest against U.S.-backed plans to broaden the mandate of UN peacekeepers in disputed Western Sahara, Casablanca, April 22, 2013.


Moroccan leaders in business, politics and civil society convening in Washington, DC for the inaugural CEO Summit hosted by the Moroccan American Network (MAN), June 7, 2013. The Summit, moderated by Al Jazeera’s Washington, DC bureau chief, Abderrahim Foukara, was aimed to increase awareness of growing investment opportunities for US businesses in Morocco and encourage entrepreneurship among the more than 82,000 people of Moroccan descent living in the US today. At the Summit, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), whose Houston district is home to many Moroccan-Americans, was presented with MAN’s first “1786 Friendship Award” honoring an individual who has made extraordinary efforts to strengthen Morocco-US relations.

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