What’s Next for Algeria’s Military?

Since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962, the North African country has pursued a policy of non-interference, refraining from sending troops to missions abroad. But this policy is now about to change after Algerian voters approved a revised constitution that allows the military to participate in missions outside the country’s borders.

Referendum Gives Green Light to Algerian Troop Deployment Abroad

Some 23.7% of Algeria’s eligible voters cast ballot in this weekend’s referendum on the revised constitution, a historic low for a major vote. Around 3.3 million voters supported the changes, while 1.6 million voted against them.

The constitutional changes include presidential term limits, new powers for the parliament and judiciary and a clause to allow the army to intervene outside Algeria’s borders.

A draft of the revised constitution released by the Algerian Presidency in May showed an amendment of Article 29 of the current constitution, which prohibits the army from engaging in any conflict outside the country’s borders. “Algeria refrains from resorting to war because of its violation of the legitimate sovereignty and freedom of other peoples, and devotes its efforts to settling international disputes by peaceful means,” the article reads.

Algeria ‘Can Participate in Peacekeeping Operations Abroad’

This article, however, was revised in the approved charter to state that “Algeria within the framework of the United Nations, the African Union, and the Arab League, and in full compliance with its principles and objectives, can participate in peacekeeping operations abroad.”

Article 95 was also amended to grant the president the power to send army units abroad after a two-thirds majority vote of parliament. “The President of the Republic decides to send units of the army abroad, after approval by parliament, by a two-thirds majority of its members.”

Algeria’s Last Foreign Deployment was in 1973 Against Israel

The last time Algeria dispatched its military forces outside the country’s border was in 1973 when it sent army units to Egypt in its military conflict with Israel.

Constitutional amendments in 1976, however, prevented any Algerian military involvement in overseas operations and committed to a “purely defensive doctrine.”

The new constitutional changes represent a major shift in Algeria’s policy, and will help the country reposition itself as a powerbroker and stabilizer in a tumultuous region, amid raging conflicts near its borders such as the war in Libya and the ongoing fight against terrorism in the Sahel and Sahara.

How Will the Constitutional Changes Change Algerian Military Policy?

Once the changes take into effect, Algeria’s policy on military intervention would serve as a deterrent and would discourage foreign meddling in its direct neighborhood.

Algeria’s non-interference policy was seen as a reason that encouraged the NATO to stage a massive air campaign in Libya to depose strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, which eventually led to the removal of Gaddafi’s regime and sent the country into a raging civil war.

Despite repeated demands for the North African country to play a role in Libya to help restore security to the oil-rich nation, Algeria refrained from intervening, citing its non-interference dogma.

This Algerian position has encouraged foreign players such as Turkey to embark on military adventurism in Libya, sending troops to the conflict-ridden country to support the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) against eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and France.

The Algerian non-interference doctrine has caused the situation in Libya to escalate to the point of a military confrontation, when Egypt, another Libya’s next-door neighbor, threatened to militarily intervene in Libya to stop the Turkish military advances in the oil-rich country.

Now, the constitutional changes would give Algeria a tactical advantage to play a prominent role in its backyard and make the country to become more proactive if another conflict erupts in a neighboring state. Among the countries bordering Algeria are Mali, Niger and Mauritania, all considered to be fragile states, likely to erupt in conflict.

With Algeria’s long policy of non-interference is now lifted, its adversaries may now carefully weigh their options when it comes to intervention or interference either in its direct neighborhood, or whenever its allies are under threat.