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The Politics of Selling Weapons to Algeria

March 7, 2019 Topic: Security Region: Africa Tags: AlgeriaForeign Military SalesWeaponsWarRussia

The Politics of Selling Weapons to Algeria

Algiers looks to shift away from its dependance on Moscow.

But is the “crawl, walk, run” slow road the best path to take with Algeria when Russia’s geopolitical games have recently proved fruitful? Moscow experienced success in Syria after it stepped in to help President Bashar al-Asaad regain control over his country amid America’s coalition efforts to stamp out the presence of the Islamic State spilled into his backyard. Moreover, Russia has played a prominent role in keeping Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro in power amid election turmoil, rejecting Donald Trump attempt to fuel a quasi-coup.

After all, money and military support have played a major role in buying Russian political influence. Moscow spent billions of dollars on saving the political career of Assad, which will pay dividends in regional influence. And ahead of the chaos in Caracas, Moscow had gained leverage in Venezuela by spending $17 billion on loans and credit lines.

The Cost of Opportunity

Now that Donald Trump is president, the Algerian government wants to see what’s possible. Now that Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika has announced that he will try to retain his position of power for a fifth presidential term, Russia might try to see what’s possible too.

“If you’re in Moscow and you want to convince Algeria to purchase your weapons, particularly with the threat of sanctions associated with that, then you’re going to have to try to offer something in return,” Bowman said. “So, if there’s something that Moscow can do to try to be helpful on, then Algeria would appreciate—no doubt—that they would try to do that. I would be shocked if Moscow would not try to offer Algeria ways that they could be helpful diplomatically or politically in the region that might incentivize Algeria to choose to buy from them.”

Over the past several years U.S. security aid to Algeria has been cut in half, according to data collected by the Center for International Policy’s Security Assistance Monitor. In 2012, Algeria received upwards of $3 million in security aid from the United States. But by 2019, that amount had been trimmed to $1.5 million. Notably, in the year 2016, funding ceased flowing to four major programs that supported Algerian counterterror efforts: the Regional Centers for Security Studies, the Developing Country Combined Exercise Program, Department of Homeland Security U.S. Coast Guard activities, and Section 1004 Counter-Drug Assistance, which allowed the Department of Defense to provide support to nations conducting counter-narcotic activities.

But counter-drug assistance to foreign countries didn’t cease altogether; it was merely redirected in following years after Congress passed a 2017 budget that stipulated such funds should only be funneled through U.S. government and law enforcement agencies that supported foreign law enforcement.

That same year, however, is when Algeria had to stop counting on the United States funding its Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program.

Although data shows that U.S. support for Algeria is shifting, Bouguerra says the two countries remain trusted allies and trusted partners.

“We have a joint military dialogue,” he reaffirmed during his interview with the National Interest. “We met last year for the eighth time. We look to meet next July in Washington for the ninth time. It brings together our people from different sectors. The American people from DOD and the exchange and talk with quite a big range of officials, and I’m happy to say that whenever they meet they seem to be in the same wave of length, really, when they talk together about the military and security cooperation between Algeria and the United States.”

Maggie Ybarra is senior editor at the National Interest.

Image: Reuters