Turning East:

Recent years have witnessed growth in the relationship between Morocco and India. This has come as Morocco adopts a policy of diversifying sources of weapons and military equipment. At the same time, Morocco’s interest in diversifying its international partners reflects the Kingdom’s attempt to achieve strategic gains. Perhaps most important, Morocco seeks India’s support in the Western Sahara issue and other matters of importance to the Kingdom. This is to say nothing of the development of Morocco’s economic relations with India, which is considered a rising global power with influence on the international order.

Clear Signs

Recently, a number of indications of increased military cooperation between Morocco and India have become apparent. This may be described as followed:

1. Morocco’s numerous arms deals with India: The Moroccan state has moved to make several arms deals with India. This January, Morocco agreed to an arms deal with the Indian arms company Tata Advanced Systems to obtain 92 LPTA-715 tactical military transport trucks. Morocco is set to use the trucks arriving from India to carry and transport ammunition, spare parts, and other operational equipment. This is intended to strengthen the logistical capabilities of the Moroccan armed forces in the context of a policy to modernize and develop the country’s defense and attack system.

In June 2022, Rabat also obtained TATA LPTA 2038 tactical transport trucks from India in response to a request from the Moroccan armed forces. These trucks are appropriate for the climate of Morocco’s desert regions. This is within the framework of Morocco’s strategy of obtaining technically-advanced weapons from India via its agreement with the Indian company Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), which is to provide the technology and installation for high-performing radar to survey and control all Moroccan airports.

2. Rabat’s creation of a post of Military Attaché in India: This past July, Morocco created the post of Military Attaché at the Moroccan Embassy in India. This is because India is considered among the most important emerging markets for the manufacture and production of highly-developed weapons and military equipment characterized by advanced technology. Additionally, the prices are lower than those of weapons and military equipment manufactured by the sources on which Morocco usually relies. The creation of the post of Military Attaché will help speed up arms deals with the Indian side compared to the traditional method based on the travel of a government delegation to India to meet with military authorities or representatives of Indians weapons companies and make such agreements. This will save time and effort in obtaining weapons.

3. Making agreements to enhance bilateral military cooperation: In 2020, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed in regards to military cooperation and sharing of military and defensive expertise between Morocco and India. The goal was to build a strategic partnership and develop relations between Rabat and New Delhi in the area of defense. In September 2018, the Moroccan National Defense Administration signed two MoUs with the Indian Ministry of Defence. The first MoU took up cooperation in cybersecurity between the National Defense Administration and its Indian counterpart. The second MoU aimed to build cooperation in space activities between the Indian Space Research Organisation on one side and the Royal Centre for Remote Sensing and Royal Center for Space Study and Research affiliated with the Moroccan National Defense Administration on the other. This MoU focused on space sciences, the practical application of space technologies, training, and sharing expertise. The bilateral cooperation agreements also encompassed the areas of micro-, small-, and medium-sized projects, infrastructure development, and joint funding of projects in development and the defense industry.

4. Holding joint military exercises between the two countries: Exercises involving Indian and Moroccan naval forces were held this past July off the coast of Casablanca. This was within the framework of cooperation and joint military coordination between the two countries.

Diverse Goals

Morocco’s efforts to enhance its military relations with India aim to achieve a variety of goals. Among the most prominent are the following:

1. Improving Morocco’s military capabilities: Morocco has made numerous arms deals with numerous countries with which it enjoys strong ties (such as the United States, Israel, and Turkey). It participated in numerous joint military exercises over the course of the year 2022. Yet, Morocco occupies the rank of 61 out of 145 countries ranked in the 2023 Global Firepower index of the world’s most powerful militaries. According to the index, Morocco ranks sixth among Arab countries and seventh in Africa. The ranking shows a retrogression from 2022, when Morocco occupied the overall rank of 55 on the global index.

A possible explanation for this retrogression is that, in its new budget devoted to defense, Morocco has focused on security and defense manufacturing, which is not taken into account in the Global Firepower rankings. The issue has pushed Morocco to make more arms deals in order to develop its military capabilities, especially in relation to updating its fleet of vehicles and transport trucks for army use. Additionally, the Moroccan government has earmarked approximately $12 billion to develop its armed forces.

In the new budget bill for 2023, the Moroccan government has increased the defense budget to $17 billion, an increase of $5 billion from the previous year. The new budget accounts for weapons acquisition through a spending account for acquisition and repair of military equipment for the armed forces of the Kingdom and support and development of defense manufacturing. This budget represents more than 3.5% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

2. Securing border crossings shared with neighboring countries: Arms deals with the Indian side are part and parcel of the development of weapons and military equipment to secure the border crossings that Morocco shares with neighboring countries. Notable among these is the Guerguerat crossing, on which armed actors associated with the Polisario Front previously launched an attack. This crossing has economic importance viz-a-viz strengthening trade relations with Mauritania. Moreover, control of the crossing has held special significance for the Moroccan armed forces ever since Morocco succeeded in driving Polisario forces away from the site two years ago. Recent indications that the Polisario Front will launch an attack on the security fence and adjoining areas has pushed the Moroccan armed forces to enhance necessary surveillance over the border region. This is reflected in the Moroccan armed forces permanently assigning approximately 50 thousand soldiers to surveil and guard the borders shared with neighboring countries.

3. Enhancing a strategic partnership with India: Linked to the arms deals and military cooperation agreements is the strengthening of political relations between Morocco and India towards a bilateral strategic partnership. This is reflected in the exchange of visits between government authorities from both countries. The Indian Minister of Health responsible for chemical products is scheduled to spend two days in Rabat on 13-14 January. He is to sign new agreements to provide fertilizers. He is also to discuss the possibility of manufacturing diammonium phosphate (DAP) and factories for the production of Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NKP) fertilizer in the Morocco, which has become an important supplier for India. This would compensate for supply shortages of diammonium phosphate from China as a result of the Ukrainian War.

4. Attracting Indian support on the Western Sahara issue: In 2000, Morocco’s diplomatic efforts succeeded in convincing India to retract its previous recognition of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. Since that time, India’s official position has fundamentally changed to support for the Moroccan proposal to offer Western Sahara regional autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.

5. Keeping up in the arms race with Algeria: Morocco consistently seeks arms deals with new sources such as India in an attempt to keep up with Algeria, which occupies a high position on the ranking of the world’s most powerful militaries. According to the 2023 Global Firepower index, Algeria occupies the rank of 26worldwide, ranks first among countries in the Maghreb region, and ranks third among Arab countries (after Egypt and Saudi Arabia). This demonstrates Algeria’s military superiority over Morocco—a motivation for Rabat to enhance its military capabilities.

6. Rabat’s moves to diversify its sources of arms: Morocco’s move to strengthen its military relations with a country like India—which is considered a new source of weapons for Morocco—may be intended to put pressure on friendly countries that constitute the Moroccan military’s traditional sources of weapons and thereby obtain more updated weapons and military equipment. This has been made evident by Spain’s anxiety viz-a-viz the deal struck by Morocco to obtain Indian military trucks. Notably, at the beginning of January, the Spanish government agreed to provide an Avante 1800 combat ship (a large vessel specialized in surveillance) to Moroccan naval forces.

This came after the Moroccan government turned to a Spanish bank for a loan to fund arms deals earmarked for Moroccan naval forces. This paved the way for the deal between Rabat (represented by the Minister Delegate of the National Defense Administration) and the Spanish warship-manufacturing company Navantia. Madrid fears Rabat’s reliance on non-Spanish sources of arms, especially in light of the noticeable improvement in the two countries’ diplomatic relations following Spain’s recognition of Morocco’s official position towards the Western Sahara issue.

7. Increasing mutual economic gains: Enhanced military cooperation between Morocco and India plays a role in achieving noticeable economic gains for both countries. Arms deals will increase the profits of Indian companies working in the field of manufacturing weapons and military equipment. India is turning to the Moroccan market as a launching pad for entry into African markets. India has marked the African continent as a promising market to reinvigorate the Indian economy.

In this context, the period from 2013 to 2019 witnessed an infusion of $998 million worth of Indian investments in large economic projects in Morocco. These included automobile manufacturing, plastics and chemical manufacturing, and software. Tis helped create approximately 8,158 jobs for young Moroccans.

With the resultant warming of Moroccan-Indian relations, investment opportunities in the Moroccan economy are expected to increase. Morocco is a promising field for investment, and there is a surplus in the India-Morocco balance of trade in favor of Morocco. Indian exports to Morocco reached approximately $650 million for the period 2018-2019, while Morocco’s exports to India reached approximately $1.32 billion during the same period.

In sum, Morocco’s arms deals with India reveal a fundamental shift in Indian-Moroccan relations. A framework of partnership that includes military cooperation has brought the two countries together. The agreements also demonstrate Rabat’s move to diversify its sources of weapons for its armed forces. This aims to free Morocco from pressure from its traditional allies such as France and the United States.