There is growing international consensus on how best to resolve this problem. Rather than a winner-take-all vote between competing positions for independence or full integration into Morocco, the Clinton administration fostered a compromise solution of self-governing autonomy for Western Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty. This policy was endorsed and enhanced by the Bush administration, and Secretary Clinton affirmed that it remains US policy in the Obama Administration.  Both the House and Senate, in a rare bipartisan majority consensus on foreign policy, sent letters urging US support of the policy and more energetic diplomacy. The US position is clear, and we are not alone. A majority of the Security Council, including veto-wielding members, also calls the Moroccan autonomy initiative serious and credible.

There are no more excuses. It is time to break the stalemate and move forward. The US must get beyond simple statements and endorsements and lead the Security Council to actively promote a sustainable solution—autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty. The critical next step is convincing Algeria that the US is committed to this solution and it should move forward on that basis.

We trace the history of this issue and examine the unfortunate lack of determined support for the policy in an article just published in the MIT International Review. Strategic security concerns in the region are compelling enough, but the three-decades-old deadlock has also stranded tens of thousands of Sahrawis in Algerian camps unable to rejoin their families in Morocco.  US diplomacy cannot become hostage to a UN process clearly rudderless and needing active American leadership to move forward.

What is at stake? As the Congressional letters point out, the region itself and beyond are under increasing threats from al-Qaeda terrorists who have linked up with narcotics and other traffickers. The Sahara conflict remains the single biggest obstacle to greater economic and political cooperation and more effective regional counter-terrorism in North Africa. The UN Security Council recognized these concerns last month when it extended MINURSO another year. But an extension, without active diplomacy to resolve the crisis through negotiations based on broad autonomy, ignores the shameful warehousing of refugees and only prolongs a crisis that threatens to worsen.

The US should lead efforts to resolve this conflict, promote greater stability, and end the humanitarian crisis in the camps.  International consensus for autonomy is growing; US policy through three administrations is in place; and now there is strong US Congressional support. Resolving Western Sahara is possible and reasonable, now.