McGhee Files: Lot 53 D 468: Africa1

Memorandum by the Former Consul General at Tunis (Packer)2


Memorandum on the Current Situation in Tunisia, With Appended Policy Recommendation Regarding Tunisia

[Here follow sections entitled “Brief Historical Summary”, “Current French Reform Program”, “French Interests in Tunisia”, “Population Data”, “Foreign Trade”, and “Mineral Resources”, comprising 11 of the 16–page typewritten source text.]

American Interests in Tunisia

American interest in Tunisia is at present primarily strategic. The northern Tunisian coast is nearer Europe (Italy, not to mention Sicily) than any point along the Southern Mediterranean shoreline from some distance east of Gibraltar to the Suez Canal. Tunisia in unfriendly hands could prejudice control of the Mediterranean and American bases in Tripoli (Wheelus Field) and Morocco (Port Lyautey), as well as use of British and French Mediterranean and African air and naval bases (Gibraltar, Bizerte, Oran, Tripoli).

Politically, American interest, private and State, is twofold: (1) private missionary efforts to proselytize the basically Mohammedan [Page 1783] population; and (2) reconciliation of our basic foreign policy principle of facilitating insofar as practicable the attainment by dependent peoples of their ambition for self-government or independence with our desire to maintain very close relations with the protecting power (France) to maintain world peace, thereby permitting the development of wider trade and cultural (including Point IV) relationships with Tunisia. If the Tunisian or North African “problem” should be presented to a United Nations body for consideration, it is obvious that we should find ourselves in an embarrassing position.

American economic interest in Tunisia is at present slight. American investments are negligible, including unimportant missionary holdings. Only one important American company (Gulf Oil Corporation) is at present actively engaged in making arrangements to explore and, if successful, to exploit Tunisian natural resources. The Armstrong Cork Company has just liquidated its relatively unimportant enterprise.

Tunisian imports from the United States (which mounted from $1,611,000 in 1938 to $28,402,000 in 1947) are now on the decline, amounting to $9,610,000 in 1949. On the other hand, Tunisian exports to the United States (which amounted to $2,011,000 in 1938 and only $242,000 in 1947) offer some possibility of being increased; they totalled $1,470,000 in 1949.

A United States Military Cemetery at Carthage holds the remains of some 2,800 Americans who lost their lives in the North African campaign in 1942–43.

Policy Recommendation

The United States recognized the establishment of the French Protectorate by the Franco-American treaty of 1904 by the terms of which the United States renounced the capitulatory rights granted in the American treaties of 1797 and 1824 with the Bey of Tunis. The President of the French Republic, in concluding the 1904 treaty, acted “in his own name as well as in that of His Highness the Bey of Tunis.”

In 1947 our Ambassador at Paris broached the subject of reforms in Tunisia with the French Foreign Minister. Detailed information regarding the French attitude was made available to the Ambassador.3

As fully reported to the Department subsequently, in various conversations which I had during my incumbency at Tunis (1948–50), I discussed with the Resident General and other French officials the possibility of adopting and implementing reform measures, particularly emphasizing the “time-table” factor. It is doubtful whether those [Page 1784] discussions bore any fruit, although they may possibly have influenced somewhat the thinking of Mons and other Residency officials on the subject; as far as reaction in the Quai d’Orsay was concerned, they were probably sterile.

The advocacy by Mons, the former Resident General, of reform measures contributed to, if they were not largely responsible for, his removal. Another factor, referred to above, with regard to which more information would be helpful, was the interplay of internal French politics. The new Resident General, Perillier, appears to be in favor of reforms and he has furnished some information as to his ideas on the subject. He is, however, dependent upon decisions to be made in Paris as to the scope and nature of the reforms; possibly their scope and nature will be influenced by his recommendations which, in turn, may be influenced by his conversations with the Bey, Bourghiba, etc.

The present would, I believe, be an appropriate time for the United States Government, through Ambassador Bruce at Paris, once more to raise the question of Tunisian reforms with the French Government. It could be done, I believe, without unduly offending French susceptibilities, by frankly pointing out how awkward would be our position vis-à-vis France and vis-à-vis dependent peoples in general if the Tunisian question should reach a United Nations body for consideration. It might be stated that in that event, it would hardly be possible for the United States, in view of our present position of leadership and the existing international situation, to avoid taking some position on the Tunisian question; that, however much we might be tempted to straddle and thereby avoid taking a positive position, such an effort would be interpreted as indicating uncertainty, cowardice or fear vis-à-vis one party or other in this colonial-power versus subject-peoples problem; that the propaganda value to the Soviets of our failure to side with the dependent people in this instance would in the existing international situation, be enormous; that, consequently, we hope that the French will speedily reach a decision on what to do in Tunisia and that their decision will be a liberal one, bearing in mind Tunisia’s expectations and the current demands of the Nationalists, the UN decision on Libya4 and recent French experiences in Indo-China and Madagascar. It might be added that French prestige will hardly suffer in French North Africa, in the French Union, or in the Arab world, not to mention the United Nations, by the announcement and implementation of reform measures which will draw a large measure of support from the Tunisians themselves, who constitute [Page 1785] an overwhelming majority of the population of the Regency, even though they may be opposed by a small but influential French group in Tunisia.

USIS activities in Tunis should be continued and as opportunity offers extended. The position of USIS in Tunis today is, I believe, good, although the work of the office there is always subject to suspicion in some French quarters; consequently, there is continuing need for great circumspection in regard to the scope and magnitude of USIS operations there. Continuing efforts should be made by the use of all possible mass media to present our story to the inhabitants of Tunisia, native and European. Through the PAO Tunis, the Department can best undertake and effect an exchange of persons program; it may become feasible to bring Arab students here for study purposes.

Tunisia should continue to receive ECA aid. If practicable, more publicity should be given in Tunisia to the facts concerning the extent of such aid in the past; this applies also to future ECA aid as extended. If the French Government could be persuaded or coerced into giving greater publicity in Tunisia to the facts regarding such aid, benefits would accrue to us in Tunisia therefrom. The Consulate General in Tunis has not been kept adequately informed as to the details regarding the manner of extending or the identity of the beneficiaries of such aid, the volume or nature of the goods furnished or the terms under which ECA credits (including counterpart francs) are available. Some publicity in Tunisia on these points would be beneficial to us. Many Tunisians would like to receive ECA aid direct rather than through France.

If French objections are not too evident, the question of the possible extension of Point Four aid to Tunisia should be given consideration (a report from Tunis is pending). The granting of Point Four aid might possibly be conditioned on real reforms in Tunisia, the aim of both being to improve the lot of a dependent people, although the French presumably will take the view that France will do all that is possible to assist the Tunisians to a better life.

The nationalist-controlled trade union organization, the UGTT, might be induced to join the ICFTU if appropriate steps were undertaken at this time and continued by the CIO and AFL. These latter organizations might be appropriately approached in the matter by the proper Government authorities here. Getting the UGTT to join the ICFTU would be an important gain in the anti-Communist struggle in Tunisia.

E. L. Packer
  1. Lot 53 D 468 contains copies of memoranda and correspondence of Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs George C. McGhee for the years 1949–1951.
  2. This memorandum was transmitted to Assistant Secretary McGhee under cover of a brief memorandum by Packer of August 23 requesting that copies be sent to the Embassy at Paris and the Consulate General at Tunis.
  3. For documentation on the U.S. attitude in 1947 regarding reforms in Tunisia, see Foreign Relations, 1947, vol. v. pp. 669 ff.
  4. For documentation on Libya, see pp. 1601 ff.