Department of State Policy Statement1



a. objectives

Tunisia is important to the security of the United States because of its strategic geographical position in the central Mediterranean area. The objectives of United States policy toward Tunisia are: (1) the maintenance of peaceful and stable conditions under a regime which is friendly to the United States; (2) an orderly development toward internal autonomy; (3) the maintenance of friendly relations with the Tunisian people; (4) the maintenance and, where practicable, advancement of United States commercial, financial and other interests.

We believe that our objectives can be most satisfactorily achieved by agreement between the French and the Tunisian nationalists on a long-term modus vivendi which will assure the gradual but sure evolution of Tunisia toward self-government as an associated state within the French Union.

b. policies

The chief political problem in Tunisia is raised by the aspirations to independence of the Arab nationalists, the policy of France toward those aspirations in particular and French North Africa in general, and the efforts of the Communists to gain control of the area for the Soviet Union. It is a well known tenet of US foreign policy that we look with favor upon the orderly evolution of dependent peoples toward self-government when those peoples demonstrate a capacity for it. A by-product of the position taken by the United States in the UN General Assembly on the question of Libyan independence2 was that it gave the Arab countries reason to believe that we were sincere in the practical application of this tenet of our foreign policy to the dependent peoples of North Africa. At the same time, however, the position of Tunisia differs from that in Libya in that Tunisia is a French Protectorate and we are committed to a policy of assisting and encouraging a friendly France to regain her strength and influence as [Page 1793] a world power. It is necessary, therefore, to carry out a policy in Tunisia which will conform to the basic United States belief in the evolution of dependent peoples toward self-government, maintain the essentials of our policy toward France and block the efforts of the Communists to gain control of Tunisia.

We recognize the legitimate interest which France has in Tunisia and we believe that France is the nation best suited to guide the people of Tunisia along the road to self-government as long as France has a non-Communist government and does not pursue policies in Tunisia which would be detrimental to the basic interests of the United States.

Our policy, therefore, is to take advantage of all appropriate occasions to persuade the French Government, by high level, confidential approaches, of the need to resolve the conflict between the French administration and the nationalist movement in Tunisia, a conflict which is deep-rooted and one requiring utmost tact, patience, and persistence to resolve. We believe that a concrete, long-range program of reforms designed to lead Tunisia toward eventual self-government will permit Tunisia to develop into a friendly partner which will be a bulwark of a strong France rather than a weak and unwilling vassal which will only cause France trouble and expense.

In conformity with these policies, our officials in Tunisia have maintained good relations not only with the Protectorate authorities but also with appropriate nationalist leaders in an open manner and with the full knowledge of the Protectorate Government. Through the medium of our USEE program, and in cooperation with the French we have sought to counteract Communist propaganda in Tunisia and to carry the story of the United States to the Tunisian people.

It is also our policy to assist directly in the economic development of Tunisia and aid has been granted the French for the purpose by the ECA. This aid has consisted of dollar credits for the importation of capital goods and industrial materials, and of counterpart funds which are loaned to Tunisia; both types of aid are expended almost entirely on large-scale industrial and agricultural development projects. The purpose of these grants is to raise Tunisia’s level of economic activity, including production both for local consumption and for export.

We should also attempt to obtain a treaty of friendship, commerce and navigation with Tunisia by having Tunisia included in the treaty with France, if and when it is concluded. An alternative would be to negotiate such a treaty with Tunisia, as well as with Morocco, if we should decide to relinquish our present treaty rights in Morocco.

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c. relations with other states

France. Technically, Tunisia is a sovereign state under French protection, governed by the Bey. In actual fact, control of the governmental administrative machinery and of policy determination is exercised by the French Resident General. A French protectorate over the country was established by the Treaty of Kasr es Said, concluded between France and Tunisia in 1881. In 1883, another treaty was signed at La Marsa, which extended the scope of French influence. These treaties, together with a decree of the President of the French Republic in 1885, requiring the approval of the French Resident General in Tunisia before decrees of the Bey may be promulgated, firmly established French control. The nationalists charge that France has made an outright colony of Tunisia under the guise of a protectorate and that French control over all phases of Tunisian external and internal affairs is a violation of the treaties. This charge is not without foundation.

The French believe that Tunisia is absolutely vital to France’s political, military and economic objectives, and that the magnitude of the French investment and the substantial French population entitle France to permanent control of the area.

The French have flatly rejected the demands of the nationalists for independence by stating that nationalist aspirations far exceed their present capabilities to manage their own affairs. In our judgment there is considerable truth in this statement. Since the end of World War 11 however, the French have pursued a more lenient policy toward nationalist activities, and the state of siege, though legally still in effect, has been largely lifted in practice.

In the summer of 1950, following nationalist demands, a request to the French Government by the Bey, and political pressure by the French Socialist Party, it was announced that certain political reforms would be instituted in Tunisia. These would include a change in the personnel of the Tunisian cabinet, with the addition of one more Tunisian minister; priority for Tunisians in the civil service; abolition of the French advisors to the Tunisian Ministers; and reforms in the municipal administrations. A new cabinet has been installed, which includes the secretary general of the technically proscribed nationalist party, and the French advisors have been removed from the Ministers’ offices to the office of the Secretary General of the Government, where their influence will probably be somewhat less. Municipal reforms are still under study, and no changes have been made as yet.

USSR. The long-range objective of the USSR in Tunisia is probably to gain complete control and domination of the area or, failing that, to prevent the exercise of any control or domination over the area by a [Page 1795] government opposed to Soviet ideology. The Tunisian Communist Party, which is legally recognized, endeavors to implement this policy. The Communist Party line in Tunisia is flexible and opportunistic. It can be expected to shift in accordance with overall Soviet policy. The Communists are currently concentrating their efforts on the establishment of a national front in Tunisia, i.e., the union of the Communists, the nationalists, and all Tunisians “for the triumph of liberty and peace.”

While there have been instances of Communist-nationalist collaboration in Tunisia, the efforts of the Communists to form a united front have not as yet been successful. One of the conditions which the French placed on nationalist participation in the new Government was that they break with the Communists, and the Tunisian nationalist labor union has decided to do so. The possibility always exists, however, that the nationalists may become dissatisfied with the present government, may therefore withdraw and turn to the Communists for assistance. The Communists may be expected to use all means at their disposal to discredit French implementation of the reforms, and stir up dissatisfaction among the nationalists.

The French in Tunisia have indicated an increasing concern over Communist developments and activities in the Protectorate, and the local Communist Party is submitted to greater surveillance. This is in contrast to the French attitude in 1948 when they were inclined to dismiss the Communists with the statement that, “Islam and Communism do not mix.”

Libya. The French have also indicated concern over the impending establishment of Libya as a sovereign and independent state. There seems little doubt that this event has had and will continue to have a definite effect not only on Tunisia but also on the rest of North Africa.

United Kingdom. The British realize the dangers inherent in the rigid policy which France is pursuing with respect to her dependent areas in North Africa, and it is believed that the United Kingdom is anxious to support the French Government and to help establish harmonious relations between the French and Moslems. However, the United Kingdom has decided that it cannot afford to interject itself into the delicate North African situation, and British representatives in North Africa have instructions to appear as passive as possible.

Italy. While there are some 87,000 Italians in Tunisia, they are inactive politically and have failed to regain the economic position they occupied prior to World War II. The Italian Government does not play an active role in present political developments in Tunisia, and has indicated that it has no desire to increase Italian influence.

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Arab League. The Arab League has given some encouragement to North African nationalists in their aspirations for independence. Early in 1947 the League adopted a resolution calling for complete autonomy for Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Since that time individual Arab leaders have periodically reaffirmed their support of the North African cause. Although member countries do not all agree on certain Near Eastern questions, they can agree unreservedly on the North African question, and thus foster League unity. The Council of the League and prominent Near Eastern Arabs have so openly committed themselves to support the North African nationalists that they could not renounce their commitments without considerable loss of prestige throughout the Arab countries. It is believed that the League fully intends to implement those provisions of the League Pact which oblige its Council to adopt all possible political measures to advance the interest of dependent Arab peoples. There is a possibility that one of the member states will place the question of North Africa on the agenda of the 1951 General Assembly.

d. policy evaluation

While we believe that the most satisfactory immediate solution of the problem of Tunisia is for the French and the Tunisians to agree on a modus vivendi, we have been unable to convince the French of the wisdom of accepting a program of political reforms such as we envisage. While the reforms undertaken in 1950 are limited in scope, they constitute a step in the right direction. It remains to be seen whether the nationalists’ representative in the Government will cooperate satisfactorily with the French, and whether the French will actually grant substantial responsibility to the Tunisians, both in the central Government and in the municipalities.

If the question of French rule in North Africa is raised in the UN, the United States will be faced with a serious question of policy determination. On one hand, we believe that France is the nation best equipped to exercise international responsibility for the area. On the other hand, French policy in the Protectorate has in certain respects proved inconsistent with the policies of the United States and with the principles of the UN Charter.

We should, therefore, while expressing to the French our gratification at the reforms instituted and projected and the hope that their implementation will proceed as rapidly and successfully as possible, continue to indicate to them our interest in further political reforms and social reforms (including education) which would guarantee the evolution of the Tunisians toward genuine self-government.

We should at the same time make clear to the French that we understand their problems, and that we have no intention of pursuing a [Page 1797] policy designed to weaken the ties between France and Tunisia. On the contrary, we wish to see these bonds strengthened, and our economic assistance, the activities of the USIE, and other aspects of our policy are not in any way designed to undermine French influence.

  1. Department of State Policy Statements were concise summaries of current U.S. policy toward a country or region, relations of that country or region with the principal powers, and the issues and trends in that country or region. The statements, which were generally prepared by ad hoc working groups in the responsible bureaus of the Department of State and were periodically revised, provided information and guidance for officers in missions abroad.
  2. For documentation on attitude of the United States with respect to Libyan independence, see pp. 1601 ff.