S/PNSC files, lot 61 D 167, “North Africa”

Statement of Policy by the National Security Council1

NSC 5436/1

French North Africa (Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria)

(Note: Reexamination of this paper would be required in the event of a basic change in U.S. policy toward Europe)

general considerations

French North Africa is of particular importance to the U.S. because: [Page 171]
It is of great strategic significance in U.S. and Western military planning, especially as a site for military bases.
The conflict between French interests and North African nationalism:
Is widely regarded, especially in Asia and Africa, as a test of U.S. and Western intentions with respect to self-determination of dependent peoples.
Involves the danger of serious damage to U.S. relations with France if U.S. policy appears to the French to jeopardize vital French interests.
The danger in this area to the security of the free world arises not from the threat of direct Soviet military attack, but from instability resulting primarily from the conflict between native nationalism and the French position, coupled with the effect of political developments in the area on other countries, particularly in the Moslem world. Free world interests have been menaced by the inability or unwillingness of succeeding French governments and Tunisian and Moroccan nationalists to resolve their conflicting interests by compromise.
It is a fixed tenet of French policy that France’s power position in Europe and the world requires retention and control of North Africa as part of the French community. Political pressures both in France and by the approximately 1.5 million French inhabitants of North Africa have inhibited successive French governments from dealing effectively with North African nationalism. Until the recent French initiative in Tunisia, reform programs have been proposed by France but on the basis of unilateral imposition rather than bilateral negotiation. Furthermore, these measures have had the air of being stop-gaps which did not tackle the fundamental problem of placing the peoples of Morocco and Tunisia “in a position to manage their own affairs,” as promised by the present French Prime Minister.
The Mendes-France Government has recently concentrated on a reform program for Tunisia and has activated negotiations on basic agreements which may produce a new accord on Franco-Tunisian relations. While the outcome of the negotiations cannot be predicted, present French activities vis-à-vis Tunisia have revived mutual confidence between French and Tunisian nationalists, and hope prevails concerning reforms for Tunisia. In Morocco, however, France has not yet proposed any real remedies for the problem.
It can be safely concluded that unless reforms in both Tunisia and Morocco are implemented at a pace satisfactory to the moderate nationalist groups, who have heretofore controlled the nationalist movements, the moderates will lose their control and terrorist elements will predominate and augment their campaigns of violence. Unless the French Government follows through promptly on its recently announced intention to grant a greater degree of self-government, the Arab-Asian nations will continue strongly to condemn French policy [Page 172] and to press for further UN action. Under such circumstances, continued U.S. support for the French position would receive similar condemnation within and without the United Nations. Furthermore, the Tunisian and Moroccan people might harbor such feelings of hostility toward us that our strategic interests (including military bases) in the area might be endangered by local acts of violence. On the other hand, if the U.S. appeared to favor the North African nationalists, it would invite serious complications in its relations with France and in its utilization of North African bases. While there is a better than average possibility that Tunisian and Moroccan nationalists would be willing to cooperate politically and militarily with the West if their independence were granted, there is, of course, no guarantee that they would do so in the long run.
It is, therefore, in U.S. interests to promote orderly progress toward self-government in Tunisia and Morocco which would at the same time envisage a new relationship for France with these countries and a continuing place for French residents in them. The time required for the attainment of nationalist aspirations would vary as between Tunisia and Morocco (Tunisia is more advanced politically than Morocco) and would depend not only on local factors but also upon the course of international developments, including the attitude which France may adopt toward its commitments in Europe and toward its overseas areas as a result of its recent experience in Indochina.
The rate of increase of the native population of French North Africa is one of the highest in the world. The area is scant in natural resources outside of minerals. Despite a large public investment program over the period 1949–1953, about one-half of the cost of which was financed by France, agricultural output has not risen significantly and has not yet achieved pre-war levels. Per capita food consumption has been maintained by foodstuff imports. The inflation engendered by the investment plan combined with backward methods of production and French commercial policy have increased costs of production to such an extent that French North Africa is finding it increasingly difficult to market her agricultural exports even in the franc-protected market.
Spain has been putting pressure on France by making gestures favorable to native nationalism in Spanish Morocco and also wooing Arab states. While the Spanish may desire to annoy the French over the Moroccan question, Spain would doubtless sacrifice her pro-Arab policy to the necessity of remaining in Morocco by force should the situation develop to a point where that choice were necessary.
Arab nationalism in Algeria does not represent an immediate threat to French rule or to Franco-American strategic interests there. In the long run, however, there is a potential danger that the inspiration of the pressure of events in Morocco and Tunisia might weld the [Page 173] now disunited nationalists into a strong national coalition which would draw to it even conservative Moslems and cause serious trouble for France and its allies.


The continued availability of the area and its material and manpower resources to the United States and its allies for use in strengthening the free world.
The association of the peoples of the area with the free world.
The prevention of the spread of Soviet influence and Communist ideology within the area.
Maintenance of the confidence of the Arab-Asian nations in U.S. intentions and policies in support of self-determination for dependent peoples.
Such orderly progress toward self-government in Tunisia and Morocco, including mutually acceptable arrangements for a continuing place in those countries for French residents, as will best contribute to achievement of the above objectives.2

courses of action

French North Africa

Maintain existing bases and transit rights and, as necessary and politically feasible, seek to obtain additional bases and transit rights.
Seek removal of present limitations on force and rotational unit levels.
Continue to seek in advance the right to conduct military operations in and from the area during general hostilities.
Be prepared to assure the security of U.S. bases and U.S. official and dependent personnel,3 if French authorities fail to discharge their responsibility in the event of local insurrection.

Morocco and Tunisia

Urge the French and the Moroccans and the French and the Tunisians respectively to settle their conflicts on a bilateral basis.
Encourage France to offer progressively more self-government to Morocco and Tunisia, and give diplomatic support to that end.
If necessary, exert such pressures on France, as may be effective to induce more rapid progress toward self-government in Morocco and Tunisia.
Encourage arrangements which will preserve, for as long as necessary in the interest of free world defense, French participation in responsibility [Page 174] for the external defense and foreign affairs of Morocco and Tunisia, and continued French contributions to their economies.4
Support the principle of a continuing place for French residents in Tunisia and Morocco in which their political, economic, social and cultural rights are guaranteed by treaty, constitution or other appropriate means.
Urge the Tunisian and Moroccan Nationalists to act with moderation.
Continue, and if necessary expand, economic and technical assistance for use in Tunisia and Morocco, if it is determined that such aid will assist in achieving orderly self-government and stability in the area.5
In the event France and the nationalists are unable to resolve their conflict by bilateral agreement, make use, when desirable: (a) of UN procedures and activities to further progress toward self-government in Tunisia and Morocco, including the participation of Tunisia and Morocco in some form in the UN, and (b)of mediation or arbitration.
If circumstances ultimately so require, press for French recognition of the eventual full freedom of Morocco and Tunisia to decide whether or not to continue in association with France.

. . . . . . .


National Security Council Staff Study

U.S. Policy on French North Africa (Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria)


1. To determine the general course of action required for maintaining and defending U.S. interests in French North Africa without alienating the anti-colonial world or jeopardizing U.S. strategic interests or relations with its NATO allies in this region and elsewhere.


Basic Factors Common to French North Africa As a Whole

2. To indicate the forces with which U.S. policy must reckon in French North Africa, and the limits within which it may operate, this study explores the dynamics, strength and purposes of the two chief factors affecting the region’s stability—European control and native nationalism—in the context of French North Africa’s political, economic and strategic relationships.

[Page 175]

3. Strategically, North Africa might be required as a new base of Allied operations in the event of World War III. The United States now operates in French Morocco the Port Lyautey Naval Air Station and three USAF air bases, and has a fourth air base under construction. France has both air and naval bases in North Africa. From the technical viewpoint, extensive additional military requirements can be met in North Africa. In the past its population has provided an important reservoir of military manpower for both France and Spain. In the event of a general war, the defense of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia will fall to French forces (including Moroccan, Tunisian, and French Union troops), certain U.S. forces in the area, and possibly, Spanish forces in Morocco.

*4. Economically, French North Africa has extensive deposits of lead and phosphates, and lesser deposits of manganese, cobalt and iron-ore. The region’s population, less than one percent of the people of the world, is increasing steadily. Food production, however, has not kept pace. The lack of skilled labor, cheap power and adequate transportation facilities retards economic development. All North African countries, except the International Zone of Tangier, have been a financial burden on the Governments of the Western powers controlling or guiding them.

5. Politically, from the perspective of many native inhabitants, the dominant fact is nationalism. Nationalism, however, is only the symptom of a larger historical transformation in North Africa. For several decades, and in some instances even before French and Spanish conquest, a portion of the Muslim leadership has come to realize that the traditional social system and beliefs of North Africa were inadequate for survival in a modern world. Their impotence to resist European political and economic control and the ensuing supremacy (sometimes even the acknowledged superiority) of Western theories and practices, made this realization an inescapable necessity. Those native groups who were (1) brought into existence through the Westernization of North Africa (students, urban industrial workers, bourgeoisie), (2) placed on the defensive by this impact (small farmers, nomads, certain religious leaders), or (3) hopeful of surviving it (certain large landowners, businessmen, feudal lords, and again, certain religious leaders), were henceforth faced by a common problem: how to create new and stronger social and ideological bonds capable of ensuring the survival of their community in a world not only more modern but more powerful than they. They found that the control of the political institutions and economic bases necessary for creating such a new society was in the hands of foreigners. Hence, many North Africans narrowed this larger search into “nationalism”, [Page 176] for the presence of the foreigners was the most obvious and the most frustrating fact. Naturally, the groups newly brought into existence by the Westernization of North Africa, having the least to lose in the death of the old society and chafing most in the half-way house of the present status quo, have provided the leadership for the nationalist movement.

6. Though the peasantry still remains largely passive, foreign rule—because it has often become direct rule—is simply an additional fact in their already poverty-stricken and frustrating existence. To the extent that the Western foreigner educates them, improves their health, develops their means of communication, draws them into a modern economy and political state, and thus generally raises their aspirations, this group is increasingly drawn, not to the foreigner who promises gradual and orderly progress, but to the leaders of their own community who promise a new world. A significant portion of the leadership of the traditional society in all of French North Africa is joining the new intellectuals and the new middle class. North African nationalism, which seems most likely to increase in number of adherents through the tendency of the traditional society to deteriorate and the spread of Western ideas, has achieved its initial goals only in Libya. In Morocco and Tunisia its intensity is growing because of increasing frustration resulting from continued Western dominance. In Algeria the intensity of nationalism at least at the present time is not growing, and there are few signs of increasing frustration. Nevertheless, nationalism seems likely to grow in Algeria almost regardless of French action, because of the influence of Moroccan and Tunisian nationalism.

7. Politically, from the perspective of France, the dominant problem is security and continued control. The varying legal, political, economic and military controls which France exercises in North Africa are intended to help maintain its status as a world power, especially in the Atlantic and European communities, and to serve as a base for the security of its empire as well as the free world generally. For similar reasons, the UK and other European colonial powers support the French position vis-à-vis the North African protectorates.

8. Politically, from the perspective of the UN, and especially the Arab states and a large group of anti-colonial states in Asia, French North Africa has been a test of the intentions of the principal Western nations toward dependent peoples generally. With respect to Tunisia and Morocco, the inherent anti-colonial sentiment of the Latin American states tends to associate them to some extent with the impatience of the Arab-Asian states over the slow rate of progress of dependent peoples. On the problem of North Africa, however, the attachment of the Latin American states for France tends to render their position on Tunisia and Morocco more restrained than it would be otherwise.

[Page 177]

9. Unless the Soviet rulers have decided to initiate general war, there is little danger of direct Soviet attacks upon the area. North Africa is not of paramount importance in overall Soviet strategy, and is, moreover, comparatively inaccessible to Iron Curtain countries. The chief Soviet interest in the region is probably to prevent—by means other than war—its use by the West as a base from which to launch an air attack on the USSR, as well as generally to disrupt public order and security as much as possible. The Communists will probably continue their efforts to exploit nationalist desires for independence by attempting to capture the nationalist movements, but they will be unlikely to succeed.

10. It is the interaction of these factors which seriously affects the degree of political stability necessary for maintaining and defending Western interests in this area during the cold war. In the foreseeable future, the question is not whether Western powers can maintain their strategic control of North Africa, but rather under what conditions and at what price they may be able to do so.

[Here follows a section, paragraphs 11 to 18, on the French position in North Africa.]

The North African Issue in the East–West Conflict

19. Nonetheless, the situation in French North Africa already affects the broader issues and strategy of the cold war since political stability must be assured, if possible, without the use of armed force. North Africa is now an important source of military manpower for France, North African soldiers comprising about fifteen percent of the French Army prepared to defend Western Europe in accordance with over-all NATO strategy. The full realization of the major goal of making Western European armed forces sufficiently formidable to discourage Soviet aggression may be threatened if and when France’s hold on North Africa is withdrawn. Should conditions in North Africa threaten its position in the protectorates, France would face the necessity of finding adjustments to new relationships in Europe and the world at large. Recognizing these prospects, France considers North Africa as vital to its world position and is capable of devising the means that, in the immediate future (the next five years), will keep its North African territories under French control, although this may require the use of extensive repressive measures.

20. The tensions between the French and the nationalists in North Africa also bear upon the prosecution of the cold war in the Near East and parts of Asia because of the repercussions which occur in these Moslem and/or newly independent areas. U.S. unwillingness to support North African nationalism is a cause of irritation and disillusionment, even though it may not seriously undermine the confidence of non-European countries in U.S. world leadership. The governments of these countries are probably hesitant to join the Western powers for [Page 178] more fundamental reasons of policy and attitude than the North African issue. Nevertheless, dependent as they are for their continued existence on strongly nationalist popular opinion in their own countries, most of these governments will find it increasingly difficult to take moderate positions in the UN in the face of continuing tensions in North Africa. In the event of major uprisings there, at least the Moslem nations would find it difficult to cooperate consistently with the U.S. or any other power that supports the French position.

21. While there is a better than average possibility that Tunisian and Moroccan nationalists would be willing to cooperate politically and militarily with the West if their independence were granted, there is of course no guarantee that they will do so in the long run. However, in contrast to their steadily waning hope in the French liberals, the faith of the Tunisian and Moroccan nationalists in the basic, anti-colonialist, good-will of the United States persists. Their faith in the U.S. tends to be correlated with their antipathy to the French, their relationship with France, and their hope that the United States will ameliorate that relationship, and is not an indication that they are taking sides in the conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union. Indeed, some Arab nationalists have shown themselves to be neutralists in the East–West Conflict, and might consider their newly granted independence endangered by opening their territories again to the Allied powers, although they may favor close relations with the West in other fields.

22. Already certain problems arising from U.S. aid and defense programs have reflected and contributed to political tensions in North Africa. Thus, nationalists considered that U.S. economic aid should have been allocated directly to Morocco and Tunisia instead of sub-allocated from France’s allotments; the nationalists regard the exercise of French controls without native consent as an infringement of their basic sovereignty and they fear its cumulative effect.

23. The failure of France to consult the former Sultan before granting military base rights to the United States in Morocco also aroused resentment among Moroccans, although nationalists say he would have given consent. At the insistence of France, the Metropolitan Departments of Algeria were included in NATO; however, Morocco and Tunisia were not because of the fears of other NATO powers that this extension would lead to the inclusion of still other parts of Africa. The nationalists insist that Moroccan and Tunisian membership in NATO, if any, should be in their own name, not as dependent territories of France. However, the NATO conference in Libson in February 1952 contained the following provision for administrative arrangements in time of war:

“3. The control and the defense of the zones of the interior, including French North Africa, is the direct responsibility of the National [Page 179] Authorities concerned, who will grant the Allied Commanders under SACEUR all facilities necessary for the efficient conduct of their operations. The Supreme Allied Commander Europe shall have authority to conduct such combat operations in these zones, including French North Africa, as he deems necessary for the defense of Western Europe.”

[Here follows a section, paragraphs 24 to 40, on the North African Issue in the United Nations and Special Problems in Tunisia, French Morocco, and Algeria.]

summary and conclusions

Threats to Western Interests

41. North Africa is of great importance to the United States and its allies as a base of Allied operations in the event of World War III and as a source of raw materials and manpower. Western interests generally are menaced by the inability or unwillingness of French and North African nationalists to resolve their conflicting interests by compromise. The impact of Western ideas is producing a new middle class which has little to lose in the death of the traditional social system and which is providing the leadership for the nationalist movement in French North Africa. A significant portion of the leadership of the traditional society in French North Africa is joining the new intellectuals and the new middle class. Because of its dynamics, the nationalist movement seems likely to grow almost regardless of French actions. To the Asians, Near Eastern, and, to a less extent, Latin American states, French North Africa has been a test of Western intentions toward dependent peoples generally.

42. In the foreseeable future the question is not whether Western powers can maintain their strategic control of North Africa but rather under what conditions and at what price they may be able to do so. Prolonged nationalist opposition in Morocco to the recent French actions in support of their imposed reform program of 1953 has tended to weaken France’s position in Morocco. It is in the United States interest to prevent conditions from reaching the point at which a very substantial portion of the Moroccan and Tunisian people harbor such feeling of hostility toward us that our strategic interests in the area could be seriously endangered by local acts of violence. Such a course is advisable, since the peoples of North Africa are not prepared to govern themselves in a Western-type democracy, and if they are to do so, they must pass through a period of gradual evolution in which they may need our assistance if our strategic interests are to be preserved.

43. As a means of diminishing the threat to Western interests posed by nationalist demands and by political instability in the area, the United States should make the most practicable use of technical and economic assistance through the French in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. The United States should seek to create an atmosphere which [Page 180] will facilitate obtaining base rights where required within the area, and upon the threat of and during general hostilities, the right to conduct military operations in and from the area. The United States should also be prepared to assure the security of U.S. bases, if French authorities fail to discharge their responsibility in the event of local insurrection.

Tunisia and Morocco

44. Tunisia is more politically and culturally advanced than Morocco, and France has long accepted the idea of the ultimate development of some form of autonomy for Tunisia. In 1954 France announced a program intended to give internal autonomy to Tunisia and which would gradually increase Tunisian participation in the Government. It is not expected, however, that the new program will terminate the ultimate control which France exercises over Tunisian affairs. The French will, in any event, retain control over the defense and foreign affairs of Tunisia. The French Government takes the position that these proposals represent a politically feasible program for Tunisia. The Neo-Destour Party is cooperating with the French in negotiating a series of conventions which will establish new French-Tunisian relations. After October 1950 the Sultan of Morocco rejected French proposals of reforms on the grounds that they would violate Moroccan sovereignty. The French, therefore, deposed the Sultan in August 1953, and initiated reforms which relieved the Sultan of his governmental powers and made existing local, regional, and national advisory councils elective instead of appointive, gave French nationals full rights of participation in all of them, and reformed the judiciary. The nationalists have resorted to violence which has given a setback to this French program. To date the Moroccan nationalists have resisted the blandishments of the Communist Party.

45. The United States should continue to support the French presence in French North Africa only so long as such presence conforms to United States interests and objectives. The United States should make every appropriate effort to allay French fears that the United States is trying to supplant France in French North Africa. The United States should qualify its support by insistence on the implementation of adequate reforms which hold the prospect of easing the nationalist pressure in the area. The United States should be prepared, in case French control really began to break down in Morocco, to consider in the light of its over all foreign relations the abandonment of its present middle-of-the-road policy and try to salvage as much as possible by a drive in support of North African independence. Meanwhile, the United States should continue to urge the parties of the Tunisian and Moroccan controversies to pursue settlements on a bilateral [Page 181] basis, but should continue to support the principle that the United Nations is competent to discuss such problems.


46. In Algeria the situation is complicated by the fact that Algeria has been a part of France for nearly a century and contains about 1,000,000 Frenchmen who also own over one-third of the farm land. Arab nationalism in Algeria does not represent an immediate threat to French rule or to Franco-American strategic interests there. In the long run, however, there is a potential danger that the inspiration of the pressure of events in Morocco and Tunisia might weld the now disunited nationalists into a strong national coalition which would draw to it even conservative Moslems.

[Here follows the Economic Annex, entitled “The Economic Structure and Problems of French North Africa,” prepared by the FOA.]

  1. The source text was part of a document originally circulated as NSC 5436, dated Oct. 5, 1954. It was considered by the National Security Council in NSC Action No. 1242 at its 217th meeting on Oct. 14, 1954. At that time, NSC 5436 was adopted subject to amendments in four places, which are noted in footnotes to the relevant paragraphs in the text below, and redesignated NSC 5436/1. (S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) files, lot 66 D 95, “Record of Actions by the NSC, 1954”)

    Also included in NSC 5436/1 were a note by the Executive Secretary, James S. Lay, Jr., to the NSC, dated Oct. 18, and the Financial Appendix and Staff Study on North Africa that were originally contained in NSC 5436. According to Lay’s note, on Oct. 16 the President approved the amended statement of policy and directed its implementation by all appropriate executive departments and agencies. He designated the Operations Coordinating Board as the coordinating agency.

    The Financial Appendix is not printed, but some sections of the Staff Study are printed below.

    An earlier draft Statement of Policy prepared by the NSC on the Position of the United States With Respect to North Africa, dated Aug. 18, 1953, is in S/PNSC files, lot 61 D 167, “North Africa.”

  2. The first part of NSC Action No. 1242 (b) deleted a paragraph that originally concluded this section which had read: “Economic development of the area with a view to enabling it to achieve self-support and, in time, to supplement the European economy and provide the latter with alternate sources of commodities now available only from the Soviet bloc or dollar areas.”
  3. The second part of NSC Action No. 1242 (b) added the phrase “and US official and dependent personnel.”
  4. The third part of NSC Action No. 1242 (b) deleted a paragraph originally inserted in this section which had read: “Encourage France to adopt such measures as will assist Tunisia and Morocco toward economic self-support.”
  5. The fourth part of NSC Action No. 1242 (b) added a comma after the word Morocco, and substituted the word “determined” for the word “clear.”
  6. Also see Economic Annex attached. [Footnote in the source text. The Economic Annex is not printed.]