162. Background Paper Prepared in the Office of Northern African Affairs0


Since independence Tunisia has tended to look to the United States to provide a counter weight to pressures exerted on Tunisia by France and to an increasing extent by the Algerians. Tunisia is too small a country to carry much weight with either of these elements, although its economic, cultural and political future is inextricably tied to them. Consequently, Tunisia feels that it must work with both France and Algeria but to do so safely it must be able to count on support in critical moments from powerful friends. Bourguiba has constantly sought such support from the United States. The United States, he reasons, is in a position to exert pressure on France to be more understanding of North African needs and the United States has the economic resources to fill at least partially the gap in capital investment which has resulted from the cutting off in 1957 of direct French economic assistance to Tunisia.

An active United States interest in North Africa also serves from Bourguiba’s point of view to protect the area against Soviet penetration. Bourguiba does not believe in turning his back on the Soviet Bloc altogether. Such a policy would needlessly alienate his younger supporters and play into the hands of his foreign adversaries who constantly portray him as being a tool of the West. Bourguiba also considers that it is too much to expect the United States or even the United States and Western Europe to fill all of Tunisia’s needs for foreign capital. He is therefore prepared to consider, although very carefully, any aid offers which the Soviet Bloc might be willing to extend. To date the Tunisians have been unimpressed by the kinds of equipment and techniques which the Russians are prepared to make available to Tunisia. They have found satellite offers considerably more interesting, but to date there has been little concrete Bloc activity in Tunisia.

At the present time, Bourguiba is even more interested in securing a United States commitment to support his regime than in the past. Even assuming a settlement with the Algerians is reached, he foresees a period during which North Africa is likely to go through considerable political and social unrest. He does not wish to isolate himself from these developments but rather to influence them in the direction of the reformist and [Page 247] essentially moderate policies which guide his own country. To do this, he needs the moral backing which can accrue to him through demonstrated United States-Tunisia ties. If such ties could lead also to similar relations between the United States and the Algerians and a more democratic Moroccan regime, Bourguiba would be even more pleased. This is not to say that Bourguiba has abandoned his long search for a Franco-Maghreb community of interest, but he probably believes that, for a variety of reasons, relations between France and the Maghreb will be full of difficulties for many years to come, as legacies from the former colonial relationships are slowly converted into more satisfactory arrangements in an atmosphere of mutuality. He would hope that the United States would influence France as the stronger power to be generous in its treatment of specific issues. However, if this should not happen (and Bourguiba is as aware as any one that De Gaulle feels he must set his own pace), he looks to the United States to protect his regime and to act in ways open to it to prevent the Soviet Union from exploiting to its own benefit differences within North Africa and between North Africa and France. Bourguiba was most impressed by our willingness to aid General De Gaulle in crushing the abortive coup of the ex-generals and by the statement of the Department’s official spokesman that the United States would become directly involved if the rebellion were to spread beyond Algeria’s borders. He considers these statements to be responsive to Tunisia’s own expression of concern and will wish to thank the President for reaffirming in this way the importance the United States attaches to the maintenance of Tunisia’s sovereignty and independence.

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 65 D 366, CF 1853-1854. Confidential. Drafted by Chase and cleared by Williams, Root, and Valdes. This paper was part of the Briefing Book prepared for President Bourguiba’s visit to Washington May 3-5, 1961.