119. Telegram 7659 From the Embassy in Tunisia to the Department of State1

7659. Subject: Growing Tunisian Concern with Potential Threats from Libya and Algeria.

1. Summary: President Bourguiba and Prime Minister Nouira have expressed concern with potential threats to Tunisia posed by perceived Libyan and, to lesser extent, Algerian designs. It is noted that Libya is continuing to insist on immediate unification; it is engaged in efforts at infiltrating Libyan personnel into Tunisia; and it is building up its military forces. While Tunisia wishes to continue to keep its military establishment small, it nevertheless feels obliged to upgrade it somewhat in order to develop a more effective military deterrent. Accordingly, additional USG military assistance is being requested. End summary.

2. Tunisian Government is becoming increasingly concerned with what it perceives as potential threats posed by its neighbors, Libya and Algeria. This was brought home to me in separate conversations I had with the President’s son, Bibi, Jr., and Prime Minister Nouira on Dec 11 and 12, respectively.

3. Prime Minister Nouira raised the subject during a tour d’horizon we had at his office at the Prime Ministry. He stressed that he was speaking as an individual who had long abhorred things military and who, as Prime Minister, had adhered to a policy of concentrating Tunisian resources on economic development. Expenditures on Tunisian military had traditionally been kept to an absolute minimum. Now, however, the Tunisian Government is being forced to re-evaluate its military situation in the light of growing threats from both Libya and Algeria.

4. He said that Libyan Government is continuing to insist on unity with Tunisia and that Qadhafi has told the press that this will be achieved in 1975 willy nilly, if necessary by force. (We have seen no such statement and would appreciate Embassy Tripoli’s comment.) Meanwhile, Soviet arms are flowing into Libya, as well as “400 technicians.” Prime Minister alluded to current maneuvers being undertaken by Tunisian military in southern Tunisia and stated that when Libyan Government learned of these maneuvers it informed Tunisians of names of Libyans who would be in attendance. Tunisian Government [Page 336] had replied that no Libyans were invited to maneuvers, but that if Libyan representatives wished to attend parade being staged on final day, they were welcome.

5. With regard to Algeria, Prime Minister seemed to feel threat from this direction was less imminent, but nevertheless he was concerned with Algeria’s putative expansionist aspirations. He referred in critical manner to Algerian agricultural policy and seemed to feel that recent death of Algerian Minister of Interior was other than natural. He dwelled less on Algeria than on Libya.

6. Prime Minister said that he wanted U.S. as “friendly country” to be fully aware of growing Tunisian concern at threats posed by its two neighbors. He did not rpt not wish to go into details but he hoped that the USG could be helpful. Tunisia did not intend to build a large army, but it needed to upgrade its military capability in order better to de-ter invading forces. Additional equipment would be needed for this purpose.

7. In separate meeting Bibi, Jr. made somewhat similar presentation. At private lunch at palace last Sunday his father had told him that he was preoccupied with Libyan and Algerian threats. Re Libya, two factors in particular worried the President: (1) insistence on part of Libyan delegation which recently visited Tunisia that two countries unite now, otherwise cooperation would be hampered; and (2) introduction of large quantities of Soviet arms into Libya. Bibi, Jr. said President Bourguiba is worried that a “crackpot” might use this equipment against Tunisia, which has a very modest military force.

8. Bibi, Jr. observed that Tunisia’s concern is reflected in venue chosen for current Tunisian military maneuvers—area near Libyan border. He claimed that Libyans are building airstrips on their side of border. Also rate of attempted infiltration across border has stepped up, but fortunately Tunisian security forces (aided by Tunisian villagers along border) are believed to have intercepted most of them.

9. Re Algeria; Bibi, Jr. indicated that his father is worried about Algeria’s ambitions to dominate the whole Maghreb. Bibi, Jr. characterized Algerian leadership as untrustworthy and of questionable caliber. He claimed it is composed mainly of ex-fellagas. Agricultural policy in Algeria is misguided and economic trends are “expansionist.” (sic).

10. President had told Bibi, Jr. that in view of these twin threats, Tunisia must upgrade its armed forces in order to be in position to delay invading forces long enough to obtain support of international community and/or the Sixth Fleet. While President acknowledged he is not rpt not conversant with military equipment, he told Bibi, Jr. that he thought Tunisia needed interceptor fighter-bombers and anti-tank weapons “ground to ground.” Also, he considered that Tunisia needs fast speed boats for purpose of intercepting infiltrators who might [Page 337] come by sea. Bibi, Jr. said that his father is aware of mood in Congress to cut back U.S. military assistance abroad, but Tunisia’s needs in this regard are crucial and urgent.

11. In response to both foregoing presentations I confirmed that Congressional mood is indeed bearish toward continuation of U.S. military assistance abroad and that we would be lucky if current Tunisian program could be continued even at current modest level over coming years. I referred to $40 million limit imposed by Congress on U.S. military assistance to “African countries”, but noted that even if Tunisia were removed from this category, more funds for Tunisia were unlikely to be available. Total military aid package available to US worldwide is diminishing, particularly grant aid. Nevertheless, I said I would report Tunisian concerns to Washington.

12. I noted that Tunisian Ministry of Defense has already expressed a serious interest in acquiring A–4M aircraft, which should take care of first requirement cited by President. With regard to effective ground equipment, I said that we had been providing, and were continuing to provide, M48 tanks. These are excellent tanks and almost as good as more modern and more expensive M60 tanks. Re speed boats, I knew that Tunisian Government had already sent out feelers to various governments, including ours, with regard to their purchase.

13. I said that while U.S. aid funds for military purposes are limited, we of course stand ready to sell Tunisian arms on a cash basis. It should be kept in mind that there is always a question of priorities, which can sometimes result in delays. In view of improved Tunisian financial resources I wondered whether Tunisia could not rpt not afford to finance most of its new military acquisitions. I suggested to Bibi, Jr. that Tunisian Government also look to its “other friends” for help—for example, to France, Germany and Italy, who are already contributing to Tunisian military establishments. He made no comment.

14. Comment:

A. While Tunisian Government’s concern with Libyan and Algerian threats is no doubt exaggerated, it is clear that this concern is growing. It was mentioned to Secretary Kissinger by Foreign Minister Chatti a few weeks ago and it has been mentioned to me by other Tunisian officials, but never before at President and Prime Minister levels. My feeling is that Tunisia has more reason to worry about Libyan subversion than it does about overt Libyan military attack despite developing Soviet military presence in Libya and supposed build-up of Libyan armed forces. I would guess that Algerian threat is considerably more remote. In any case, Tunisia does have grounds for some concern with regard to its Libyan neighbor and important point is that Tunisians are deeply concerned.

[Page 338]

B. This concern is no doubt accentuated by Tunisian Government’s realization that its military equipment is almost entirely obsolete. Most of it is World War II or Korean War vintage and as such compares unfavorably with sophisticated weapons being acquired by Tunisia’s neighbors. Newly perceived threat has no doubt focussed Tunisian leadership’s attention on these inadequacies, without, however, causing any basic change in Tunisia’s solidly anti-military cast of thought.

C. Another element which may be inducing the GOT to press for better military equipment are recent reports that a number of Tunisian officers are complaining. Not surprisingly, they are unhappy with equipment obsolescence. As we have reported, some of the Tunisian support for the Jerba Declaration came from military officers who yearned for the shiny, new weaponry recently introduced into the inventory of the Libyan army. Secretary of State Bennour told Chuslot a few weeks ago that army morale was indeed low and that old-fashioned equipment was the principal reason. We have no evidence that army loyalty for regime has weakened, but this kind of dissatisfaction is not helpful to regime.

D. On the basis of all factors mentioned in paras A, B and C above, the Tunisians do make a good case for the need to improve their military posture, especially for deterrent purposes. They are not talking about a major augmentation of military forces, but rather the introduction of certain types of more modern military equipment. With regard needs cited by President Bourguiba, Tunisians have already made a start in direction of purchase of more sophisticated aircraft (A–4M’s) costing some $40 million. They will now presumably make an assessment of what more modern ground equipment might be desirable and obtainable to supplement existing M48 and French AMX tanks (on order). It is possible that they will consider asking for TOW missiles, and if so, we will have to tell them that line for acquisition is some five year’s long. Tunisians may start thinking in terms of ground to air missiles (Hawks), but it is hard to see how they can realistically expect to incur this additional expense at this point given their apparent undertaking to buy A–4M’s and their limited, albeit improved, financial resources.

E. We expect soon to receive bill of particulars from GOT re what it precisely wants. We would guess that in addition to identifying particular type of equipment desired, they will ask for as rapid as possible delivery and more financial assistance. Given the limited financial resources at our disposal, the Tunisians are of course going to have to finance the bulk of the costs of the new equipment. However, I hope that we can be as responsive as possible within our limited resources.

F. In anticipation of more specific Tunisian requests, we believe that we should start thinking in terms of following responses:

[Page 339]

(1) Assure that level of grant and FMS assistance program projected for Tunisia in FY 1975 ($2.2 million in MAP grant and $1.5 million in FMS credit) not rpt not be reduced.

(2) Reconsider proposal that MAP grant assistance for Tunisia be terminated after 1975 and, as unorthodox as this may sound, give serious thought to doubling it in FY 1976—and also increase FMS assistance.

(3) Be as responsive as possible to Tunisian requests to purchase modern equipment from US, including wherever possible accelerating deliveries.

  1. Summary: Seelye reported on the Tunisian Government’s request for additional military assistance to counter perceived threats posed by Libya and Algeria.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files. Secret; Exdis. Repeated to Tripoli, Algiers, Rabat, and Cairo.