Foreign policy and defense
Tunisia is a nation in Northern Africa. Its capital city is Tunis. Tunisia has since pursued an alliance-free foreign policy. It has been seen as important to have good relations with both Western countries and the United States as well as with the Arab world. During the 2010s, the country has remained on the same line at the same time as an increasingly important focus for cooperation with other countries has become the fight against terrorism.
It took a while before Western countries like the United States, France and other EU countries gave their support to the protest movement that erupted in Tunisia at the end of 2010. But after Ben Ali’s fall, Tunisia has received both financial assistance and other assistance to promote democratic development in country. It has also become an increasingly important priority in the West to help the Tunisian government to fight extremist Islamists and terrorist groups.
- Countryaah: Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Tunisia for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
Relations with the former colonial power of France are important to Tunisia, among other things, French trade and investment play an important role in the Tunisian economy. The fact that France supported Ben Ali in the last revolution during the 2011 revolution and even refused to accept Tunisian refugees led to tensions between the countries in the early 2010s. Likewise, President Essebsi and the Nida Tounes-led government in Tunis found it difficult to overcome the fact that French President François Hollande supported Moncef Marzouki in the 2014 presidential election. However, from 2015, Tunis and Paris have, in light of the heavy experiences of terrorism in both the countries, joined by efforts to fight terrorism.
Since the 1990s, Tunisia has an association agreement with the EU, which includes, among other things, free trade cooperation. The EU doubled its assistance to Tunisia for the period 2011-2013 as a way of supporting democratic development and from 2012 Tunisia received a so-called privileged partnership, which opened for more grants and increased cooperation, as well as expanded free trade. Negotiations for an in-depth free trade agreement started in autumn 2015.
The United States, too, has drawn attention to Tunisia for its democratic development. In 2015, Tunisia gained a position as an important partner country outside the NATO defense alliance, which meant closer cooperation and increased military support. As Tunisia became employed by Islamic extremists, the two countries’ cooperation in combating militant Islamism has increased. For example, the United States has provided anti-terror training and military equipment, patrol boats and surveillance equipment.
Illegal immigration, as well as disputes over fishing rights, has been a source of disagreement with Italy. During the turmoil of the revolution, relations between the countries were strained as thousands of Tunisian refugees sought refuge in Italy. The refugee issue has continued to cause tensions between the countries.
Moncef Marzouki, as the new president in 2011, visited both neighboring Libya and Morocco and Algeria with a stated ambition to strengthen cooperation with other countries in North Africa. The aim was to breathe life into plans for a free trade bloc and a customs union within the Arab Maghreb Union. Ideological differences, boundary disputes and disagreement over the future of Western Sahara had hitherto put an end to extended cooperation. In the 2014 Constitution, Tunisia pledges to strengthen unity between the Maghreb countries. Algerian and Tunisian security forces have jointly fought against extremist Islamist movements in the mountainous border region between the countries. Extremist groups have carried out attacks on security troops and fierce fighting has been fought,
At the same time, Tunisia has also strengthened its surveillance of the border with Libya a few years into the 2010s to prevent militant Islamists from entering the country. Relations with neighboring countries have greatly deteriorated due to its difficulties in securing the border between the countries and Tunisia has erected a wall along the border. At least two million Libyans have fled to Tunisia since the civil war broke out in Libya in 2011.
In 2012, Tunisia broke off official relations with Syria, citing the regime’s ongoing abuse of its own population.
Relations with the military regime in Egypt have improved.
Tunisia has supported the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) since its six-day war in 1967, which had its headquarters in Tunis in 1982-1994. Following the peace agreement between the PLO and Israel, Israel and Tunisia established low-level diplomatic relations. Relations were broken after the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in the fall of 2000. There is a small Jewish minority in Tunisia and Israelis make pilgrimages to synagogues in Tunisia. In 2018, Tunisia also got a Jewish tourism minister. However, Kaïs Saïed, newly elected president in 2019, has expressed unwillingness to receive Jewish visitors if they carry Israeli passports.
Defense efforts have been among the lowest in the region. In spite of the alliance-free line, in 1995 the country initiated a cooperation on security issues with the western defense alliance Nato. The country’s forces are defensively oriented and the strategy has been to delay a possible attack long enough for Western Allies to arrive.
FACTS – DEFENSE
Army: 27,000 men (2017)
The air Force: 4,000 men (2017)
The fleet: 4,800 men (2017)
Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 2.1 percent (2017)
Military spending’s share of the state budget: 6.9 percent (2017)