Tunisia, Morocco sign defence co-operation agreement


Tunisia’s Ministry of National Defence and the National Defence Administration of Morocco signed an agreement for military co-operation between the two countries last week.

The agreement makes provision for the creation of a joint military co-operation committee. This will have the task of improving relationships between military education institutions, organising training together, exchanging information and collaborating on scientific, cultural and sporting endeavours, NNN-TAP reports.

Last Thursday Tunisia’s defence minister Abdelkrim Zbidi said the agreement for military co-operation was very important for bilateral defence co-operation and would stimulate both countries’ armed forces.

Morocco’s Ambassador in Tunis, Nejib Zerouali Ouarithi, said King Mohamed VI’s willingness to improve bilateral relations with Tunisia was a sign of support for the Tunisian Revolution. He also praised the Tunisian army for supporting refugees fleeing Libya. Morocco has also supported Libyan refugees, setting up a military field hospital on the Tunisian-Libyan border in March.

In February Zbidi met with Ouarithi to examine ways in which to boost ties between the two countries, Tunisia Online News reported. Zbidi confirmed that a draft military co-operation agreement had been written but was yet to be signed.

According to the US-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), while there are rivalries and tensions between Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia, no state in the Maghreb region is preparing for war with its neighbours. “Several countries have had border clashes in the past, and Algeria and Morocco still take opposing sides in the struggle for control of the former Spanish Sahara, but none of the Maghreb states have approached the point of serious conflicts with each other since achieving independence”.

Morocco and Tunisia are the only major recipients of US military equipment and training in North Africa, but they do not rely heavily on US Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to fund national purchases from the US.

According to Foreign Policy magazine, the Tunisian military, which is made up of about 36 000 officers and conscripts across the army, navy, and air force, remains a small force indicative of the fact that Tunisia has no major external threats. Under Tunisian strongman Ben Ali, defence spending in Tunisia amounted to just 1.4 percent of GDP, which was part of a Ben Ali strategy to ensure that the armed forces could not threaten his rule.

The Royal Moroccan Armed Forces are much stronger compared to Tunisia, with around 256 000 personnel across all five services (Army, Air Force, Navy, Gendarmerie, Royal Guard). Defence spending is between 4 and 5% of GDP, according to Telquel magazine.