Tunisia’s new status as ‘major non-NATO ally’

Friday 29/05/2015
New security status

WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama plans to des­ignate Tunisia a “ma­jor non-NATO ally” (MNNA) of the United States. Obama announced his in­tentions to elevate Tunisia’s status during a May 21st meeting with Tu­nisian President Beji Caid Essebsi.

The US Congress has 30 days to disapprove the designation but in­dications are that the congressional leadership fully supports the move.

Despite having the word “ally” in its title, the new status does not indicate that the United States and Tunisia have entered into a mu­tual defence treaty, as have NATO’s permanent members. Nor does it mean that Tunisia is in line to join NATO. The status is solely a US des­ignation, not one issued by NATO or any other member.

MNNA was established in 1989 to allow the US Department of De­fense to conduct research-and-de­velopment projects with important US strategic partners that were not members of NATO. The first MNNA countries were Australia, Egypt, Is­rael, Japan and South Korea.

Legislation by Congress in 1996 expanded the benefits of the des­ignation to include enhanced fi­nancial assistance in acquiring US arms, coordinated defence plan­ning, special training programmes and priority access to surplus US weapons. The latter benefit came about as a result of the Cold War’s ending. The United States had huge stocks of weapons in Europe that were no longer necessary but would be too costly to ship back across the Atlantic.

Another important benefit of the status is limited exemption from the US Arms Export Control Act, making it easier for MNNA coun­tries to acquire advanced and so­phisticated weapons that they may previously have been denied.

While these tangible benefits matter, the designation is primar­ily a symbolic indication of the US commitment to an ally’s security and support for its government’s policies. By 2000, Argentina, Jor­dan and New Zealand had been added to the list and, under Presi­dent George W. Bush, six additional nations — Bahrain, Kuwait, Moroc­co, Pakistan, the Philippines and Thailand — received the designa­tion. Clearly, some of these coun­tries were rewarded for their sup­port of Bush’s Middle East policies.

Tunisia is not the first country to be given this status by Obama. In May 2012, Obama designated Afghanistan “a major non-NATO ally”.

Observers expected Obama to offer the status to Gulf Coopera­tion Council (GCC) members when he met their leaders in the United States in May. Speculation is that GCC leaders rejected the offer, re­garding the status as poor compen­sation for what they really wanted: a US-GCC mutual defence treaty, something that the administration had said all along was not in the cards.

No nation has had its “a major non-NATO ally” status revoked. Israel was “promoted” in Decem­ber 2014 when Congress voted to declare Israel a “Major Strategic Partner”. The additional benefits to Israel are designed to ensure that country’s “qualitative military edge” over any other state in the region.