In “A New Deal: Reforming US Defense Cooperation with Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia” former US Army Chief George Casey and Congressman Jim Kolbe argue that the transitions in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia will be reversible unless and until their security agencies are better equipped to carry out their functions without abusing citizen rights or interfering in politics.  A joint initiative of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security and the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, “A New Deal” urges the United States to reform its existing defense cooperation arrangements with North Africa’s transitioning democracies to better prepare the region’s militaries for modern threats and best promote civilian control of the armed forces.

The report assesses the role of the armed forces in each country, the security challenges they face in the aftermath of the transitions, the nature of their defense relationship with the United States, and opportunities for reform. The authors urge the United States to remain engaged with Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia through robust defense cooperation, but argue that Washington must reform its existing defense cooperation programs to reflect new political realities.

To achieve that outcome, the authors urge the Obama administration and Congress to:

  • Reshape US security policies with transitioning states to ensure they advance priority US interests, meet the changing defense needs of the transitioning countries, and help rather than hurt the prospects for successful democratic transitions.
  • Stay engaged by providing military assistance to meet changing defense needs, but also include an interagency approach that incorporates economic and political support.
  • Prioritize Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia to ensure that these transitions succeed, setting a powerful example to other transitioning countries that democracy can exist in the heart of the Arab world.
  • Introduce an enhanced security dialogue with each of these countries that includes both military and civilian officials to sharpen thinking on defense requirements during the transitional phase, and to focus on threats, capabilities, defense agreements, and the role of the military in society.
  • Strengthen relationships with military and civilian officials in all three countries by expanding support for International Military Education and Training (IMET) exercises and civilian exchange programs.

On Egypt specifically, and the US-Egypt military relationship they write: 

The US-Egypt defense relationship offers strategic benefits to both parties, but also faces significant limitations and shortcomings. US officials believe the Egyptian military is improperly equipped and trained to confront the kind of modern security challenges most likely to confront Egypt over the coming decades. Meanwhile, the Egyptian military—at least under Tantawi’s leadership—resisted changing its doctrine or procurement priorities to address the new challenges. Rather, say US officials, senior Egyptian military officers prefer to use US assistance to buy heavy weapons that they believe enhance the country’s regional clout and provide it a deterrence capability against traditional conventional threats. US officials are frustrated by Egypt’s preference to use US military assistance to buy “big toys” that are less relevant in the face of non-traditional threats.

The Egyptian military views the annual $1.3 billion in military assistance provided by the United States as “earned” in exchange for Egypt’s adherence to the Camp David accords and transit and overflight priorities. Proud of its sovereignty, the Egyptian military feels insulted by American conditions on the assistance and has resisted Washington’s entreaties to use the military assistance to purchase equipment that would address the non-state threats that represent their most pressing security challenges.

However, Egyptian officials are aware that changes are likely in store for the US military assistance package in the coming years. They understand that austerity in the United States may result in a reduced appetite to continue the military assistance package. This would have major implications for the Egyptian military, which is currently dependent on US military assistance for its equipment purchases and maintenance. That said, not all parties in Egypt share the military’s status quo point of view on US military assistance. While Egyptians generally do not like the idea of foreign assistance being used as leverage against their government, many liberal politicians and leaders in the Muslim Brotherhood are open to new formulations of military and economic aid from the United States, provided it is agreed upon with their government and not unilaterally imposed by Washington.

The US view on military assistance to Egypt also has shifted over the years. While there is an understanding that the $1.3 billion annually is the price of maintaining the status quo of peace between Israel and Egypt, the US administration and many members of Congress are eager that it not unintentionally impede the democratic transition in Egypt. Congressional leaders have become more skeptical of the value of US military assistance to Egypt in light of the election of an Islamist government and concerns about rights abuses during the SCAF’s transitional rule. Indeed, in the weeks following the Islamist protests at the US Embassy in Cairo in September 2012, the chairwoman of the US House Appropriations Committee blocked the release of $450 million in economic assistance to Egypt.

Moreover, US assistance to Egypt is today contingent on Cairo meeting conditions to protect minority rights, maintain its peace with Israel, and demonstrate progress toward democratization. These conditions are reasonable, as are US demands that the Egyptian government protect American citizens and property in Egypt. By issuing conditions, the Congress hopes its military assistance will incentivize Egypt’s military to remain committed to the democratic transition and ensure that it respects human and minority rights.

Click here to download the complete publication