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February 17, 2012

On February 17, the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and the International Security Program, in cooperation with the National Defense University, hosted an off-the-record roundtable discussion titled “Military Assistance and Transatlantic Cooperation in North Africa: Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt.”

The first session highlighted the current status of the militaries in the three states as well as the unique challenges they each face as a result of their political transitions.  In regards to Tunisia, the country faces several acute risks with the flow of weapons from Libya, the emergence of criminal groups operating within its borders, and the absence of an effective national police force. One central challenge in Tunisia moving forward is how to achieve a balance between the numerous social challenges and the task of modernizing the armed forces.  

On Egypt, participants discussed its role as a critical ally for the US in the region, which has resulted from ongoing investments and a strong bilateral military relationship with the US for more than 30 years. The participants discussed the recent crackdown on US non-governmental organizations and the implications of a suspension of military assistance.  Several experts noted that US military assistance to Egypt cannot be turned on and off easily, as training and procurement programs are conceived on a long-term basis.  

With respect to Libya, the panel emphasized that its military will need to be entirely rebuilt because it was destroyed during last year’s events, and thus there is a great need for military assistance from the international community. The participants discussed the growing threat and proliferation of armed militias active throughout Libya and the negative implications they might have on both the political processes and the objectives of creating a modern army. The participants highlighted the Libyan National Transitional Council’s role in exacerbating these challenges due to its non-transparent and exclusive governing style. 

The second session posed the question of what kind of military assistance would be needed and what kind of mechanisms could be used in each of these countries. At the same time, speakers emphasized that it is necessary for Egypt, Libya and Tunisia first to clearly define the mission and mandate of their military before thinking about what kind of assistance would be appropriate or feasible. Looking forward, the discussion touched on the need for new models of engagement in the region, including the importance of direct dialogue between the militaries of NATO and the US and those of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. Some noted that investing in building a strong officer corps was even more important than funding for military equipment and technology, and that helping to facilitate civilian oversight of the armed forces was another key goal. 

Panel I: STRATEGY, MISSION, RESOURCES: ASSESSING MILITARY NEEDS ON THE GROUND

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Panel II: RECONFIGURING TRANSATLANTIC ASSISTANCE: THE US, NATO, AND EU

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