Civilian authorities, including the president and prime minister, bear clear constitutional authority for assigning missions to and deploying the armed forces, but senior military officials exercise significant influence over these decisions. The armed forces actively maintain their political neutrality, and are committed to defending the state as opposed to an incumbent political order. The military plays very little role in the maintenance of public order, and its role is clearly regulated and effectively enforced when it does.
Constitutional and legal provisions governing the powers and responsibilities of civilian authorities and the armed forces are generally clear, but the distinction between the general policy-setting role of the president and the day-to-day management role of the prime minister is not fully specified. By both the constitution and legal decree, the military is fully subordinate to civilian authority, and the military does not have the right to override civilian authorities in any domain.
A national security council has played a meaningful role in determining defense policy since 2011. The council appears not to have a budgetary function, and its lack of staff limits institutional knowledge, but it enjoys widespread government representation at the principals’ level. Informal consultations often reinforce healthy civil-military relations and facilitate beneficial defense outcomes at both national and regional levels, but the overreliance on such informal interactions risks subverting formal channels over time.
The armed forces are very likely to submit to the authority of a civilian defense minister, and there is no history of an individual with a military background being offered the position. The minister of defense shares oversight of the military with the president and Parliament and has moderate control over the military in nonoperational matters such as planning, procurement, budgeting, and recruitment, but the minister’s historical lack of military experience leads service chiefs to play a significant role in shaping these decisions.
The military generally conforms to the same laws, rules, and regulations as the rest of the public sector governing personnel, procurement, and compliance and review, but there appears to be less oversight over some land reclamation, agricultural, and shipbuilding projects undertaken by the military. Outside of classified military information, public discussion of defense affairs is allowed. The defense minister and senior military officers may be questioned by Parliament, civil society organizations, and media, and defense experts regularly weigh in. The military has on occasion reacted with defamation cases in military courts, stifling debate somewhat. All state sponsored armed forces are regulated by a clear legal framework, but the National Guard and General Department for Presidential Security come under the Ministry of Interior and presidency, respectively, and lie outside the military chain of command.
The armed forces actively maintain their political neutrality and generally view their duty as protecting the state, not the incumbent political order or government. However, there were isolated reports of the military using heavy handed tactics in the control of protests in 2017. While not heavily politicized, clan, regional, and Islamist identities have occasionally influenced senior military appointments in the past, but the military increasingly recommends appointments on strictly professional selection criteria, and these are usually accepted by the government. A negligible level of factionalism based on regional and clan identities has persisted since 2011, but does not affect command and control or cohesion.
The defense minister consistently represents the government’s will to the armed forces, but the minister’s historical lack of a military background gives senior military officials considerable influence. Retired military personnel have increasingly run in municipal and parliamentary elections since 2011, but do not exert disproportionate influence in public affairs. At the behest of both civilian authorities and the armed forces, the military is rarely, if ever, consulted on nondefense issues. The permanent membership of military representatives on the National Security Council was revoked in 2017, in order to confine their input to defense issues.
Military personnel enjoy many of the same civil rights as civilians and are allowed to vote in local elections, but are barred from voting in national elections while in service, joining political parties, or forming unions, and from traveling abroad or publishing material without Ministry of Defense authorization. Foreign governments have no direct or independent political influence within the armed forces, but providers of military educational exchanges, joint training programs, and equipment transfers do enjoy limited, indirect influence in the officer corps, albeit only insofar as it does not conflict with Tunisian sovereignty or government policy.
The military undertakes a major public order role only in exceptional circumstances, and does so only with great reluctance, for fear that asking soldiers to fire on protesters would fracture its unity. Since the establishment of the armed forces in 1954, they have participated in maintaining public order only in 1978, 1984, 1992, and 2011.
Formal coordination mechanisms exist between the military and civilian security agencies in counterinsurgency operations in western Tunisia, but residual institutional friction between the National Police and the military sometimes inhibits intelligence sharing and cooperation. The roles and areas of jurisdiction of the armed forces and internal security forces are clear and separate in the maintenance of public order.
Since the 1990s, the armed forces have implemented increasingly stringent codes of conduct, rules of engagement, and enforceable accountability mechanisms during public order missions, and they coordinate with civilian security agencies prior to becoming involved. The armed forces have been able to perform public order missions without noticeable impact on their defense role, given how rare these missions are. The conditions of their participation are well defined in the constitution, laws, and government decrees. Parliament oversees strict application by the government of all directives for such missions, but military rather than civilian courts investigate violations.
Q1 - Well-Defined Roles
Q2 - Political Involvement
Q3 - Public Order Role