Racing Against Time: Reform in North Africa and Transatlantic Strategies
Perceived by most U.S. policymakers as a comparatively problem free area, North Africa has been historically ignored by the United States, which has seen it as more naturally Europe’s “backyard.” Only after 9/11, in fact, did the United States pay any real attention to the growing structural risks associated with the region as a whole. For the European Union the situation was precisely reversed. Priority was given to the countries on the EU’s Mediterranean border. Today, European and U.S. policy toward the region remains diffuse, fragmented, and largely uncoordinated. Each sees the region through its own prism and neither has had the diplomatic energy to redress root causes of persistent economic and political pathology. And yet, four countries of North Africa — Morocco, Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia — together represent an opportunity for the United States and Europe to collaborate with the governments, their respective peoples and each other to deepen on-going economic reform and secure those reforms through better, and hopefully more democratic governance. Alternatively, permitting the status quo to persist risks allowing a growing legitimacy crisis in each to torpedo inchoate reform and metastasize into full-blown instability, most likely through labor unrest, with profound consequences for the United States and its European partners. This paper explores recent economic and political developments in each of the four countries and the mechanisms by which the transatlantic community has sought to channel social, political, and economic change in them — for both good and ill. It then offers recommendations to strengthen U.S. engagement with Europe to help secure positive economic and governance trends.