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Mediterranean Quarterly 11.1 (2000) 24-48

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The Mediterranean and Its Security Agenda

Stephen Blank

The war in Kosovo has kept Balkan issues atop the agendas of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United States, but we should remember that it was a large, preexisting, and ongoing NATO and U.S. investment in the Mediterranean that allowed the allies to conduct their campaign against Serbian policy. Kosovo and the peacekeeping activity in Bosnia hardly exhaust the active Balkan missions that U.S. and NATO forces are presently conducting. These missions will probably be priorities for the United States and NATO for years to come and will involve a total restructuring of the Balkan security system by all the European security organizations along with the United States.

Even before the Kosovo operation, both NATO and the European Union had begun systematic security dialogues with many North African and Middle Eastern states in hopes of meeting the multiple security challenges these organizations face. While those challenges are not strictly or even primarily military ones, many member states regard them as the fundamental challenges to regional security. For a lasting structure of peace to emerge in the Mediterranean basin, Europe must engage regional governments across a wide-ranging agenda of economic, social, political, military, and ecological issues.

The range and extent of the issues that the United States and its allies and partners must grapple with, however, remain poorly understood. Also problematic is the fact that forging an extensive Mediterranean security [End Page 24] agenda clearly requires multilateral efforts and continuing dialogue among all the players, which is not easily achieved. Most if not all security problems in the Mediterranean, as General Wesley Clark, NATO's supreme allied commander for Europe has observed, are not military ones but economic and political in nature. Military force does not bring long-term stability; prosperity does. 1

Since political problems can be solved only by persuasion or force, it behooves civilian and military professionals to share their insights and experience through such dialogues to clarify and publicize the issues and the interrelationships among them. Apart from trans-Mediterranean issues--such as economic relations among Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa--we find many instances of intrastate insecurity and far too many cases of subregional and transnational challenges to security. The Mediterranean's regional security agenda comprises Algeria's civil strife, Turkey's Kurdish insurgency, Lebanon's ongoing struggles, the Arab-Israeli peace process, Israel's overall relations with its Arab neighbors, the Balkan cauldron, pervasive economic backwardness throughout most of the former Ottoman Empire, the use of the Middle East and Balkans as an area of rising transnational crime including narcotics trafficking, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the activities of the great powers in areas of long-standing rivalry and intervention.

Without ongoing dialogues, the West's ability to forge appropriate responses to future challenges will be undermined, as will its ability to uphold Western security. As General Klaus Naumann, former chairman of NATO's Military Committee, has written:

It is in NATO and Europe's interest to keep conflicts at a distance and to cope with new risks which may no longer be the military risks we are accustomed to. It is for this very reason that NATO focuses its attention on the security in the Mediterranean and its periphery together with the Southern Region, which is today NATO's most endangered region. 2 [End Page 25]

The growing need for dialogues parallels the growing engagement of the United States in the area, either alone or with its allies and partners. Without a better insight into the needs, interests, and views of the region's interlocutors, the United States is apt to stumble into a morass born of excessive unilateralism and triumphalism. And once so trapped, as in Kosovo, the country could find there is no way out other than through a forceful military operation.

There are those, like former under secretary of state Matthew Nimetz, who argue that a U.S.-led Pax NATO is about to descend on the entire region. As Nimetz...


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