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Mediterranean Quarterly 14.2 (2003) 21-45

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The Uncertain Certainty:
Environmental Stress Indicators and the Euro-Mediterranean Space

P. H. Liotta


Our scientific ability to predict environmental consequences from anthropogenic-induced change is somewhere behind our ability to predict the weather next week.

—Colonel W. Chris King, U.S. Army

In Barcelona in November 1995, the foreign ministers of twenty-seven European and Mediterranean countries agreed on the need to develop long-term partnership-building measures in the region as well as to focus on global stability and the common (mis)perceptions that contribute to it. This agreement and the subsequent debate and discussion that have arisen since the first meeting are known collectively as the Barcelona Process.

Some insist that it remains impossible to consider the Mediterranean as a geopolitical whole, and the concept of Euro-Mediterranean dialogue, which the Barcelona Process best represents, has always been seen as an ambitious endeavor that suffers from numerous impediments. The reality remains, nonetheless, that Europe and the Mediterranean are not divided simply in a North-South relationship. What is happening in Europe, whether one refers to it as cooperative security or comprehensive security, has implications for regions far beyond the Mediterranean. In essence, a grand experiment in security architecture is taking place. It is not clear that this experiment is doomed to failure.

While recent European Union documents that review the state of the Barcelona Process and the Euro-Mediterranean partnership do not explicitly [End Page 21] reference either environmental or human security, policy makers do seem increasingly to recognize that there is a fundamental linkage between these issues and the long-term future of the region. 1 As one outcome, identifying and acting on problems of environmental degradation and resource scarcity may come to be a common feature of future security policy. Yet as the epigraph to this essay illustrates, the difficulty in predicting—let alone the ability to determine with complete certainty—hard-trigger events that will affect peace, human rights, and cause conflict will continue for some time. 2

Environmental and human security are both evolving and contested concepts. Yet the vulnerability aspects that these security issues involve present serious long-term challenges to the success and stability of the Euro-Mediterranean region. Security, per se, no longer represents merely security of territory from external aggression or protection of national interests in foreign policy. Extended security must also represent protection from the threat of disease, hunger, unemployment, crime, terrorism, social conflict, political repression, and environmental hazards. This essay, aside from offering a general approach to the meaning of environmental security, argues that there are crucial differences between threatsand vulnerabilities, distinguishes between the two, and suggests relevant policy applications for the Euro-Mediterranean. The analysis includes a review of theoretical models that have been proposed in recent research and considers their relevance to the region. Specifically, this review addresses what have been suggested as trigger mechanisms that can unleash violent conflict, create socioeconomic disparity, and induce long-term insecurity. Finally, a number of policy issues relevant to future research are considered as bases for stabilizing and support foundations during periods of future change and potential crisis.

While specific transnational aspects of security vary on a regional basis— such as the pandemic of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in sub-Saharan [End Page 22] Africa or in South Asia—the geographic space known as the Euro-Mediterranean possesses unique features that have the potential to directly affect future regional security and stability. Overall, there are a number of primary and specific implications of environmental security issues relevant to the Euro-Mediterranean.

  • Population growth rates in North Africa may make the region less stable. While admittedly a number of recent United Nations documents question the ability to accurately project population growth, population growth rates offer predictive measures for assessing regional environmental stability.
  • Coupled with population increase is the expectation that increased urbanization will be the norm throughout the region. In 1925, for example, 80 percent of human population was located in rural areas; in 1995, only 52 percent remained...


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pp. 21-45
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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Archived 2019
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