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Chinese Garland of Pearls in Mediterranean: A Strategic Loop of Power and Influence

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Chinese strings of pearls in the Mediterranean are gradually forming a huge strategic Chinese garland of Pearls. It is surely going to be an increasingly tightening grip over the NATO bastion and EU security structure. The absence of collective EU economic vision so far and the NATO division are conveniently facilitating the Chinese preponderance in their waters and security hub. The Brexit has already weakened the stature of the Union which is a favourable condition to Chinese unabated expansion and influence. The evolving ‘garland of pearls’ in the Mediterranean can become the scene of Chinese ‘Anaconda Policy’- surround and squeeze.

Chinese hold on such strategic ports as Piraeus in Greece, Trieste and Genoa in Italy and string of six ports in eastern Mediterranean- Haifa and Ashdod in Israel, Tripoli in Lebanon and Latakia and Tartous in Syria and Kumport in Turkey has changed the strategic balance in the region. Besides, there are many more ports in the region trying to attract the Chinese investment. These include Port Said, Marsaxlokk, Tangier and Casablanca in southern side of Mediterranean and Valencia, Marseille, Genoa, Trieste and Piraeus in the northern side. An overview makes it a garland of Chinese pearls in the Mediterranean put together the Chinese strings of pearls all around this Western strategic water. This evolving strategic loop is sure to mitigate the western security dominance over this water and therefore expand Chinese influence in the countries around specially Europe.

This trend of increasing Chinese investment has raised numerous questions and unsettled the European Union and its policy. Any effective response can be made only with correct understanding of implications it involves. How much it is unavoidable or acceptable given the strategic nature of the ports must be perused properly. On 10th April, 2019, the new EU FDI Screening Regulation has come into force to ensure security and public order in Europe in the face of the foreign direct investment in the Eurozone. The first EU level coordination mechanism will be fully operational in all member states on 11th, October, 2020.

In the wake pandemic the European Commission on 25th March, 2020 issued guideline to ensure effective foreign investment screening against the economic vulnerability during the crisis. It aims at preserving critical assets and strategic companies like infrastructure which is fundamental for public order and security without undermining the general open foreign investment policy. Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission President emphasised that “As in any crisis, when our industrial and corporate assets can be under stress, we need to protect our security and economic sovereignty. The EU is and will remain an open market for foreign direct investment. But this openness is not unconditional.”

Both EU and NATO are aware of the growing need of an enhanced cooperation as the key response to multiple security challenge from new Russia, turmoil in West Asia, cyberwar to terrorism. The list has formally added China also as a systemic rival and competitor. The recognition of cooperation between these two organizations gained attention towards end of the 1990s. It was around 2000 only that initial European reservation mainly that of UK and France were overcome and joint security vision and action of EU and NATO began. From then onwards, the cooperation was continuously buttressed and shaped through 2002 Berlin Plus arrangements, 2010Lisbon Summit and the Role of NATO in the security architecture of the EU, 2016 Warsaw  and 2018 EU-NATO, Brussels Joint Declaration have boosted the cooperation for security of the transatlantic community based on their shared threat perception and response requirements. The Strategic Concept of ‘Active Engagement, Modern Defence’ of 2010 underlined and espoused the values and strategic objective for the next decade in transforming security environment with necessary political and military response. The core areas of cooperation are capacity-building of the alliance and partners, defence-industrial issues, military mobilization, promotion of peace and security agenda. Despite the national rivalry in Europe and the transatlantic divisions which came to fore in the London Summit, December, 2019, the NATO 2030 launched on 8th June, 2020 has again started re-building the cooperation needed for the shared security of the transatlantic community.

But the EU response has not been effective so far in the face of the growing transatlantic schism on various issues. The recent blow has come with the concern over possible withdrawal of US troops from Germany to be deployed in Poland. It was announced by US president Donald Trump on 15th June, 2020, accusing Germany as “delinquent” in NATO contribution and unfair trade with United States. The German Foreign Minister, Heiko Mass, has said “We think that the US presence in Germany is important for the security not just of Germany but also for the security of the United States and especially for the security of Europe” during his visit to Poland. However, the critical response came from the German Defense Minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer when he said that, “NATO is not a trade organization and security is not a commodity. NATO is formed on solidarity, on trust. And it is based on common values and common interests,” on 16th June, 2020 in Berlin.

Such growing cleavage in the transatlantic alliance is a serious rift in the face of the Chinese strategic rise in the Mediterranean ports through investment and management control. These Chinese moves under its BRI vision are primarily geo-economic in its declared pursuit but its long term strategic and security dimension are natural corollary. Such move is bound to erode the necessary faith NATO has been built on and therefore its deterrence capacity watered down against traditional challenge from Russia or new formidable challenge of China.

The matter has assumed serious dimension with strategic closeness of Russia and China. The first ever joint naval exercise code-named “Joint Sea-2015(17th -21st May) of the two in the Mediterranean was important as it was conducted far away from their naval bases in a show of their readiness in sea areas of the world and in the strategic water of the West in particular. In July, 2017, a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) flotilla en route to their Joint Exercise with Russian Navy in Baltic Sea, conducted a brief live-fire drill in the Mediterranean Sea to hone their combat skills. Besides, Six-say joint defence operations, the “Joint Sea-2019”featuring joint air defence drills, joint anti-submarine drills and joint submarine rescue drills is important development in this regard. In December (27th -30th) 2019, China-Russia joint naval exercise was conducted along with Iran in the Gulf of Oman with the declared aim of world peace and maritime security in the region.

Given the increasing numbers, frequency and different locations of joint naval exercises of China and Russia it has assumed the character of a de facto military alliance which has surely exacerbated the security concerns of the European and Mediterranean NATO community and their security structure. The BRI deals are basically aimed at promotion of trade and related infrastructure development. But this economic clout naturally spurs the strategic influence and military advantage. In July, 2017, a Chinese naval fleet came to the port Piraeus on friendly visit as a promotion of their growing friendship and cooperation. Such developments will keep on increasing and become normal practices in the Chinese held ports of the Mediterranean Sea.

Amidst these naval developments, there is growing conflicting policies of the NATO members and hostile encounters of their navies in the Mediterranean are making the matter worse. When the French sailors were chasing a suspicious cargo carrying arms for Libya, the Turkish frigate warned them with missile strike- a matter of grave weakness for NATO and security projection of its members. This is the result of their rival policies in the Libyan conflict.

EU is concerned about the growing US-China competition emerging like a new cold war and looking for options to avoid falling into this binary. The launch of outline of NATO 2030 on 8th June, 2020 made it apparent that the rise of China has fundamentally changed the balance of power and a new competition for economic and technological hegemony. The EU-China summit, 2019 joint statement has committed for EU-China strategic partnership and expressed support for multilateralism and rule-based trade to build their economic relationship. Thus the EU and China video meet or conference on 22nd June, 2020 assumed significance amidst rising US-China tension as the European Union is pursuing a non-confrontational policy towards China to remain a relevant factor in the emerging world order.

Moreover, the strategic loop of China made up of its strategic ports pose an unprecedented serious challenge to the weakening EU and loosening NATO. Therefore, there is an urgent need to fix the fissures in the NATO and division in EU to face China and its expansion with strength and matching strategy before the Chinese loop strangulate it and impose its irresistible force of influence. 

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The Man Who Warned Us First About Climate Change

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A billboard at Piccadilly Circus pays tribute to the late Prince Philip. Garry Knight/Flickr

Among the first to warn us of global warming, he used the term greenhouse gas to describe the increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.  That was in the 1960s and it was dismissed as a cranky notion.  Where he lived, he had a large study lined with books which he actually read; perhaps one reason for the mushrooming of ideas.  

The story begins in Corfu, Greece where he was born.  His very prominent family was turfed out of the country and settled in France.  After early schooling, he was sent to a private boarding school in the UK.  

Founded by German-Jewish educator Kurt Hahn in 1934, Gordonstoun School was new  with new ideas when he attended.  An equal emphasis on mind and body, it challenged students mentally and physically, the latter far more than at other such private schools.  A strapping boy who was also extremely intelligent, he loved the place — later his son was to hate it.  Hahn wrote of him that he would do very well any task assigned to him.

He went on to the naval academy and finished at the top of his class, doing the same at later naval exams and becoming the youngest Lieutenant in the navy.  Given command of a ship, he ran it like clockwork but a certain lack of sensitivity to others also came through:  the crew were driven ragged and hated serving under him.  He loved the navy and always loved the sea; indeed it was a sacrifice to give up his naval career when he married but it was incompatible in his new role for his wife was a very important personage.          

Studying in England, I could not fail to notice his frequent presence on newspaper front pages, even though my own interests then did not focus on the news of the day.  He seemed to set up awards for all kinds of excellence. He wanted British industry to shine, young people to deliver their best and so on.  And of course, he was invariably presenting awards to the winners.

A sportsman, he was also out there playing polo with his team, or at equestrian meets or playing cricket at charity events, or sailing which he clearly loved.  His uncle saw India through a hurried independence and a bloody partition.  Uncle Dickie, as he was called by the royal children, was a valued presence until killed by the IRA (Irish Republican Army) in a senseless bomb attack that lost them public sympathy.  

The country’s leaders kept him busy and he was sent to numerous countries representing the queen, most often to former colonies in an era with a rash of newly independent countries.  Yes, his name was Philip, titled Prince of Greece and Denmark, and his wife was Queen Elizabeth II.  

Prince Philip’s royal bloodline (like the Queen’s) was German — Battenberg the family last name having been changed to Mountbatten during the First World War.  His sisters married Germans and remained in Germany during the Second World War.  They were not invited to his wedding to a very much in love Princess Elizabeth.  He had been the longest serving consort of any British monarch when he died a few days ago.   

Prince Philip’s travels were also notorious for gaffes and his eye for attractive females — middle class morality be damned.  A definite lacuna in sensitivity was more than evident.  Meeting a group of Nigerians resplendent in their long colorful national dress, he remarked, “Ready for bed, are we?”  to their embarrassment.

Yet, all in all, a very full life.

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Sino-Serbian relations under the “microscope”: China’s footprint In Serbia

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Over the years, the Sino-Serbian foreign relations have straightened to a very high level, with China establishing itself as a valuable ally to Serbia. Since the recognition of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 by Yugoslavia and the formal establishment of diplomatic relations between the two states in 1955, both countries have been on warm relations that soon transformed into a strategic alliance. However, this relationship has given an uneasy feeling to the political elite in the West that sees this relationship as China’s efforts to expand its influence into the Balkan region and undermine the efforts of the EU for stabilization. On the other hand, some may argue that this uneasy feeling that the West is experiencing is due to its own failures of constant neglect and poor leadership towards Serbia, which has taken action in its own hands. Can we really say that the situation in Serbia is about Chinese imperialism, or is it a case that the West failed Serbia over and over again and now sees its diplomatic failures backfiring back to them?

Sino-Serbian relations in retrospective

The relationship between both countries has always been on a warm status, but the potential for an even stronger relationship came during the 1990s in the so-called Yugoslavian Wars. The People’s Republic of China was critical against the U.S and NATO forces bombing campaign in Serbia while it supported the decisions of President Milošević, describing them as vital decisions for preserving the territorial integrity of the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, against the Albanian separatists and the UCK (Kosovo Liberation Army) terrorists. The opposition against NATO intensified after NATO warplanes bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing three Chinese journalists. Although the West saw it as a mistake, this gave a clear signal to Serbia and China that the Western aggression against them could provide them with the potential of rebuilding their relations in the 21st century, in something more than just strong diplomatic ties.

Under the presidency of Aleksandar Vučić, Serbia has seen closer cooperation with China, especially at an economic level. For years now, both countries have cooperated in various industries. Since 2012, Serbia has received at least $10bn of Chinese investment in the country, changing rapidly its economic profile. Serbia is also part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which allowed Serbia to provide an investment-friendly environment towards China without any EU regulations, making the country the largest economy in the Western Balkans. Also, China has changed the tourism industry in Serbia. Since 2017, Chinese citizens can visit Serbia visa-free. This initiative allowed the country to improve its industry with a rise of at least 36% from Chinese visitors. Also, Serbia as a hub of investments does not only concentrate on tourism. China has invested a tremendous amount of money in its infrastructure and energy sectors and projects such as the Budapest-Belgrade Railway while Chinese firms have acquired various steel plants and coal mines, such as the Smederevo steel plant and a copper mine is in Bor, east of Serbia. These actions by China have kept afloat the Serbian economy while saving more than 10.000 job positions, highlighting the reconstruction of the country and making China the most important trading partner for Serbia in the 21st century.

Politics, the pandemic, and the success of Serbia in the game of geopolitical chess

Apart from close economic ties, both countries share a common interest in the political arena. Since the 1990’s China has been a close political ally of Serbia, supporting its territorial integrity while not recognizing the pseudostate of Kosovo. On the other hand, Serbia has been supportive of China’s decisions to safeguard its interests in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Xinjiang, agreeing with the One-China policy that the People’s Republic of China has been advocating for years. The relationship between the two countries has been seen negatively by the West, with the EU being skeptical about China’s intentions in the region. A resolution from the EU parliament on the 2019-2020 Commission report on Serbia expressed the concern over the increased economic ties between the two states, and China’s questionable investments that are lacking transparency, while also pointing out that the investors in Serbia have failed to carry out important environmental assessments. “With this behavior, Serbia, a candidate country for EU accession is jeopardizing its progress”, were the statements from the EU side, that sees the growing influence of China in the region, as a threat to its own interests. However, Serbia is not bowing to the threats of the EU, as it sees the European bloc constantly neglecting Serbia’s needs and undermining its national interests.

With the inclusion of China as a major player in the Balkans, some analysts present an interesting argument that China has overthrown the Russian Federation from the position of the most important ally of Serbia. Historically, Russia and Serbia have seen very close ties, and it’s unlikely that the inclusion of China as an ally to Serbia will jeopardize that. However, news organizations and analysts from the West found an opportunity to provide an environment of division within Serbia. Understandably, Serbia seeks to improve its position in the world, and having more than one powerful allies, especially one that has the fastest growing economy in the world, will benefit the rhetoric of Aleksandar Vučić, who has demonstrated to the Serbian public that the country has drastically changed and it has overcome the previous humiliations and mistreatment from the West. It seems that the West is terrified of the potential growth of Serbia, a country that once was brutally bombarded by U.S and NATO forces, and now has the chance to dominate the geopolitical scene in the Balkans without even being part of the EU. The country represents an open door for China in Europe, allowing the country to fully take advantage of the various infrastructure and energy projects that are presented. Serbia is building a new lasting alliance, and as much as the West wants to undermine this relationship by creating political divisions about who is the biggest ally of Serbia, they miss the big point. The country now has more allies and more influence in the Balkans and feels it’s time not to take the West seriously. For years the EU, in particular, has underestimated Serbia while showing full support for the illegitimate state of Kosovo, and portraying the country as this evil entity and abuser of human rights.

Another important parameter in the evaluation of the current situation in the world. When COVID-19 spread all over the world, we witnessed a phenomenal collapse of our daily lives, with many businesses closing and the governments around the world putting an effort to recover from the virus. Serbia, unlike other countries in Europe, had a successful vaccination campaign and managed to win the geopolitical game of chess, simply by not playing the game. For Serbia, vaccination was never a political game and that’s why they managed to deal with it better. As prime minister Ana Brnabic stated: “Whether vaccines come from China, Russia, the EU or the U.S, we don’t care, as long as they’re safe and we get them as soon as possible. For us, vaccination is a healthcare issue, not a geopolitical matter”. Just by this statement, Serbia managed to understand the dangers of politicizing the vaccines and decided to focus on the health of its citizens, effectively overcoming the growing danger of the virus.

The fight is not over yet, but unlike the EU, Serbia set its priorities straight, and in a way, revealed the failed bureaucratic system of the EU, that chooses politics over the health of its citizens. Although Serbia received both the Russian vaccine Sputnik V and the Chinese Sinopharm, analysts have focused on the importance of Chinese help. For the simple reason that the help from Russia was expected, because of the historic, cultural, and religious ties between both states. The help from China was something that shifted the balance in Serbia, and the country managed to be in a better position compared to other countries in the Balkans and the EU. Both China and Serbia made it clear from the beginning that they will support each other in these harsh times. A few months ago, the Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ivica Dačić, was in Beijing, declaring his support in any way possible to China. In his statement, he said: “You didn’t fear NATO bombs, my visit shows we’re not afraid of the virus”; again pointing out the importance of this alliance that dates years back. The EU might be skeptical about China’s intentions, but one thing is for sure; they did not provide help when needed, proving once again that European solidarity is a fairy tale.

The Chinese impact on Serbia: Voices from within the country

Although the government of Aleksandar Vučić has made it very clear to the Serbian public that foreign investments from China are a positive step towards the socio-economic transformation of the country, some people within Serbia have shared their thoughts about whether this can bring a positive or a negative impact for Serbia. Dragan Djilas, the former mayor of Belgrade and president of the Freedom & Justice Party in Serbia, expresses his criticism of the political decisions of Aleksandar Vučić. In his view, democracy in Serbia does not exist anymore, and there is only one man to blame, Aleksandar Vučić. Djilas also points out that the growing relationship with China has been transformed into a dependent, one-way relationship, where China acts as a colonizer. “China operates in Serbia, the same way it does in the continent of Africa. It seems that now we have a new Big Brother”, referring to the new status quo, where Russia is not seen as the only powerful ally that Serbia can rely on. For Mr. Djilas, this dependency on China will only jeopardize any potential ascension in the European Union. His point is shared by many within Serbia that see this dichotomy in society that wants to move more on the West yet again it makes agreements and treaties with a non-democratic and autocratic government, and it seems that Aleksandar Vučić follows the same path. “Our struggle is focused on Europe, which should finally realize that we want to establish a free and democratic society and end the denigrating process in Serbia established by Aleksandar Vučić”, were the words of Dragan Djilas, who sees China slowly overtaking his country.

On the other hand, Djordje Terek, an analyst at the Center for International Public Policy in Belgrade, does not see the involvement of China in the Western Balkans, especially in Serbia, as a new phenomenon. “China, similarly to Russia, Germany or the U.S., has its own interest in the Western Balkans region and it has been present there for a while”. If we view this statement from a realistic point of view, we can make sense of China’s intentions in Serbia being no different than the intentions of any other country that revolves around the philosophy of realpolitik. Also, there is an interesting mention of Serbia’s new role in the region, especially after the Belgrade Summit. As Terek points out: “Serbia, as a potential EU member state, was given a prominent role within China’s BRI initiative as it was demonstrated at the summit in Belgrade. It is the strategy based on the penetration into the EU market that China centralized around Belgrade. With that being said, Serbia is one of the compelling China’s attributes in the Western Balkans and Europe as well. In 2009, Serbia and China signed a strategic partnership agreement and in 2013, Serbia hosted a 16+1 summit in Belgrade where $900 billion infrastructure projects were promised to the region”.

However, although the government of Aleksandar Vučić is keen to demonstrate how China’s investments have been crucial for Serbia, the European Union is still by far the most crucial contributor in foreign direct investments, comprising at least 70% of FDI in the country. With this remark, some may argue that indeed China is an important ally to Serbia, but the EU is still around, reminding the country that it is still a pending member for EU accession. It seems that the presence of China in Serbia will only be positive if Aleksandar Vučić manages to balance both of his commitments to the EU and China. After all, Serbia still wants to be part of the European Union and not merge with the People’s Republic of China. In some final remarks, Djordje Terek thinks that if the government of Serbia wants any success to come out of this situation it needs to evaluate the situation delicately. “While Serbia has been actively pursuing EU membership, the current state of affairs tells us that Vučić uses the geopolitical window to further deviate from EU integrations, while continuously sitting on two chairs, and only time will show if that will be beneficial for Serbia”.

One other aspect of China’s involvement in Serbia, that has troubled the citizens of the country, are the environmental issues that have emerged since China’s increased investment in the steel factories and the mines in the east of the country. In the area of Bor, where a Chinese company has recently acquired the ownership of a mining facility, there have been reports of increased pollution in the area, with environmental agencies being concerned about the high levels of sulfur dioxide and arsenic in the air. Besides the air pollution issue, concerns have been raised about the water pollution of the area. Near the mining facility, in the village of Metovnica, locals have seen the impact of the mine activities, in shortage of water and water pollution. For analyst Djordje Terek, this increased pollution in the area rapidly plummeted in the last seven years, potentially making Serbia the global leader in air pollution. “The Chinese investments in the steel factory in Smederevo and the copper mine in Bor, have made the people in the area wear face masks even before the beginning of the pandemic. It seems that the ties of the Serbian government with China is on higher priority rather than the environmental damage”. The mayor of Bor, Aleksandar Milikic, quickly dismissed the allegations of environmental damage and characterized any kind of protest in the area regarding this subject as the work of political actors wishing to benefit from it. As for the people in Bor, they can see the damage to the environment, but many of them point out the positive aspect of the Chinese investments, where people can find a good-paying job at the mines. Given the absence of work in the area in recent years, these investments have more positives than negatives for them.

Whether we would look at the Chinese involvement in Serbia as a positive or a negative thing, one thing is for sure. The geopolitical profile of the country is changing, and Serbia can benefit from the increased investments in its country. However, Aleksandar Vučić must be careful how he handles the situation inside Serbia. The increased protests and the uneasy feeling of its citizens regarding the environment, should not be aspects that are overlooked by the government, Nevertheless, with the global pandemic devastating many countries in Europe and around the world, Serbia has demonstrated its will to improve the healthcare situation in the country by not focusing on the vaccine politics and as a result winning, one might say the political chess game that the West found itself playing. Only time will show if Aleksandar Vučić manages to hold on, on both the West and the East, in a rare situation where Serbia seems to have the upper hand as to how the country must advance now, trying to reshape the international image about Serbia.

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Vienna Process: Minilateralism for the future of Europe and its strategic neighbourhood

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On the historic date of March 08th – International Women’s Day, a large number of international affairs specialists gathered for the second consecutive summit in Vienna, Austria. This leg of the Vienna Process titled: “Europe – Future – Neighbourhood at 75: Disruptions Recalibration Continuity”. The conference, jointly organized by the Modern Diplomacy, IFIMES and their partners, with the support of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, was aimed at discussing the future of Europe and its neighbourhood in the wake of its old and new challenges.[1]

Along with the two acting State Presidents, the event was endorsed by the keynote of the EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Excellency Olivér Várhelyi. The first, of the three-panel conference, was brilliantly conducted by the OSCE Sec-General (2011-2017), current IFIMES Euro-Med Director, Amb. Lamberto Zannier. Among his speakers was a former Deputy Director of the OSCE Conflict Prevention Center Ms. Monika Wohlfeld. Discussing pan-European and regional issues of the southern Europe, this is what Dr.Wohlfeld outlined in her intervention:

The list of global and regional challenges that affect the Euro-Med region is too long to discuss here in depth. Clearly, the region experiences soft and hard security challenges and conflicts over ‘territorial claims, the proliferation of weapons, terrorist activities, illegal migration, ethnic tensions, human rights abuses, climate change, natural resources disputes, especially concerning energy and water, and environmental degradation’.[2] The Covid-19 pandemic lay bare and enhanced many of these challenges, in social, political and economic as well as security realms. The Euro-Med region is also not well equipped to tackle these problems and difficulties in a cooperative and coordinated manner, despite the existence of some common organizations, institutions and agendas.

So how to foster dialogue and a cooperative approach on addressing common challenges in the region? I will focus largely on security in a broad sense and the notion of cooperative security.

The OSCE (or rather its more unstructured predecessor, the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe) has in the recent decades been presented as a possible example for co-operative security arrangements in the Mediterranean region. The idea of a Conference on Security and Co-operation in the Mediterranean (CSCM) did not get a lot of traction in the region so far. It has been argued that such a project must succeed and not precede cooperative regional dynamics it seeks and that the conflictual patterns of relations, which exist across the Mediterranean, therefore do not lend themselves to cooperative security frameworks. The absence of a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace would preclude parties in the region from applying cooperative security methods that have proved effective in the framework of the CSCE/OSCE.

An additional difficulty is that this possible example for cooperative security arrangements focuses largely on the interaction of states while it is increasingly clear that civil society and its organizations may have a necessary and constructive role to play in this respect.

Nevertheless, the notion of cooperative security framework(s) has been supported by many analysts, not only from the northern shore, but from also southern shore of the Mediterranean. Abdennour Benantar, in his discussion of possible security architectures for the Mediterranean region, analyses the security situation in the region and asks whether the concept of cooperative security, as developed in the European context, could be transposed or applied in the Mediterranean.[3]Benantar argues in favour of creating a regime of security cooperation in the Mediterranean, while taking into account the sub-regional diversity of the Mediterranean region.

One key conclusion of the discussion of CSCM is that not extending existing European models, or exporting models of cooperative security to the Mediterranean region, but rather using such models as sources of inspiration and support to subregional or regional cooperative security efforts is likely to be more successful[4] in establishing cooperative security principles and frameworks in the Mediterranean.

Another key finding is that with multilateralism under pressure globally and regionally, new concepts deserve attention. One such concept is minilateralism or selective and flexible cooperation, currently being developed in the context of the problems faced by multilateralism globally. As Stewart Patrick explains, ‘states increasingly participate in a bewildering array of flexible, ad hoc frameworks whose membership varies based on situational interests, shared values, or relevant capabilities. These institutions are often ‘minilateral’ rather than universal; voluntary rather than legally binding; disaggregated rather than comprehensive; trans-governmental rather than just intergovernmental; regional rather than global; multi-level and multistakeholder rather than state-centric; and ‘bottom-up’ rather than ‘top down’.[5] Thus, while multilateralism is under pressure, there are possible ways of bottom-up, smaller in terms of numbers of states involved and flexible approaches.

A Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung strategic foresight exercise for the MENA region in 2030 suggests there are opportunities for common approaches and co-operation on long-term challenges that affect all states of the region. Thus, there are key risks and opportunities that might enhance cooperation. ‘With this as a starting point, through building single-issue institutions and multilateral trust, other chapters for cooperation might open up.’[6]

This observation could benefit from being placed in the perspective of the concept of minilateralism, presented above. With multiple, flexible layers of such minilateral cooperation, cooperative security approaches can be introduced into various regional formats in the Mediterranean. They deserve the political and financial support of all state or non-state actors that engage on behalf of multilateralism and cooperative security.

Before closing, few words about the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies, which  is a regional institution, funded by the governments of Malta, Switzerland and Germany. It trains diplomats and more recently also civil society activists from the Euro-Med region who work and live together for the duration of the Master’s degree, accredited by the University of Malta. The Academy thus functions as a regional confidence-building measure, per se

In 2009, when this author joined the Academy, a course on security studies has been developed, which emphasizes non-zero sum game approaches, cooperative security and conflict prevention and conflict resolution aspects. Twelve cohorts of students later, using their written assessments of the impact of the course as well as conversations with alumni (many of whom are reaching top jobs in their countries), it changed the way they view security issues and conceptualize solutions to common security challenges.

It could be giving hopes. There is increased emphasis on youth and confidence building in the Euro-Med region, and strong interest and support from Northern African countries in the academic training the Academy provides. However, the pandemic and the economic situation in the region do not bode well for prospects of projects such as the Academy. One very recent positive development I can share though is that the German Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs has renewed its funding for the German Chair for Peace Studies and Conflict Prevention at the Academy for the next two years.

This is the author’s main take on the situation: It will take support, time and patience to advance minilateralism and also multilateralism as a way of addressing common challenges in the Euro-Med region. We need all hands on deck for this, especially during the difficult moments the region experiences currently.


[1]This highly anticipated conference gathered over twenty high ranking speakers from three continents, and the viewers from Australia to Canada and from Chile to Far East. The day was filled by three panels focusing on the rethinking and revisiting Europe and its three equally important neighbourhoods: Euro-Med, Eastern and trans-Atlantic (or as the Romano Prodi’s EU Commission coined it back in 2000s – “from Morocco to Russia – everything but the institutions”); the socio-political and economic greening; as well as the legacy of WWII, Nuremberg Trials and Code, the European Human Rights Charter and their relevance in the 21st century.

[2] Stephen Calleya, Security Challenges in the Euro-Med area in the 21st Century. Routledge: London, 2013, p. 9-10.

[3]Abdennour Benantar, Quelle architecture de sécurité pour la Méditerranée ?.Critique internationale2015/4 (69), https://www.cairn.info/revue-critique-internationale-2015-4-page-133.htm

[4]IstitutoAffariInternazionali, ‘Towards “Helsinki +40”: The OSCE, the Global Mediterranean, and the Future of Cooperative Security’, Documenti IAI 14 08 – October 2014.  https://www.new-med.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/iai14081.pdf

[5] Stewart M. Patrick, Making Sense of ‘Minilaterialism’: The Pros and Cons of Flexible Co-operation’, CFR Blog, 5 January 2016. https://www.cfr.org/blog/making-sense-minilateralism-pros-and-cons-flexible-cooperation

[6] Mediterranean Advisory Group, MENA 2030: A Strategic Foresight Exercise. KAS Med Dialogue Series, June 2019, p. 11. https://www.kas.de/documents/282499/282548/MAG+MENA+2030+A+Strategic+Foresight+Exercise.pdf/1ebaaba2-7457-9c67-e7a4-2121326d4c51?version=1.0&t=1562234211698

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