NATO: The Importance of Activism in The Mediterranean Scenario – Transatlantic Policy Quarterly 22/08/2022

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The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a seaquake in contemporary history. The repercussions on food and energy systems and the global chessboard are epochal. Energy systems, as the heart of the economic model of development, stability, are under stress. Global relations are in a fluid phase. The heavy return of Russia to the center stage of history stands in the way of a Western world that is regaining momentum after years of exhaustion, in which its values have worn out. In this changing scenario, the Atlantic Alliance must play a role, especially in the “Wider Mediterranean”.

NATO Race to The East: Effects, Perspectives, Fragility

Contrary to those who had predicted its “brain death”, the Atlantic Alliance has shown its usefulness. It’s closing its ranks and is giving a new impetus to expansion east by welcoming new members and strategic partners “outside the area”. Indeed, NATO is successful if it works as a dynamic, flexible, extended alliance because the Atlantic could be protected by protecting the peripherical seas, such as the Baltic, Blake Sea, Persian Gulf, and so the Mediterranean.

In an interview, Stoltenberg retraced the evolutionary stages of NATO: the containment of the USSR, the operations against ethnic conflict in the Balkans – this commitment must be relaunched, the fight against terrorism and then, from 2014 onwards, the containment of Russia. Stoltenberg envisioned a global projection of a multidimensional and “open-door” NATO, with a focus on the Arctic, Baltic, and Black seas. However, there is no specific reference to the Mediterranean region.

NATO has been shifting its centre of gravity further east, following precise geopolitical theories, and now Poland is a stronghold with Baltic countries and heroic Ukraine as outposts. Meanwhile, Russia and China are increasing their influence in the “Wider Mediterranean”. Russia’s militaries and militias have exercised in Syria and Libya for years while China continues to enforce commercial cooperation – these should be warning signs.

The Mediterranean is still in turmoil after the Arab Springs and is seeing all these goings on. The UE considers the Mediterranean only when migratory flows increase and must contract out the management. However, the new NATO Strategic Compass opens a phase of renewed activism, also in the “peripherical” seas: here the fate of the clash could be decided. The expansion eastward made it possible to be prepared for the worst as predicted by Past USA President Bill Clinton, and the same should be done on the southern side.

The Relevance of a “Global Sea” and Its “Peninsula-Island”

The “Great Game” between ascending global or regional powers is in its early stages and the Mediterranean will be decisive as ever. Cap Bon, where the Transmed gas pipeline that carries precious Algerian gas to Italy, ends up in Mazara del Vallo in Sicily, and the Pantelleria-Pelagie-Malta triangle in the Strait of Sicily, are a necessary passage, a point whose control determines global equilibria.

It was in Sicily that Garibaldi had landed less than a century earlier, in 1860, supported by British gunboats to complete the dream of Italian Unity, defeating the Kingdom of Naples. The Southern Italy was also the first landing point of the USA, a fully-fledged global superpower, in Europe, with the Husky operation in 1943. The American presence in Sicily, confirmed by subsequent military installations (the bases of Sigonella and Niscemi and missiles), was decisive for the projection towards the Old Continent of the USA and control over the Mediterranean for Soviet containment.

In the British proposal for the partition of Italy at the Tehran conference (1943), the two Italian islands, Sardinia, and Sicily with the control of the Strait of Messina would in fact have come under British protection – the folds of history are so illuminating.

Today, the American order seems to have changed. The progressive strategic retreat of the U.S. – the VI Fleet has reduced its range of action – and the simultaneous pulling back of France and Italy, especially after the Libyan crisis, has been compensated only in part by the renewed activism of Türkiye in the Ak-deniz. This is a critical point for the entire Alliance and should present a strategic concern.

However, geography is a constant and it is predictive. Italy, while retreating, still juts out in the Mediterranean, and because of this, is destined to be involved in the clash due to its barycentric position – primarily in Sicily – and if not in the Russia-USA clash via Ukraine, it might be involved in the latent clash with China, in asymmetrical forms. Italy may have appeared, at most perhaps a co-star, if it can relaunch its autonomous presence: otherwise, it is to remain a much sought-after prey.

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