Unconventional Challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean: Strategic Engagement in a New Era
By Susan M. Spencer
Writer and Senior Editor, Western Policy Center
Mr. John Sitilides
Executive Director, Western Policy Center
After thirty years of concerted American interest in helping Greece and Turkey resolve acute differences over sovereignty in the Aegean Sea and the division of Cyprus, U.S. policy and military planners have already begun to recast the strategic agenda in the eastern Mediterranean region in a new geopolitical era marked by militant Islamist terrorism and the states that sponsor them, WMD proliferation, transnational criminal enterprises, and other unconventional challenges and asymmetrical threats to Western interests.
In fact, Washington'?s priorities in its relations with Athens and Ankara have undergone considerable shifts in the past decade, due not only to sweeping changes in the regional and global security environments since the terror attacks against the United States and the war in Iraq, but also because of genuine efforts by the two NATO allies to genuinely improve their bilateral relations.
Within a year after the 1996 Imia-Kardak crisis that nearly brought the two countries to full-scale war, a crisis averted after President Clinton urged both prime ministers to disengage their forces, the Greek and Turkish navies devised a communications system for information-sharing and naval exercise observation that served to build mutual confidence and reduce the opportunity for miscalculation by either side in the Aegean Sea.
By the end of 1997, the two allies also agreed to establish NATO joint sub-regional commands that stationed generals and other senior military officers on each other?s territory, to strengthen alliance operations in the southern flank and foster greater trust on regional security issues.
After the 1999 Ocalan fiasco, a diplomatic abyss that many in Ankara considered an act of war by Greece against Turkey, officials in both countries embarked on a public process of rapprochement that is still supported by leading parties on both sides of the Aegean.
Over the past several years, joint committees of Greek and Turkish lawyers and technical experts have intensively discussed mutually acceptable mechanisms for resolving a lengthy series of differences over Aegean air, maritime, and seabed issues. They have met more than two dozen times, without a single substantive leak to Greek or Turkish media ? a first sign that one side or the other felt its back against the wall.
Turkey was effectively instructed at the 1999 EU summit that granted it candidacy status that it would need to resolve these Aegean differences with Greece by the end of 2004, or the process would be transferred to the International Court of Justice for adjudication. As that deadline was no longer deemed feasible, Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis stated that the bilateral talks could extend into 2005 and beyond, an expression of confidence that the process had been successful to date and should continue as long as progress was maintained.
In this context, despite ongoing Greek protestations of repeated Turkish incursions into Aegean airspace, the likelihood of a Greek-Turkish conflict that would rip apart the NATO alliance, as the Imia-Kardak crisis nearly did, has substantially diminished. So has the urgency for Washington to intervene in resolving Aegean issues.
As for Cyprus, Greece and Turkey have agreed to decouple the core issues that have defined the island?s division since 1974 from their bilateral relations. Greek Cypriots rejected the Annan plan to reunite the island under what they considered onerous, undemocratic provisions. But Cyprus is not expected to veto the launching of EU accession talks with Turkey, even though Turkey does not recognize the Cyprus government. Greece has not blocked efforts to provide substantial EU economic assistance pledged ? though not yet delivered ? to the Turkish Cypriot community. The division of Cyprus seems to be headed for prolonged irresolution, perhaps to be viewed within the EU as another Northern Ireland-type problem ? undesirable but utterly manageable.
If NATO allies Greece and Turkey are no longer riven by differences in the Aegean or Cyprus, Washington is freed to focus on other pressing concerns in the eastern Mediterranean area and in countries throughout its periphery, in the Balkan, Black Sea, Caucasus, Levant, and northern African regions.
In the Balkans, Greece and Turkey will be sought by the United States as partners in securing euro-Atlantic objectives such as preventing further violence in Kosovo, encouraging political cohesion in Skopje, and advancing Serbia's transition towards European and international integration. From a security perspective, Greece, with its fresh Olympics-based expertise, and Turkey, again the target of militant Islamists, will be tasked to help surveil and destroy regional terrorist infrastructures and networks. They will also be critical in hunting and shutting down regional criminal operations in drug, arms, and human trafficking, as well as in fostering military reform in newly-allied Bulgaria and Romania.
In the Black Sea and Caucasus regions, Ukraine faces greater political instability and continued territorial disputes with Russia, which itself confronts prolonged wars conducted by Chechnyan and Ingushetian secessionists in league with Wahhabist militants. Relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan remain tense over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, even as Azerbaijan links with Georgia and Turkey to deliver new energy supplies to Western markets.
In the Levant and northern Africa, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict thrives alongside the increasing Islamist militancy of formerly secular terrorist groups, Syria facilitates the funding and passage for jihadists and terrorists in Iraq, and Egypt is again confronted with domestic terror attacks as it plans to contain a Hamas-ruled Gaza on the Mediterranean coast next to the Sinai peninsula.
In Iraq, Greece generally follows established EU policies, but withholds deployment of any troops, unlike a number of EU member countries that are also active members of the U.S.-led coalition. Turkey provides essential truck traffic to move goods in and out of Iraq, while Washington leans on Ankara to remove itself from Kurdish developments in the north.
These are just some of the myriad, complex priorities that define Washington?s agenda in the eastern Mediterranean and its periphery, in stark contrast to the generally positive developments in relations between Greece and Turkey, whose mutual enmity and mistrust often dominated U.S. planning and responses in the region.
Strategic engagement in the eastern Mediterranean remains a high-level priority for the United States, but the underpinnings of American policy are no longer rooted in July 1974, but in September 2001. The Western Policy Center welcomes its colleagues - U.S. government officials and regional analysts alike - to assess Washington?s current relations with Greece and Turkey, the potential roles of new NATO allies Bulgaria and Romania and the range of partners throughout the periphery, and the broader question of trans-Atlantic security in southeastern Europe, where the Western and Islamic worlds converge.
Our first panel will define the unconventional challenges we face in the region, and the second panel will explore the range of policy options for the United States in addressing both long-standing issues that remain and emerging issues that compel determined, and hopefully allied, responses.
Panel I: Unconventional Challenges: Regional and Along the Periphery
Moderator: Dr. Ian Lesser, Senior Fellow, Western Policy Center
Col. Stephen R. Norton (U.S. Army, Ret.)
Senior Policy Advisor to Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia)
Greek-Turkish differences in the Aegean and the Cyprus issue constitute two conventional challenges in the eastern Mediterranean. When the Western Policy Center held its first Eastern Mediterranean Security Conference in 2000, which brought together retired and active Greek and Turkish military representatives to discuss bilateral issues, Cyprus was not on the agenda. It was such a sensitive issue that it was thought the participants would not attend the conference if it were one of the topics of discussion.
The Cyprus problem has not gone away, but its nature has changed rapidly and dramatically. Washington has been engaged in the Cyprus issue because it affects Greek-Turkish relations and Turkey?s relations with the European Union.
Since April 2003, when the Green Line was opened, some 3 million people have crossed the Line without a major incident, which has been a pleasant surprise. With the acceptance of the Annan reunification plan by the Turkish Cypriots in the April 2004 referendum, Turkish Cypriots feel that they have ?stepped up to the plate? and the U.N. and the EU look toward the Turkish Cypriots in a different, more open way as a result.
The United Nations has decided to reduce the UNFICYP peacekeeping force in Cyprus by one-third, from 1,224 troops to 860, noting that the security situation on the island is ?benign.? The possibility of an armed conflict in Cyprus has grown more remote.
While Greek-Turkish differences over the Aegean have been generally quiet, they have not changed in the way Cyprus has. Recently, there have been increased allegations by Greece that the Turkish Air Force and Coast Guard have violated Greek airspace and territorial waters. The potential still exists for conflict in the Aegean because the major issues involved have not been resolved, though that potential has diminished.
The security of Europe and the United States over the next several decades will be defined by what happens in the Middle East. The Arab-Israeli conflict still exists and adds to the overall problems of the area. Iran?s nuclear program is a challenge for Europe and the U.S. There is the potential for instability in Iraq and Afghanistan. Islamist terrorists would use weapons of mass destruction if given the opportunity to do so.
The unconventional challenges in the eastern Mediterranean include bringing an end to military conflict in the region, establishing democracy in the area, rooting out terrorism and the smuggling of weapons through the region, and enhancing the flow of energy from the Caspian and elsewhere.
The U.S. needs to embark on a renewed effort to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict since it is an excuse that is used by those who carry out terrorist acts. Iraq must be stabilized and elections must be held there. Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus have a great deal to gain from a stable Iraq. The U.S. needs to engage friendly Muslim nations to help it defeat terrorism. Washington must also promote Turkey?s accession to the EU.
It is more important than ever to keep the lines of communication in the eastern Mediterranean open. Energy must flow to world markets, and the movement of people and weapons through the region must be monitored.
The U.S. should re-evaluate the direction of its relationship with Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus. The common bonds the U.S. has with these countries are stronger than the elements that separate it from them.
Mr. S. Enders Wimbush
Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute, and Director of Hudson?s Center for Future Security Strategies
The eastern Mediterranean is a classic case of a region that one might characterize less as a distinct competitive arena with its own strategic identity than as the intersection point of the vectors of strategic dynamics that originate outside it.
Four sets of dynamics in the region are worthy of exploration: the strategic realignments caused by Turkey?s search for security; the implications of Caspian energy for the region; the overlapping, and in some cases reordering, of spheres of interest elsewhere that have the potential to affect decision making in the region; and the possible impact of new actors with new agendas on the politics and priorities of the region.
There are four possible scenarios for Turkey that will have significant implications for the eastern Mediterranean: Turkey could become an EU member, Turkey might not become an EU member, Turkey could gain EU membership but the EU itself could fail, and Turkey?s patience could be exhausted by Europe?s demands that Ankara reorder itself to a point where Turks reject accession and seek their own path. Whether Turkey enters the EU or not raises strategic and security issues that are likely to affect most actors in the eastern Mediterranean. If it does not join the EU, where might Turkey look for new strategic anchorage? Which outside actors will seek to draw Turkey into different spheres of influence? Turkey?s quest for EU membership will not take place in a vacuum.
Sometime in 2006, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline will begin to disgorge at least one million barrels of oil per day into ships, refineries, and, perhaps, subsidiary pipelines in the eastern Mediterranean. The BTC pipeline brings several new elements to the eastern Mediterranean?s security equation. It is a veritable umbilical cord to Azerbaijan and Georgia, two states with internal and external problems that look unlikely to be solved in the near future. What happens in these states is likely to affect the operation of the pipeline, as well as the economic health of the region and of Europe. If subsidiary pipelines are built ? one from Turkey to Israel was once envisioned ? the exponential impact of instability in the Southern Caucasus becomes even greater. The greatest potential for threats to the BTC pipeline will occur at either end, that is, at the uploading stations and the downloading terminals and nearby refineries. The maritime security and environmental security issues concerning this pipeline should be examined.
The most obvious sphere that overlaps with the eastern Mediterranean sphere of influence, and is likely to create forces with the potential for influencing the security calculations, is that of Russia. With its Blue Stream pipeline, which links energy production in central Russia with energy consumption in central Turkey, Russia has achieved a degree of influence over Turkish decision making that it could not attain during the Cold War. In February 2003, Blue Stream began delivering what will eventually amount to at least 16 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually to Turkey. Turkey?s burgeoning energy dependence on Russia reflects growing engagement between the two countries on a range of political and economic issues, cooperation that was not imaginable a decade ago and could result in a Turkish-Russian strategic alliance if Turkey fails to join the EU.
A second overlapping sphere of influence that could affect developments in the eastern Mediterranean is the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), an emerging legal and commercial force that includes Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Romania, and Bulgaria. BSEC is a collection of states, some with existing or emerging interests in the eastern Mediterranean, that are potential actors there.
Regarding circumstances that might bring new actors into the eastern Mediterranean, the strong strategic relationship between Israel and India, underpinned by military sales and defense cooperation, should be watched. India is shedding decades of self-imposed isolationism and non-alignment to become a major global actor. With Israel, India shares a strong moral connection forged on the basis of each being the long-term target of terrorism. This has given way to extensive arms and technology transfers, mostly from Israel to India, but can the transfer of India?s renown scientific and information technology expertise to Israel be far behind? The Indians are coming to the eastern Mediterranean. Some version of the now familiar Turkey-Israel relationship, plus India, would get the attention of everyone from the eastern Mediterranean to South Asia, and perhaps beyond.
Mr. David Binder
Former Member of the Washington Bureau of The New York Times (Ret.)
After the fall of the communist system in 1989-1990, organized criminal enterprises emerged, which dealt with the trafficking of weapons, drugs, and humans, as well as huge volumes of tobacco and gasoline. The Balkans became a place of ?exchange? for organized crime syndicates, which brought in women as sex slaves from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Romania, and Bulgaria. Estimates place the number of women brought into the Balkans for this purpose at 200,000 a year, although it is difficult to distinguish those who have entered the sex trade voluntarily from those who have been coerced.
The United States has been active in attempts to combat organized crime in the Balkans. Washington has been the prime sponsor of the crime-fighting center in Bucharest, which was established under the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative (SECI). The center, which has achieved impressive results, has conducted raids to apprehend those engaging in organized crime and trafficking. Washington is now in the process of replicating this center in Central Asia, which will cover Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Moldova, and Kazakhstan. Though the facility has not been built yet, activity concerning its operations is already being coordinated through Internet communication.
Crime is the largest single industry in the Balkans and involves a high degree of corruption in the state apparatus of countries, including the judiciary, police, and customs services. In Romania, a deputy interior minister has been indicted for links to organized crime. In Bulgaria and Albania, police officials have been implicated in criminal activities. In Serbia, organized crime has been reduced by only 30 percent since the March 2003 assassination of former prime minister Zoran Djindjic.
The globalized aspect of organized crime is permanent, and there are links between organized crime and terrorist organizations. Organized crime cannot be dealt with solely by police and customs officials. In order to combat it, extensive cross-border cooperation is needed, with the participation of those who have a working knowledge of English.
Lt. Col. Eric von Tersch
Joint Chiefs of Staff, Strategic Plans and Programs Directorate
Outside the Iran-Israel scenario, it is difficult to envision state-on-state violence in the eastern Mediterranean region. This assumes progress on the Syrian-Iraqi relationship, especially the border region, as well as progress on U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 calling on Syria to remove its forces from Lebanon and the dismantling of the Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias.
The progress on the disengagement plan in Gaza will have a significant impact on security in the region. Currently, weapons are smuggled into Gaza along the border with Egypt. It is not clear what security entity will control the border between Gaza and Egypt in the future, nor is it clear how much arms trade will move into the eastern Mediterranean if land routes through Egypt become blocked. While the resolution of the Palestinian issue will not resolve U.S. problems concerning Islamic-based extremism, resolving the Palestinian issue will remove a very potent terrorist recruiting tool.
Many states in the region still think in terms of state-on-state violence. Greece?s enormous security expenses for the Olympics were, in part, an effort to move its security services from one paradigm to another. Regional weapons procurement, the ?stovepiped? intelligence services of countries, and countries? lack of interagency cooperation are all indicators of how many of the countries in the eastern Mediterranean region have not adjusted their thinking away from a state-on-state threat perspective.
The war on terrorism is a long-term conflict against an ideology that is more complex than communism. This is a generational conflict that was clearly upon us in the early 1990s. If we compare the Cold War timeline to the war on terrorism, we are now where we were in the early 1950s with respect to the Cold War. We have a long struggle ahead of us.
The ideology the U.S. is fighting is extremism, mostly shrouded in the mantle of Islamic belief. In this regard, extremists are fighting for the support of moderate Muslims. They will do this by portraying the West as antithetical to Islam. At the same time, they will continue to pursue an external war against the West in order to galvanize support and foment discord among Western states. These extremists, a relatively small, intensely ambitious, and effective group that has used the tools of globalization, represent a challenge to the democracies in the eastern Mediterranean and the global linkages that will lead to the region?s prosperity.
A conventional war between states that seek to destroy the enemy?s military capacity is increasingly being replaced by conflict between societal elements that target the enemy?s economy and symbols of strength. Consider the attacks on the World Trade Center. They took place in the morning before the buildings were full occupied. Had the attackers waited until later in the day, they might have killed up to ten times the number of people who died that day. But the attacks were symbolic and occurred at a time that allowed real-time coverage for a Middle East audience. The August 10, 2004 attacks in Istanbul by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons Organization, a group associated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), targeted Turkey?s tourism industry.
The coordination between large terrorist organizations is becoming less integrated. This is due in large measure to international pressure. We are also seeing a sharing of techniques between different terrorist organizations as their methods are shared via the Internet. As many extremist groups become more familiar with Al Qaeda?s goals and objectives, we will see attacks that meet those goals without the direct involvement of Al Qaeda. Terrorists are increasingly using local nationals in the region, for example, in Turkey, since it has become more difficult for Arab extremists to operate outside of the Middle East.
There is an increasing nexus between criminal elements and terrorists. It is potentially an emerging security issue in areas such as Cyprus, where there are established criminal elements involved in gray arms sales and illegal off shore financial activity. Technology, weapons, and military capability are becoming widely available, some at low cost. In some areas an SA-7 shoulder-fired, anti-aircraft missile can be bought for as little as $200.
On October 20, 2004, the Iranian Defense Ministry claimed it had successfully tested a prototype of its upgraded SHAHAB 3 ground-to-ground missile. Its range of 812 miles can reach most of Turkey, graphically illustrating another security challenge for the eastern Mediterranean countries. These countries will be engaged in a tense security situation if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon capability. While most states in the region would argue that they did not worry about a possible nuclear attack from Iran, Israel would not be able to dismiss the potential threat. This would place Turkey in a difficult security position due to its developed security relationship with Israel and its efforts to develop security and economic ties with Iran.
Iraq is certainly of concern for most of the eastern Mediterranean countries. It has ceased to be a conventional threat as it was under Saddam Hussein, but it remains an area of instability. The most demanding of Iraq?s security challenges in the coming years may come in the form of Kurdish nationalism. With Kurds comprising 20 percent of Turkey?s population and less than 10 percent of Syria?s population, both nations would potentially be affected. The U.S. is currently assessing the potential for Kurdish nationalism to affect the territorial integrity of Turkey.
Panel II: The Future of U.S. Strategic Engagement
Moderator: Mr. John Sitilides, Executive Director, Western Policy Center
Mr. Matthew Bryza
Director for Europe and Eurasia, National Security Council
Mr. Bryza?'s remarks were off the record.
Amb. Thomas Weston
Adjunct Professor, Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University
I operate under the assumption that Turkey will ultimately join the European Union because, if it does not, we are dealing with a very different strategic engagement by the U.S. in the eastern Mediterranean and Europe. The U.S. approach to strategic engagement in the eastern Mediterranean has been based on the phenomena of growth, stability, an improved quality of life, democratic practices, and the rule of law due to the prospect of membership in the EU for countries in the Balkans, the Caucasus, and wider Europe.
U.S. strategic relations in the region will be based on the overall relations of the European Union with the eastern Mediterranean and the changes taking place within the EU. I see the benefits of what the EU can become with Turkey as a member. There will be a different quality of U.S. strategic engagement with Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus when Turkey is in the EU. Up until now, Washington?s engagement with Greece and Turkey has been through NATO, which left Cyprus outside, since it is not a NATO member. U.S. strategic relations with Turkey are in a different category because of its role with respect to the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East, and South Asia, particularly Pakistan. Turkey is a necessary strategic partner for the U.S. in this regard.
Iran now has a missile that can strike Turkey. I hope a successful effort is carried out by the EU or the U.N. to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear capability. If not, the countries in the eastern Mediterranean region will have to think in terms of regional deterrence, with Turkey playing an important role. Both Israel and India are potential partners for Turkey in this regard.
China is becoming a huge energy consumer and one of the more dynamic economic powers. China?s impact on the Middle East through its economy and energy needs has to be taken into account when talking about external influences on the eastern Mediterranean.
Unpredictable elements that would have a significant impact on the United States are the future of Iraq, particularly if U.S. policy fails in the country, and the potential for a massive energy shock, or wider economic shock, that would affect the U.S. economy.
Dr. Steven Meyer
Professor of Political Science, Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University
Editor'?s Note: Dr. Meyer?s remarks are his personal views and do not reflect the views of the U.S. government or the Department of Defense.
The world that is emerging in a strategic sense is one in which the units or structures of the international system are changing, perhaps radically so. In this sense, there may be some parallel to that period of time in Europe when the Medieval world was collapsing and the modern world was beginning to take shape.
In the contemporary configuration, the state, in most cases, is no longer a synonym for power, sovereignty, and governance. State borders are now more porous, physically and technically. The ability to command and control has changed, moving beyond the state. In addition to the state, we see, more or less, the following in the international system: the rise of the supra-state, such as the EU; the increasing importance of regions since the end of the Cold War; the prevalence of non-governmental organizations, running from international business to terrorists to humanitarian groups; and the increasing significance of individuals as a unit in international law. In the world that is emerging, the prominence and importance of these units are coming together with new deliberateness and intensity, leading to new patterns of globalization, sovereignty, and international law.
In the eastern Mediterranean, we see these new trends and forces coming together more so perhaps than any other place on earth. The most important of these are what we call terrorist organizations -- others see them as something quite different. The Palestinian Authority is a prime example of a non-state actor in the region that commands a certain sovereignty, exercises power, and maintains a level of governance. With the disintegration of Iraq, the Kurdish region, which spans a number of traditional states, is taking on new importance, much to the chagrin of the Turks. Iraq has developed into an example of this emerging world, not only in terms of an internal insurrection conducted by different sub-national forces, but also an insurrection conducted by exogenous forces.
Lebanon remains a fractured state, with sovereignty, power, and governance more important on many issues at sub-national levels than at the state level. The Lebanese state is held together by an uneasy alliance of naturally antagonistic ethno-religious groups, which might be coming apart again. In the Balkans, corruption bridges many state sovereignties and wields enormous economic and political power. Criminal groups are, in fact, about the only power and form of governance that draws peoples in all Balkan states together.
American strategic policy in the eastern Mediterranean region is outmoded. It clings to the past and harkens back to a world the U.S. is comfortable with, but one that does not reflect the reality of a vastly changing environment. Much of Washington?s strategic vocabulary is couched in military or security terms. This is a function of the fact that the Department of Defense has become so powerful in defining what American strategy is. The United States clings to a NATO alliance as a theoretical or rhetorical construct that has very little relevance in the new strategic environment. This is especially true for out-of-area assignments, such as the eastern Mediterranean. While NATO performed a vital function during the Cold War, it no longer has usefulness. It is especially bankrupt as an anti-terrorist or anti-crime organization. History has moved on and, despite a mutual commitment to democratic structures and functions, there is a growing schism between the U.S. and much of ?old? Europe, as well as divisions within Europe.
The United States needs to reorient its strategic focus, particularly in the eastern Mediterranean, by recognizing the changes taking place and dismantling NATO because it does not relate to the reality of the world that is emerging. Washington should rethink the entire CINC system. CENTCOM and EUCOM, for example, have little relevance to the realities of the eastern Mediterranean region. The U.S. should rely much less on the Pentagon as the answer to many of the region?s problems and integrate other government and non-government agencies into the process. This process will, of necessity, emphasize regional approaches. The U.S. should also recognize that there are problems that it will not be able to resolve, for example, certain levels of corruption. It will simply have to help others manage these problems. This does not mean that Washington cannot establish more effective regimes to deal with crimes such as human trafficking and drugs.
Dr. Ian Lesser
Senior Fellow, Western Policy Center
Traditionally, the United States has looked at the eastern Mediterranean in three ways: as part of the European security environment, as an ?ante-room? to the Gulf, and as a collection of crises and ?functional? problems. The U.S. has been a power in the Mediterranean for 200 years and, for the last 50 years, at least, has viewed the region primarily as an extension of European