March 2002 - Throughout most of the 1990s, security issues in the waters of the eastern Mediterranean region were shaped by three factors: the end of the Cold War, the naval aspects of the conflicts in the territory of the former Yugoslavia, and the continuing antagonism between Greece and Turkey over the Aegean Sea and Cyprus.

The U.S. naval presence in the region declined as the Soviet navy disappeared, and missions in the Middle East and the western Pacific rose in relative prominence. On the other hand, European states, such as Italy, France, and Spain, exerted more regional influence through NATO and EU initiatives. Specifically, they initiated maritime interdiction operations in the Adriatic Sea in 1992, created the Mediterranean Dialogue talks with North African states, and developed combined naval structures such as the European Maritime Force (EUROMARFOR).

Even though Greece and Turkey have failed to reach agreement on Aegean issues and the Cyprus problem remains unresolved, the quality of Greek-Turkish bilateral communication is improving.

As a result of recent developments, including a lull in the Balkan conflicts, the September 11 terrorist attacks, the emergence of an EU military force, and improved dialogue between Greece and Turkey, a new maritime security environment has started to take hold in the region, one that offers many avenues for future cooperation at the local, regional, and global levels. This is significant because the importance of the eastern Mediterranean continues to grow.

The flow of oil and gas from Central Asia to world markets will likely pass through this region, depending on the location and number of the shipping routes and pipelines that are developed. An appreciable increase in the flow of oil and gas through the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean is expected to require the constant presence of U.S. and allied forces at some level.

The need to protect Europe and the United States from the potential spread of terrorism from the Middle East to the West also increases the importance of securing the land, sea, and air routes through the region. In addition, the future expansion of the EU to the Balkans and Cyprus will require more attention to Greek-Turkish relations and the military and economic stability of the region as a whole.

At the local level, improved relations between Greece and Turkey have laid the groundwork for a more constructive future with regard to naval matters.

First, in 1998, both states implemented naval confidence-building measures (CBMs) that included prior notification of the location and date of their respective military exercises, direct communication between the chiefs of the navies, and an end to provocative movements by their respective naval vessels that had caused incidents at sea. These CBMs are functioning well for both navies. However, these measures will probably be limited to the bilateral relationship between Greece and Turkey, since proposals for multilateral CBMs in regional seas in other areas of the world have met with opposition from navies that routinely deploy forces on a global basis, such as those of the U.S., Britain, and France.

Second, the navies of both Greece and Turkey have in place limited modernization and expansion programs that probably will not result in any significant shift in the balance of power in the region or be seen as provocative enough to start a naval arms race between the two countries. Greece and Turkey are constrained by tight budgets, pressing domestic spending programs, and security issues outside the Aegean.

Third, improvements in the prospects for a settlement in Cyprus could remove a potential flashpoint for both navies and pave the way for new missions.

Turkey's interest in the Black Sea, the Caucasus, and Southwest Asia is expected to draw its security policy increasingly in those directions. The prospect of oil and gas exports from the Caspian region to the West through Turkey has engaged Turkey with Russia and Iran, its Central Asian neighbors. In addition, threats to Turkey from Iraqi or Iranian missiles and Turkish support for U.S. policies in the Middle East are pushing Turkey's security interests toward cooperation with the United States and Israel on air defense systems aimed at the south and the east.

Security interests in the Balkans may become of paramount concern to Athens as stabilization efforts in the region focus on F.Y.R. Macedonia and Albania, where European states will have more influence. The EU rapid reaction force is expected to take over the command of the peacekeeping force in F.Y.R. Macedonia from NATO, and the EU will expand its role in other states. If Albania should become unstable again, it will be the EU that will take action. In 1997, Italy, with strong Greek support, helped to stabilize the country by leading the first de facto European Combined Joint Task Force operation.

At the regional level, the role of the EU in the eastern Mediterranean may take on greater urgency in the years ahead.

In addition to the EU's ongoing peacekeeping role, there will likely be increased cooperation among the navies of EU countries on a range of "soft security" issues in the Mediterranean region. Interdiction of drug trafficking, protection against uncontrolled migration, humanitarian intervention against human smuggling, and the enforcement of environmental and fishery regulations are all part of the new agenda. EU outreach to the Mediterranean littoral nations is taking place concerning these issues and will involve cooperation within the European Union and with other regional powers. This should be another avenue for Greek-Turkish cooperation, as navies work together to meet these non-traditional threats.

At the global level, the Mediterranean will be the site of increased activity by the U.S. and its allies. In response to the September 11 attacks, the global campaign against terrorism has included the use of naval forces to track and interdict suspected terrorist networks on the high seas. The eastern Mediterranean is a waterway between known sources of international terrorism and their potential targets and hiding places in Europe. It is also rich in maritime traffic that could hide the movements of terrorists.

The U.S. and its allies have already focused their naval activity in the region toward meeting the potential threat of terrorism, and they will probably have a presence in the region that will be capable of gathering intelligence, tracking the movement of suspect ships on the high seas, and, if necessary, stopping and engaging suspect ships and persons. As long as the U.S. is able to garner political support from Greece and Turkey for this mission, the opportunities for expanded cooperation among the alliance's navies are excellent.

Since September 11, the importance of the Mediterranean as a highway for the U.S. and its allies has been reinforced. The security of the transit route through the Mediterranean, which enables forces to reach the areas of confrontation in the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf, is of concern to the U.S. and its allies. Increased coordination is required to protect transiting forces, monitor ship and air traffic movements, and maintain a robust intelligence picture of the region. If a broad anti-terror coalition is to be maintained, the circle of cooperating navies in the region needs to encompass many nations, especially Greece and Turkey.


The views expressed in this article are those of Dr. Whiteneck and do not represent the opinions of the Center for Naval Analyses Corporation (CNAC), the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.