The terror attacks of 11th September 2001 in New York City and Washington D.C. were one of the most horrific events in contemporary international relations. The perpetrators of this massacre sought to undermine global security and also tried to move the world in the direction of a "clash of civilizations", as Samuel P. Huntington had highlighted in his famous writings.
The dramatic course of events that shock the world served as a wake up call that resulted in a fundamental change in the concept of security. The comprehensive security review that followed ensured that everyone become more vigilant, more attentive and more engaged in regions of instability around the world. The 9/11 terror attacks drove home the message that managing security knows no borders. In the post-Cold War world traditional security concerns that focus exclusively on military threats have been supplemented by so-called soft security risks and threats. This category of security challenges includes organized crime, drug trafficking, illegal migration, terrorism and climate change
The security review that has taken place during the past ten years has rested on three main pillars. First, there has been more of a focus on crisis prevention. The Global War on Terror (GWOT) and military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq have seen hundreds of billions of dollars spent annually with the main strategic objective being the eradication of terrorists. This campaign culminated with the assassination of Bin Laden this year and the continuous suppression of Al Qaeda operatives.
Second, today's security intelligence world is a more of a global village than ever before. State and non-state actors are much more willing to share the task of intelligence gathering and monitoring which has resulted in the creation of a more interdependent security system. This security agenda includes a more direct link between national security and human security, where the safeguarding of innocent civilians is a top priority.
Third, in order to create a stronger safety net worldwide it became obvious that more of an effort was required towards fostering a better understanding between cultures and religions. This security re-think goes beyond introducing more of an attitude of tolerance. It has focused on emphasizing the necessity to respect all cultures and religions, especially in the Mediterranean region where the three main religions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism are located.
The very fluid nature of international relations during the first decade of the new millennium has thus resulted in an ever-changing global security landscape. Perceptual changes taking place in the Euro-Mediterranean security environment demanded a strategic re-think when it comes to addressing and managing more effectively sources of instability.
The European Security Strategy adopted in 2003 and revised in 2008 largely echoes the strategic perspective that the American Security Strategy has in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Terrorism and WMD are the main challenges highlighted with reference to the growing north-south divide being largely absent in the strategic doctrines put forward.
The Mediterranean is already a geo-strategic area where numerous sources of insecurity threaten to escalate and put regional and international stability at risk. Security challenges that need to be urgently addressed include the collapse of failed states, the increase of terrorist activities, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the proliferation of all types of weapons, energy security, environmental degradation and the ever-increasing state of economic disparity between the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean.
Given the fluid nature of security after the first decade of the new millennium what strategic policy needs to be implemented to minimize the level of turbulence between different states across the Mediterranean area? Can a regional Mediterranean security arrangement be established to address security challenges in a more consistent and coherent manner? Given the heterogeneous nature of the Mediterranean system of states is it more feasible to address security challenges through smaller sub regional groupings of states? Does the diversity of security interests especially along the north-south axis of Mediterranean relations dictate that security issues can only be contained effectively through the active engagement of extra regional actors such as the United States, European Union, the United Nations and the Group of 20? Addressing these fundamental questions is essential if a more secure environment is to be established across the Mediterranean area.
In the post-Cold War the main actor that has sought to increase its influence in the security agenda of the Mediterranean is the European Union. Since the launching of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership in November 1995 the participating European and Mediterranean states have consistently agreed to introduce and develop confidence building measures in an effort to reduce already existing tensions and especially as a mechanism to prevent additional clashes from emerging. While recognizing the different perceptions that exist due to ongoing conflicts in the region, in particular the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the process of Euro-Mediterranean dialogue has resulted in the emergence of a common security culture that focuses on preventing an escalation of hostilities.
Since the end of the Cold War and especially after the September 11 2001 attacks there has however been a continuous perception in Europe of a threat from the Middle East. The flow of news reports coming from the Middle East predominantly feature threatening images such as extremists preaching hatred against the West, or terrorists displaying contempt for human rights, or brutal dictators seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
Such images portray the Middle East as an alien, hostile and backward region. They also help focus attention on the large migrant communities across Europe from these countries. Xenophobia towards migrant communities across Europe has strengthened and given rise to large right-wing political movements in France, Britain and the Netherlands.
In reality the economic affluence that Europe enjoys and militarily supremacy especially when compared to its southern neighbours, makes the suggestion that the Middle East is a threat to Europe seem nonsensical. Yet, since the end of the Cold War there has been an increasing perception in Europe and North America that the new enemy after communism would come from the Middle East. Alarmist propaganda fuelled by the media has focused on the emergence of an Islamic jihad against the West, particularly after the 9/11 attacks against the United States.
The European Union's inadequate response to the flow of a large number of people seeking political asylum or refugee status also underlined the hollow commitment advanced countries have when it comes to humanitarian policies and welfare resources. Falling birthrates in Europe coupled with the large number of arrivals from the southern shores of the Mediterranean led many pundits to question what impact such a phenomenon would have on the future identity of the different nation states of Europe.
During the first decade of the new millennium negative perceptions of the Middle East have been further fuelled by constant images of violence and terror activities including Islamic extremists preaching hatred against the West (Iran, Lebanon), terrorists displaying contempt for human rights , brutal dictators flush with billions of dollars of oil money often seeking to purchase all types of weapons, and Muslim leaders and masses determined to establish Islamic states with laws that go against secular Western standards of civilization.
Bombardment of such images by the 24/7 media has led European audiences to develop more of a racist and xenophobic attitude towards the Middle East during the past decade.
The revival of Islamic extremism easily provokes fears across Europe of a resurgence of the Islamic faith seeking to make up for past battles lost. Political sensitivity to migrant communities is easily amplified as a result of long-term high levels of unemployment in Europe. If not addressed in a concerted manner the Huntingtonian clash of civilizations theory could become a more realistic perspective in Euro-Mediterranean security discourse in the decades ahead. This is an outcome that would have catastrophic consequences for all peoples of the Mediterranean and is therefore a scenario that must be fiercely rejected.
After the tragic events of September 11th 2001 and subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is in the international community’s interest to avoid the emergence of new fault-lines such as the poverty curtain that is settling between the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean. Improving the livelihood of the millions of people along the southern shores of the Mediterranean must emerge as a concerted transatlantic foreign policy goal if such a division is not to become a permanent feature of the Mediterranean region.
If the clash of civilizsations scenario is not to attract tens of thousands of recruits in the years ahead the West must find ways of opening further channels of communication with all governments in the Mediterranean, including possible Islamic regimes. Otherwise the slow process of democratization in the Maghreb and the Mashreq will come to a halt and the wave of anti-Western radicalization may increase.
Some estimates envisage as many as twenty million people in North Africa opting for emigration into Europe in the coming few years, where salaries are anything between eight to ten times higher than in the South. The emergence of a “Fortress like Europe” where borders are sealed in an effort to discourage possible migrants would only exacerbate this problem further. European policy-makers should recall that large communities of workers originating in sub region of the Mediterranean such as the Maghreb, have already made a significant contribution to the success of European industry.
While the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and the subsequent Union for the Mediterranean have sought to arrest the process of polarization between the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean, the post-Cold War era has so far not seen a significant reversal of this trend. This structural development is what is stifling the establishment of a co-operative Mediterranean region.
More than half a century ago, a Christian philosopher , thinker and politician, Giorgio Lapira, in the face of the first awakening of Arab nationalissim fuelled by the struggle for independence of North African countries, convened in Florence the so- called Mediterranean Colloquies in October 1958. The scope of these meetings which took place in the Tuscan city in four sessions in 1958, 1960, 1961 and 1964 was the creation of an axis of nations based on the three monotheistic religions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism- three religions in direct link with the patriarch Abraham. In a letter dated 4th May 1958 addressed to Pope Pius XII in view of this Arab awakening, Lapira wrote: Il colloquio mediterraneo di Firenze…ha proprio questo scopo: co-operare alla edificazione di questo asse delle nazioni. Poesia? no; realta` politica profonda…..Even though Lapira` s intentions were mostly religion-oriented, with the axis of the nations based on three different religions aimed at fighting atheism, the Colloqui- if at all- were a precocious and defining moment of Mediterrranean co-operation.
In the wake of this second Arab awakening- based on thirst for justice freedom and democraarcy, Europe cannot remain inactive. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to build bridges as Lapira did. Comunita` di Sant Egidio can act as a spur in collaboration with European Governments which are in agreement with this idea- to organize ,now that the Arab wave of freedom and liberty has crystallized in concrete progress in the establishment of new governments, an inter faith dialogue meeting on the same lines as the Colloqui Mediterranei of Lapira but adapted to the realities, language and peculiarities of the modern age.…. a A sort of Assisi meeting focused on the Mediterranean, the three monotheistic religions, with all Mediterranean states participating. This could be organized even with UFM assistance and co-operation perhaps revitalizing and re-launching this Union which is finding it difficult to stand up on its feet and start functioning properly.
Malta has been at the forefront in the promotion of security and co-operation in the Mediterranean. It has been present at creation in the establishment of all the Mediterraneenan fora, a series of concentric circles some overlapping over others, trying to create bridges and points of contact.
It supported the setting up of the UFM with a co-presidency between North and South and the establishment of a secretariat made up of Mediterranean states for the first time. It has also succeeded in setting up in Malta a Liaison Office between the European Commission and the League of Arab States. This is led by a small Steering Committee with the LAS having a permanent representative on this Committee. But why not develop this small embryonic secretariat into a permanent dialogue between European and Arab states. Let me explain this thought.
The European Union is in the habit of organizing summits at heads of state and government level between its member states and states of particular regions in the world. Every two years summits of this kind are held in Central and Latin America, and the Asian countries. Why not extend this structure to a neighbouring region, the Arab world?. This would be beneficial both ways in political and economic terms. The regular holding of such Summits every two years once in Europe and once in a member state of the League of Arab States would transform the current haphazard dialogue reacting only to crisis, to a permanent dialogue with countries ,peoples and a region geographically and culturally close to the Union.
A New Euro-Mediterranean Strategic Partnership
The winds of change that have swept across the southern shores of the Mediterranean in 2011 have resulted in a fundamental geopolitical paradigm shift that will result in a completely different political landscape in this region of the world.
The Arab street has spoken. Either their legitimate demands are gradually met by serious action or an orderly transition will soon give way to a more chaotic if not anarchic future.
The 2011 “Arab Spring” provides the EU with an excellent opportunity to re-assess its policy towards its southern neighbours! The EU must unveil a new strategic frame work that seeks to consolidate transition towards democracy, the respect of basic freedoms, the rule of law and market economy.
In order to support the winds of change in the Mediterranean the EU should focus on those countries that are fully determined to undertake essential political and economic reforms, but without intervening in their affairs. When it comes to specific practical policy recommendations several measures can be introduced in the short-term.
First, the EU should focus on those countries that are fully determined to undertake essential political and economic reforms, but without intervening in their affairs. With these countries it should enter into a quasi-permanent reform dialogue and make available the necessary funding. Effectiveness should be the name of the game. That is only possible in a bilateral framework that allows tailor-made solutions.
Second, the region must also address the dire need for a qualified labour force, especially in the field of basic and vocational education and teacher training. Education should be a priority for future cooperation. To be effective the EU should engage in a multi-annual programme for primary, vocational and teacher training that should include teaching methods and curricula. The task is gigantic. The EU should not hesitate to invest one third of the total funding available until 2013, say some € 2 billion. Here too it should call upon the World Bank to participate.
The region will need substantially more technically and scientifically trained young people. Under its “Erasmus Mundi Programme” the EU should offer up to 4000 scholarships to students from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia in forthcoming years.
Third, to give a boost to agricultural employment the EU should conclude the ongoing negotiations for agricultural free trade and temporarily exempt restrictions (duties and quotas) for agricultural products imported from Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.
Fourth, in the perspective of 2050, North Africa will become Europe's major supplier of solar energy. The EU should immediately offer support to those countries interested in engaging in future solar-energy cooperation. The three Maghreb countries of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya are the most likely candidates for such links.
Fifth, for socio-economic reasons the EU will not be able to open its floodgates to millions of Arabs from the southern shores of the Mediterranean. It must make this point clear. But the EU should show itself more flexible when it comes to granting visas for business people, researchers and scientists.
Political and economic reform on such a large scale will require an extremely significant amount of resources and coordination. In the short-term a multi-billion Euro Mediterranean Development Fund that is open to all donors should be set up. Such a Fund would provide assistance to those championing serious democratic reform in areas that have regularly been highlighted in the United Nations Arab Human Development Reports including the building of law based institutions, education and the empowerment of women.
Geographic proximity and geopolitical interests dictate that the European Union must revise its approach towards the Mediterranean and put forward a more practical diplomatic agenda that demonstrates its serious commitment to a more open and free Mediterranean area. The mission statement outlined in the Barcelona Declaration of November 1995 that focuses on the political and security, economic and financial, and socio-cultural and human dimension of relations is a framework upon which future comprehensive relations can be mapped out.
Having championed the concept of partnership for the past fifteen years now is the time for the European Union to demonstrate its credibility when it comes to championing political reform, democratic institutions, economic development, and the respect for universal human rights. If a future European Union Mediterranean policy review is to be successful it must balance realpolitik interests with the principles and values that we all cherish. Otherwise we will not be judged as being on the correct side of history.
Malta’s active participation in Euro-Mediterranean initiatives since becoming independent positions it favorably to progressively further the overriding objectives of increasing stability and promoting prosperity in the Mediterranean. Enhancing pan-Mediterranean co-operation is a fundamental necessity if intra-regional intergovernmental and transnational opportunities are to be nurtured and strengthened.
At this critical stage in Euro-Mediterranean relations it is essential to identify a set of practical confidence building measures that would create the necessary conducive environment within which a secure, stable and prosperous Mediterranean region can be established.
A sea change is taking place across the Mediterranean. It is essential that the geopolitical paradigm shift does not result in a new Cold War between the Arab world and the West. There are no political gimmicks or quick fixes for turning North Africa into democracies, fully respecting the rule of law with functioning market economies. It will be a challenge for the next few decades. Europe has a vital interest in a smooth transition. It will need to invest all the political, economic and human capital possible to ensure this venture is a successful one.