Political unsteadiness in Mediterranean: possible reasons from the past to recent -Ziaul Haque Ziad


Mediterranean Sea, an intercontinental sea, elongates from the Atlantic Ocean to the west of Asia, on the east and separate Europe from Africa. Historically, Mediterranean region has a unique global position with some most bizarre geostrategic corners such as the Suez Canal, strait of Gibraltar, with an open access to Black sea. This geostrategic global position escalates the Mediterranean importance worldwide. On the other, disparateness of religious, cultural and working as academic bridge among the Arab world, North America and European Union also meliorate this region to play a vital role in global politics.
Political peace and economic gap have been a concerning issue in Mediterranean region. Global financial and economic crisis, the Arab spring, US’s partial strategic withdrawal from the region, European incapability to play one single game makes more vulnerable political situation in this region.
In contrast, there are 2 broad arenas concerning the matter of peace in the Mediterraneanregion. One is maritime jurisdiction and national boundaries among the Mediterranean countries. Another is use or misuse of sea/ocean resources.
As well as external powerful political influence in this region also create a pathway of conflicts in Mediterranean region i.e. European community influence, USA’s powerful effect like Syria’s civil war, Soviet Union influence before 1991. Nowadays, Russia, Iran and league of Arab and its affiliated organizations have also entered into the Mediterranean Region Politics. The issue of militarization of this region and deep political disputes have a concern for eastern Mediterranean region.
The recent conflict has created an agreement between Libya and Turkey. On November 2019, Turkey and Libya has signed two agreements on maritime boundaries and military cooperation. Although all the conditions of those agreement has not yet been announced by both countries, already Greece and Egypt called this agreement was illegal. Greece objects this agreement because they claimed that memorandum between turkey and Libya would increase the violation in this region and it could delay the peace in Libya.
The East Mediterranean’s huge potential resource like hydrocarbon subsea riches.The energy resources of the North Sea could turn the region into “one of the world’s most important sources of natural gas over the next half-century. US geological survey estimated that resource would be somewhere between 122tcf and 227tcf (as well as 1.7 billion barrels of oil), this wealth would be a billion dollar business in this region. If these resources fully utilized, it would be the potential for transforming the international energy market, decreasing Europe’s dependence on Russian gas, huge impactful factor for development of the economies of the East Mediterranean countries and cutting electricity shortages and brownouts in the region.
Now, Greece is in a conflicts with Turkey over territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea, where both sides nearly came to war in 1987. The Aegean Sea has around 3000 islands, islets and rocks scattered around, with no explicit ownership of the smaller formations given to Turkey or Greece in international treaties. Since the 1970s, the two countries have had disputes over the extension of territorial waters, continental shelves, national airspaces and the Flight Information Region (FIR), as well as the militarization of the Greek islands on the Eastern Aegean. Ankara claims that Greece is trying to turn the Aegean into a Greek lake, whereas Athens argues that Turkey violates Greek sovereignty. This two countries conflict now again for 2 reasons, one is Turkey-Libya agreement & in mid-April, Greek soldiers opened fire on a Turkish helicopter, a Greek fighter jet crashed into the Aegean Sea on its return from one of the mock dog fights with Turkish warplanes. Both Athens and Ankara make liable each other for this attack.
Strategic transformation of Turkey is also another big factor in this region. Islamo-Nationalist foreign policy has been changing Turkey under the supervision of president Erdogan. Another infliction is Turkey’s friendly attitude towards Iran and Russia apart from the conflict of interest in Syria. Until 2001, Turkey has a good relationship with Israel. But Turkey’s new gunboat diplomacy put its odds with traditional partners U.S, Europe, Egypt and Israel. Turkey was a NATO allies before 2001. Nowadays, Turkey turns away from its traditional role. In 2019, Turkey’s acquisition of advanced S-400 air defences from Moscow indicates that Ankara doesn’t want to stay its traditional role. The Turkish government has continually tried to pressure the U.S. into handing over Gulen since shortly after the failed July 15 coup attempt. Due to the issue of Turkey’s leader Fethullah Gulen, Turkey blamed that USA was behind this military coup attempt. USA’s another headache is policy divergence with Turkey in the issue of Syria. At first both countries took attempt to diminish the ISIS in Syria. But at certain point, Turkey used its attempt against Syrian Kurdis. These factors are the reasons behind the decline of USA-Turkey relationship.
Natural gas reserves of 9.8 trillion cubic metres in the Levant Basin and the Nile Delta Basin has representing 5% of global reserves which have been discovered in the Eastern Mediterranean. This reserve gas distribution is one of the issues which create controversy in Mediterranean region. It is again the Euro-Mediterranean region which provided all together nearly 20% (Mostly Algeria and Libya) of all natural gas to the EU in recent days. Natural resource is another vital product in Mediterranean region. Especially for the EU, the import of natural resources from North African states (particularly Libya and Algeria) is of a vital importance. The EU imported most of its all crude oil from Libya, Algeria, Syria and Tunisia.
Tourism is also an important factor for Mediterranean region. 30% of world tourist destination is Mediterranean region. Population of coastal region has been increase from 100 to 200 million, this increase happened since 1970. Due to the tourism business, coastal areas development encourages people to live here. Tourist arrival rate has increased to 500 million within 2030, which was only 58 million in 1970. This larger proportion has gone to coastal areas.
Iran and Russian political and military influence in Mediterranean region has created a potential environment of disputes in this region. With the strategic withdrawal of USA from Syria has opened the door for Russia to become powerful in this region. Moreover, open access to Black sea is very much important for Russia to establish its business, superiority in global politics. Iran’s growing presence in the eastern Mediterranean has thus naturally raised the country’s profile in the Euro-med region, for the parties with which Iran has built up considerable security links, most notably Hezbollah and Hamas, are the very sub-state actors that the majority of European countries find objectionable. Iran, Turkey and Russian partnership has created a security question in this region.
It has already been mentioned about the USA’s strategic leave from Mediterranean. The USA is focusing more on bouncing geostrategic area, namely the Asia-Pacific region: with 50% of total world trade and 60% of total world GDP running in this region. Another attractive point is South Chinese Sea, where 80% of all crude oil for China goes through there and partially the Middle East (main sea routes for crude oil to provide the USA). These geostrategic reasons would suggest that USA will give less importance in Mediterranean region in upcoming days.
Maritime jurisdiction, Exclusive economic zone (EEC) and discoveries of hydrocarbons in 2009 increase political vulnerability of Mediterranean region. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is one of the underlying factors of conflict. Israel, Turkey and Syria have not signed the UNCLOS. Egypt, Lebanon and Cyprus have signed the UNCLOS. UNCLOS creates the 3 types of political instability in this region. UNCLOS creates another controversy among countries on the issue of fishing and economic zone. Fishing is an important activity in the Mediterranean in terms of employment, income and food security.
Another important conflict is gas exploration. At the beginning of 2O19, Egypt, Israel, Greece, Cyprus, Jordan, Italy, and Palestine established a forum called the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) to transport the newly discovered gas reserves from the Eastern Mediterranean to southern Europe. But recently the allied countries excluded Turkey from the forum, leading it to expand its drilling operations.This claimed that it’s happened due to Turkey’s maritime drilling operations in Cyprus. Turkey claimed about the Cyprus maritime zone. After this exclusion, Turkey didn’t stop its activities in Cyprus; on the other, they signed an agreement on maritime issues and military cooperation with Libya. Khalifa Haftar on April, 2020 surprisingly declared himself the ruler of Libya. He said that UN agreement lost it’s acceptance in the Libya. Since 2011, Libya’s peace falls apart from country. Now Haftar’s activity could make longer the peace process of Libya.
Lack of cooperation, distribution of resources, country’s military activities would delay the peace in this region. The Multiple cooperation within countries, proper distribution of natural resources and restrictions of military activities these would create a door of peace in Mediterranean region.

The author is a student of University of Dhaka.