The Eastern Mediterranean: Strategic Geography Again

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The Eastern Mediterranean: Strategic Geography Again
By: Samuel Brannen
@csis_isp

The Eastern Mediterranean was once a strategic geography discussed in reverent tones in Washington. It was NATO’s southern flank: a gateway to chokepoints and supply routes, in the crosshairs of the Soviet Union, and ignored at the peril of global stability. The Eastern Mediterranean demanded deep subject matter expertise, drove Pentagon planning, and invited big geopolitical strategy from the Truman Doctrine through the Camp David Accords.

After the Cold War’s end, the United States largely managed crises as they appeared and fostered stability in the region despite waves of instability on its periphery. This was a successful overall strategy for the region for several decades.

But in recent years, shifting domestic politics, internal violent conflict, and uncooperative governments across the region have challenged an ad hoc and disaggregated approach to advancing U.S. interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. Traditional regional allies such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel are asserting themselves in ways that are increasingly at odds with U.S. policy. NATO has failed to reengage the region. And Russia, China, and Iran are increasingly asserting themselves, exposing the region again to the return dangers of international competition with consequence for transatlantic and global security.

Former Supreme Allied Commander Europe Admiral Jim Stavridis and others have rightly observed that the United States needs a new strategic approach for the Eastern Mediterranean. But before such a strategy can be created, the United States simply needs an updated understanding of the changes underway across the region. Washington needs to understand how Eastern Mediterranean capitals view their own regional dynamics, and what it is they would want from U.S. influence, let alone how they might be willing to cooperate to reinvigorate a regional security approach. In the year ahead, working across its functional and regional programs, CSIS plans to engage in this deep analysis and understanding of a region that has returned to strategic prominence and peril.

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