“From migration to energy and food security, the Mediterranean has emerged as an overlooked front in Russia’s war with the West. As its name suggests, the Mediterranean is a sea that sits between lands. For better or worse, it connects Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, transporting fuel, grain, and refugees from one shore to another. As such, it can serve as a source of stability for Europe or as a site of disruption for actors like Russia that seek to threaten that stability.

Russia is not the only power that seeks to challenge the crumbling security order in the Mediterranean: China and Iran are also working to gain a foothold in a region that is becoming increasingly contested, and that remains central to the geopolitics of the eastern hemisphere. The United States has been present in the Mediterranean since the early 19th century. If Washington is to remain a potent force here, it should develop a coherent strategy prioritizing free utilization of the seas rather than debates over its ownership. This will require efforts to strengthen democracy across the region, as well as to reinforce old and new alliances on both shores of the Mediterranean. Only by doing so can Washington counter the increased territorialization of the sea and growing Chinese geo-economic influence over Mediterranean ports. 

At the Center of Three Crises

Today, the Mediterranean stands at the crossroads of multiple crises engineered by Russia as part of its effort to weaken Europe’s resolve. Take the energy crisis: Europe needs to quickly find new sources of energy and many of those immediately available sit inside or just beyond the Mediterranean basin. Algerian and Libyan hydrocarbons are obvious solutions, and so is the liquefied natural gas that can be imported from Qatar — via the Mediterranean. In the longer term, actors are already working to fill the void left by the expected absence of Russian gas by accelerating the exploitation of gas reserves recently found off the coast of Egypt, Israel, and Cyprus. These reserves have already fueled tensions between NATO allies Greece and Turkey, even at a time when oil and gas were cheap. With prices now going through the roof, and the problems of ownership and transportation still unresolved, one can only expect these tensions to get worse and to fuel divisions inside the alliance. It is worth remembering that when French President Emmanuel Macron infamously described NATO as “brain-dead,” he was primarily referring to the acrimony between France and Turkey over the eastern Mediterranean, as well as the perceived passivity of other Western allies. …”

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