Updated: 23 July 1999 NATO News Articles

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March 1997

"NATO and the Mediterranean"

By Javier Solana

Introduction: NATO's Potential Mediterranean Dimension

During the preliminary negotiations of the Washington Treaty of 1949, when Italy declared its desire to join the emerging Alliance, there was considerable debate whether a North Atlantic Alliance could be extended into the Mediterranean. As Italy had no geographical connection with the Atlantic, some argued it could not be part of an Atlantic Alliance. In retrospect, these arguments seem very slight, even pedantic. Luckily, the diplomats were more interested in defending common values rather than narrow geographical space. The initial result of this pragmatism was the accession of Italy to the Atlantic Alliance, and several more Mediterranean countries were to follow. No one could doubt today the far-sightedness of such pragmatism and the positive and profoundly stabilising effect that NATO has had on security in the region over the years.

As we approach the next century, NATO's stabilising potential for the Mediterranean region is, nonetheless, far from exhausted. The Atlantic Alliance has much to contribute to the building of new, cooperative security relationships across the Mediterranean region. But realising such potential first requires a fuller understanding of the Alliance's comprehensive approach to security today.

From its very beginning, the Atlantic Alliance - despite its name - had a strong Mediterranean dimension. However, the exigencies of the Cold War overshadowed regional specificity by focusing almost exclusively on Central Europe. Security in the Mediterranean was thus largely seen during this period as a part of the overall East-West confrontation, a fact reflected by the Mediterranean region being portrayed as NATO's "Southern Flank".

That period of bipolarity is now safely behind us. Yet both the Gulf War and the conflict in the former Yugoslavia have shown that a stable and enduring peace in and around Europe is yet to be achieved. They have added to the incentive for the Alliance to broaden its approach towards the Mediterranean region by viewing it as a region with its own specific dynamics and challenges - and with a still largely untapped potential for dialogue and cooperation on security issues. Indeed, the end of the East-West conflict allows us to adopt a far more differentiated, more comprehensive perspective on Mediterranean security.

The Mediterranean: A Region of Risks or Opportunities?

The lifting of the Iron Curtain changed fundamentally the nature of European, and even world, politics. And NATO has changed with it. The Alliance has moved from confrontation to cooperation and partnership with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, including Russia, Ukraine and other countries formerly part of the Soviet Union. Despite the difficulties of the transition process to democracy and market economy of these states, a general mood of optimism prevails there, particularly in security terms. By building bridges through programmes of outreach, cooperation and partnership, NATO has played a role in contributing to an enhanced sense of stability and security in this region.

When it comes to the Mediterranean, by contrast, many analysts tend to paint a gloomier picture. While countries along the Northern rim are increasingly prosperous as they move forward in the process of European political integration, many countries of the other side of the Mediterranean are seen to be moving in the opposite direction. This trend is characterised by ever-increasing birth rates, declining prosperity, and a tendency towards a less stable political environment.

The negative potential of developments in the Mediterranean should not be denied or glossed over. But what is arguable is the fatalistic undercurrent running through many analyses. Perhaps one ought to be thankful to Samuel Huntington for pointing out the importance of cultural factors in determining our security. Yet, on balance, his notion of a coming "clash of civilisations" looks itself very much like Western ethnocentrism. Certainly it may be tempting from a North American or North European perspective to characterise the Mediterranean as a kind of horizontal dividing line, separating the European North from an "arc of crisis" located in the South.

Yet the notion of the Mediterranean as a divide ignores the fact that the Mediterranean historically has been as much about commonality than about divisions. For millennia, the Mediterranean has been a fertile ground of ideas and concepts that guide us to this very day. For example, the project entitled "united Europe" is based on an idea of humanism and dignity that took its roots from along the shores of the Mediterranean. Thus, while there may not be a Mediterranean identity as such, one can find historic notions of a common space, common concerns and a common heritage - enough commonality, in any case, to make dialogue and cooperation with those in the region an effort worth undertaking.

Moreover, its fragility notwithstanding, the Middle East peace process reminds us that a fatalistic view of the political dynamics in the Mediterranean region is unjustified, and indeed self-defeating. To simply attempt to shield ourselves from the complexities of the South would deprive us of the opportunities to exert a positive influence on them. To see the Mediterranean as no more than the sum of its problems would ultimately become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The political evolution in this region can and should be steered in a positive direction. Instead of clinging to existing patterns, European institutions should seek proactive, constructive and specially tailored approaches to the region.

Mediterranean Security: The Need for a Comprehensive Approach

After the unnatural division created by the East-West confrontation, we are now seeing signs of a more mature relationship emerging between Europe and its Mediterranean neighbours. The growing importance of the Mediterranean is increasingly being recognised by many institutions dealing with matters of security in one way or the other: the European Union is developing a Mediterranean policy through the Barcelona process which I had the honour of chairing; the WEU has initiated a dialogue with the Maghreb countries. There is the Mediterranean Forum and proposals for a Conference for Security and Cooperation in the Mediterranean and the Middle East (CSCM).

It is possible to steer the political evolution of the entire region, not just of its Northern shores, in a constructive direction. We could, for example, make better use of our successful experience gained in Europe in confidence building and in providing fora for encouraging contact and dialogue, as well as initiating practical cooperation. Greater transparency concerning military activities can also help to minimise suspicions and misunderstanding. I believe that this open and cooperative approach has a considerable unexplored potential in the Mediterranean region.

For instance, we could draw more on the experience gained in other parts of Europe where multilateral structures and institutions for dialogue, arms control and confidence-building were developed in order to help ease tensions and prevent conflict. These kinds of structures - appropriately adjusted of course - could become usefully examined as means for providing a framework for dealing with new security challenges. The Mediterranean thus far remains poorly equipped in terms of multilateral frameworks to deal with such challenges. Without an institutional or procedural heritage, the Mediterranean region must build new security structures from scratch.

Of course, the problems may be too diverse or not sufficiently universal to be encompassed in a single, common institutional framework. We should not simply assume the relevancy to the Mediterranean region of the Central European model of confidence- and security-building. Our European institutions must consider ways for promoting understanding which suit Mediterranean conditions. This challenge deserves greater time and effort than we have hitherto given to it.

NATO's Contributions to Mediterranean Security

The effort to develop a re-invigorated Alliance approach to an enhanced Mediterranean dialogue and cooperation builds upon existing ways in which the Alliance plays a stabilising role in the Mediterranean. This contribution is today occurring on different levels.

Collective Defence

Pursuit by the Alliance of a more focussed, outward-looking approach to enhancing stability in the wider Mediterranean region can only occur by providing for the collective defence of its members, in particular the Mediterranean allies, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Turkey.

NATO's collective defence function has a considerable strategic value in providing a stabilising presence in a region like the Mediterranean where tensions exist and indeed conflict themselves have broken out. This stabilising function has been of paramount importance during the Gulf War and the war in the former Yugoslavia and should not be overlooked. It has played an important role in preventing the possibility of conflict spill-over in these crises. This role and the importance of collective defence is not always understood and needs to be explained. I will come back to this when I address our Mediterranean dialogue.

Crisis Management and Peacekeeping

Another element of the Alliance's contribution to security and stability in the Mediterranean region is its increased emphasis on crisis management. Since the end of the Cold War, the Alliance has given increasing attention to developing practical, cooperative instruments for crisis management. Recognising that in today's strategic environment regional crises are more likely to affect Allied security than direct threats, NATO has undergone a fundamental reorientation towards dealing with regional crisis and conflicts. This shift in emphasis became most visible in NATO's contribution to ending the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

The crisis in former Yugoslavia acted as a catalyst on the development of NATO's policy and the means for effective crisis intervention. In 1992, the Alliance began its support by monitoring and enforcing UN Security Council Resolutions which imposed embargoes on the ex-Yugoslavia. In December 1995, NATO, under the UN Security Council mandate, was called upon to replace the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina and to take the lead in implementing the terms of the military annex agreed by the Parties to the Dayton Peace Accords. The Alliance then organised, deployed and commanded a new phenomenon on the international scene - the multinational Implementation Force (IFOR).

Today, the IFOR has fulfilled its one-year mandate and has itself been replaced by a smaller follow-on force - the Stabilisation Force (SFOR), which will continue to ensure that the terms of the Dayton Accords in the military realm are adhered to by all Parties and that a safe and secure environment is maintained in Bosnia and Herzegovina while the peace-building effort is consolidated and takes root.

Despite the fact that both IFOR and SFOR have been developed and deployed as a response to a unique crisis and a unique mandate, they are nevertheless models for multilateral cooperation in future crisis management. The truly international flavour of these forces is shown by their composition: over 30 countries participate, including contingents from the 16 NATO Allies and more than a dozen non-NATO countries. Significantly, three countries participating in our Mediterranean dialogue - Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco - also have troops deployed with IFOR/SFOR.

Partnership for Peace

A complex operation such as IFOR or SFOR could not have been mounted so rapidly and effectively without the web of cooperative relationships that NATO has established across Europe, in particular the Partnership for Peace initiative (PfP), launched in 1994. The Partnership, with its focus on cooperation on peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, has already become the most successful military cooperation programme in Europe's history. Twenty-seven countries participate in it, including two Mediterranean littoral countries (Slovenia and Albania). Through PfP, NATO and Partners seek to make permanent the habits of trust and cooperation in defence- and military-related areas that will help transform Europe's security relationships through a new, growing sense of partnership and cooperation among countries in the Euro-Atlantic region. The Partnership also contributes to the building of a new European cooperative security order which will, we hope, have a positive spill-over effect in fostering the development of relations with non-NATO and non-Partner countries in the Mediterranean region.


Besides crisis management, NATO is taking an active role in a second area important to Mediterranean security: the prevention of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It is certainly no exaggeration to state that the spread of advanced technology and weaponry, including weapons of mass destruction, tends to become a major security problem in the years ahead. Although not specific to the Mediterranean, it is clear that proliferation also has a Mediterranean dimension, in that many countries of the region, North and South, will be at risk from the spread of such destabilising weapons, if we do not give this problem all our attention today.

At the NATO Summit in Brussels in January 1994, the new task of addressing the proliferation challenge was added to the Alliance's agenda. The principal non-proliferation goal of the Alliance and its members is to prevent proliferation from occurring or, should it occur, to reverse it through diplomatic means. In so doing, NATO seeks to support, and not duplicate, work already underway in other international fora and institutions. But we are also consulting regularly on proliferation risks, both among Allies and with our Cooperation Partners. As far as the defence dimension is concerned, we are examining how our defence capabilities can be improved and how NATO's defence posture can support or influence diplomatic efforts to prevent proliferation. In short, the issue of proliferation is now firmly on the NATO agenda. The better we succeed in addressing it, the more secure the whole of Europe as well as the Mediterranean region will be.

NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue

The various policy tracks outlined above comprise an array of means by which the Alliance has been able to extend a stabilising influence on the Mediterranean region. To this array a further policy initiative was added at the January 1994 Brussels Summit. This was the result of the growing view among Allies that a more direct NATO approach was needed - one of promoting dialogue, understanding and confidence-building between the countries in the Mediterranean region. In launching the Mediterranean initiative, NATO Heads of State and Government signalled that NATO would play a greater role in strengthening regional stability and tasked the Permanent NATO Council to develop appropriate measures to this end.

In December 1994, NATO Foreign Ministers gave this general commitment to a Mediterranean dialogue concrete shape by agreeing to establish contacts with several Mediterranean countries. As a result, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia participated in the initial round of the dialogue. The initial round of the dialogue, conducted during summer and autumn 1995, provided the opportunity for the International Staff of NATO to brief extensively on NATO's various activities, including its programmes of external outreach and partnership, of internal adaptation, and its general approach to building cooperative security structures. Dialogue partners were invited to share their views on stability and security in the Mediterranean region.

In November 1995 it was agreed to further enhance the dialogue. Also, an invitation was extended to Jordan, which had expressed an interest in participating. Today the dialogue provides a twofold approach: regular political discussions at least twice a year, and specific activities in the fields of information and scientific affairs and in more specialised areas, such as participation in peacekeeping courses at NATO schools. The more recent meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers on 10 December 1996 has added civil emergency planning activities related to disaster management to this list. We will also be looking into the possibility of opening up more courses at NATO schools, especially on civil emergency planning and civil-military cooperation, and examining future possibilities for increasing transparency in the field of military activities.

Assessment of the Mediterranean Dialogue

The Mediterranean dialogue is progressive in nature and, in principle, bilateral in form, although it allows for multilateral meetings on a case-by-case basis. The dialogue offers all Mediterranean partners the same basis for discussion and activities. Moreover, it is meant to reinforce other international efforts with Mediterranean partners such as those undertaken by the WEU, OSCE, the Barcelona process and the Middle East Peace process, without either duplicating such efforts or intending to create a division of labour.

In conducting the Mediterranean dialogue, NATO is building on a significant amount of expertise, generated both by its member states individually as well as through various Expert Working Groups which meet regularly within NATO, such as the Ad Hoc Group on the Mediterranean and the Expert Working Group on the Middle East and the Maghreb. These meetings bring together key experts from NATO capitals to exchange information and share analysis on regional trends. They promote a uniform understanding of the area among NATO members. In general, bringing so many informed observers of the Mediterranean region together from so many different perspectives contributes to a much more balanced view of events and developments among the Allies. The scope and mandate of these groups, which have existed since the late 1960s, have been revised over the last couple of years. The Ad Hoc Group on the Mediterranean now aims at supporting the Mediterranean dialogue, while the Expert Working Group on the Middle East and the Maghreb now also meets once a year with Cooperation Partners, including Russia.

In sharing insights and exchanging information with Mediterranean dialogue partners, we hope to encourage a balanced view about the Alliance's agenda, its adaptation process, its contribution to peacekeeping and crisis management, and its approach to building a cooperative security order in Europe. the Allies are convinced that this approach of dialogue and outreach to Mediterranean partners will yield significant benefits in the long term. Since one of the main motivations in launching the initiative was to enhance mutual understanding, it is necessary to have a forum, like the dialogue, in which to pursue this objective.

As yet, however, the Mediterranean Dialogue is still at an early stage. We there foresee an evolutionary development of this initiative. Perhaps more Mediterranean countries will join over time, perhaps a more specific agenda will evolve as well. Some may view sceptically the importance of "soft" diplomacy, particularly if pursued by an Alliance that is widely associated with providing "hard" security. Yet it would be short-sighted to underestimate the power of such dialogue and its potential to grow and stimulate constructive and deepening cooperation. In fact, all the major developments of the last years, from German unity to NATO's deepening relationship with Russia, have began with the all-important first step of dialogue. To understand how powerful dialogue can be as an instrument of change, one only has to look at the development of the OSCE, which began tentatively as a forum for discussion across a geographically and ideologically divided Europe. Now it is a fully fledged organisation, cementing Europe together.

The tremendous success of NATO's "Partnership for Peace" programme has led some observers to ask whether there could also be a "Partnership for Peace" in the Mediterranean. It is a difficult question to answer. For the foreseeable future, NATO's primary focus will remain on Central and Eastern Europe. Personally, I would not rule out the eventual extension of PfP-type approaches in some form in due course to embrace countries outside the OSCE. Indeed, as we progress in the Partnership for Peace, we will develop invaluable experience which could certainly be usefully shared with non-PfP countries.

Nevertheless, some caution should be exercised in trying to apply the Partnership for Peace wholesale as a model for the Mediterranean region. In the Mediterranean we can learn from PfP, but in my view the political diversity of the region will require in time the development of separate and specific solutions appropriate to the region. Simply extending the Partnership for Peace and its activities to Mediterranean dialogue partners would lose the nuances and sensitivities on which the present dialogue is based.


In today's world, where technological progress has shrunk geographical distances, and where economic interdependence is making the "global village" a reality, security, too, has become interdependent. To help stabilise the Mediterranean region and build a peaceful, friendly, economically vibrant area is thus a major strategic objective for all Euro-Atlantic institutions. The European Union must take the lead, yet NATO, too, can lend a helping hand. That is why I believe that the end of the division of Europe has benefitted the Mediterranean region as well. For it has freed resources - both material and intellectual - that were previously tied to the purpose of dealing with the situation of political and military confrontation that existed in Europe. To use these resources wisely and creatively will be both an opportunity and a challenge for our Alliance. We have made a very good start in our relations with countries in the Mediterranean Dialogue. I believe this initiative will expand and intensify to the benefit of all those who share the same region.