Due to translations, the other language editions of NATO Review go online approximately two weeks after the English version.
About NATO Review
Submission policy
Editorial team

Opening to the Mediterranean and broader Middle East

Nicola de Santis describes how NATO is forging cooperative relations with the Mediterranean and broader Middle East.

It's good to talk: Ambassador Minuto Rizzo (left), developed proposals for an enhanced Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative on the basis of meetings with representatives of the countries involved, including with the King of Bahrain (right) (© Nicola de Santis)

Ten years after NATO opened a security dialogue with countries in the wider Mediterranean region, the Mediterranean Dialogue, the Alliance invited participating states at its Istanbul Summit to establish a more ambitious and expanded cooperative framework, thereby elevating its status to that of a genuine partnership. At the same time, NATO leaders launched the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI), a separate but complementary programme to promote practical cooperation with countries in the broader Middle East, beginning with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

The enhanced Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative now form the basis of Allied partnership efforts towards the Mediterranean and broader Middle East and, as such, will entail a significant outreach programme in the Arab world.

The proposals endorsed by Allied leaders at the Istanbul Summit both for the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative had been prepared by a series of meetings between Deputy NATO Secretary General, Ambassador Alessandro Minuto Rizzo, and representatives of both Mediterranean Dialogue and GCC countries. Moreover, they represent the beginning of a long-term cooperative process whose success will require the active involvement of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries in a spirit of joint ownership. Accordingly, interested countries in the region are free to choose to engage with NATO and to determine the pace and extent of that engagement. The Alliance does not wish to impose anything on them but, rather, will take into account their diversity and specific needs in developing cooperative programmes.

Upgrading the Mediterranean Dialogue

The Mediterranean Dialogue was launched to contribute to regional security and stability; achieve better mutual understanding between NATO and its Mediterranean Partners; dispel misperceptions about the Alliance among participating countries; and promote good and friendly relations across the region. Moreover, it complements other international initiatives towards the region, such as the Barcelona Process of the European Union and the Mediterranean Initiative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

While its objectives remain the same today, the Mediterranean Dialogue has both widened and deepened in the course of the past decade. The number of participating countries has grown from the five initial members - Egypt, Israel, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia - whom NATO foreign ministers invited to join at their December 1994 meeting in Brussels, to seven, with the admission of Jordan in 1995 and Algeria in 2000. Measures for practical cooperation are laid out in an annual Work Programme comprising a wide range of activities including information and press; civil-emergency planning; science and the environment; crisis management; defence policy and strategy; small arms and light weapons; global humanitarian mine action; proliferation; and a programme of military cooperation.

At Istanbul, Allied leaders offered to elevate the Mediterranean Dialogue to a genuine partnership with the following objectives: enhancing the existing political dialogue; achieving interoperability; developing defence reform; and contributing to the fight against terrorism.

These objectives could be achieved through enhanced cooperation in a number of priority areas listed in the policy document A more Ambitious and Expanded Framework for the Mediterranean Dialogue. These include explaining NATO's transformation and cooperative efforts via joint public-diplomacy initiatives; promoting democratic control of armed forces and facilitating transparency in national defence planning and budgeting; combating terrorism via effective intelligence sharing and maritime cooperation; contributing to the Alliance's work on threats posed by weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery; promoting cooperation where NATO can add value in the field of border security; enhancing cooperation in the area of civil-emergency planning; and promoting military-to-military cooperation through participation in selected military exercises and related education and training activities, thereby improving the ability of Mediterranean Partners to contribute to NATO-led operations.

In the context of NATO-led operations, one Mediterranean Dialogue country, Morocco, currently has troops deployed in both the Stabilisation Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Kosovo Force in Kosovo and two more, Egypt and Jordan, have contributed forces to the NATO-led operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the past. Mediterranean Dialogue countries may also wish to join Operation Active Endeavour, the Alliance's maritime mission to detect, deter and disrupt terrorist activity in the Mediterranean.

The enhanced Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative form the basis of Allied partnership efforts towards the Mediterranean and broader Middle East

The Mediterranean Dialogue's political dimension may be enhanced by increased consultations at working and Ambassadorial levels in multilateral (NATO plus seven) and bilateral (NATO plus one) formats, as well as through the organisation of ad-hoc meetings at ministerial level or even that of heads of state and government. The first meeting of NATO and Mediterranean Dialogue countries' foreign ministers will take place in December to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Mediterranean Dialogue's creation.

In addition to existing tools such as the annual Work Programme, the Mediterranean Dialogue's practical dimension could be further strengthened by making use of a series of mechanisms originally developed within the framework of the Partnership for Peace. This includes the possibility of support through NATO Trust Funds. It might also include action plans covering a wide range of themes that would form the basis for practical, issue-specific cooperation; individual cooperation programmes allowing for self-differentiation; the use of existing PfP activities and tools to improve the ability of Alliance and Mediterranean Partners' forces to operate together in future NATO-led operations; enhanced participation in appropriate PfP exercises; and enhanced cooperation in scientific and environmental fields.

Istanbul Cooperation Initiative

The Istanbul Cooperation Initiative seeks to enhance security and regional stability through a new transatlantic engagement with the broader Middle East and is complementary to but distinct from other international initiatives, such as those of the European Union, the G8 or the OSCE. One way to help achieve this is by promoting bilateral cooperation with interested countries in the region through practical activities where NATO can add value.

Specifically, NATO has identified a number of areas for practical cooperation, all of which are laid out in the official ICI policy document issued in the wake of the Summit. They are providing tailored advice on defence reform, defence budgeting, defence planning and civil-military relations; promoting military-to-military cooperation to contribute to interoperability through participation in selected military exercises and related education and training activities that could improve the ability of participating countries' forces to operate with those of the Alliance in contributing to NATO-led operations consistent with the UN Charter; fighting against terrorism including through information sharing and maritime cooperation; contributing to the work of the Alliance on threats posed by weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery; promoting cooperation as appropriate and where NATO can add value in the field of border security, particularly in connection with terrorism, small arms and light weapons, and the fight against illegal trafficking; and promoting cooperation in the areas of civil-emergency planning.

In this way, countries may observe and/or participate in selected NATO/PfP exercises or even contribute to NATO-led peacekeeping operations. Indeed, one GCC country, the United Arab Emirates, has already made a significant contribution to the NATO-led operation in Kosovo. In addition, countries may join Operation Active Endeavour. And they may take advantage of NATO-sponsored programmes and training centres developed in the framework of the Partnership for Peace, including courses on civil-emergency planning.

NATO's initial focus is on six individual GCC members: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Istanbul Cooperation Initiative is, however, open to all interested countries in the broader Middle East who subscribe to its aims and content, including combating terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, to be successful, it requires their engagement.

The Istanbul Cooperation Initiative and the Mediterranean Dialogue are separate yet complementary programmes, serving the same purpose, namely to build strong cooperative ties with countries in the Mediterranean and the broader Middle East. Additional countries could be invited to participate in both programmes.

The question of NATO and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is increasingly frequently discussed in political, academic and media circles. The issue is not, however, currently on NATO's agenda. That said, Allies have made clear in the ICI policy document that: "Progress towards a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should remain a priority for the countries of the region and the international community as a whole, and for the success of the security and stability objectives of this initiative."

As for the possible membership of the Palestinian Authority in either the Mediterranean Dialogue or the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, each interested party, including the Palestinian Authority, would be considered by the North Atlantic Council on a case-by-case basis and on its own merit.

Building bridges via public diplomacy

In the course of Ambassador Minuto Rizzo's consultations in the region, it became clear that successful implementation of both the mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative required a better understanding of NATO and its programmes in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries. Allies and Partners agree that the best way to achieve this would be via a joint public-diplomacy effort. Such a programme would be aimed at providing a better understanding of NATO's transformation and current policies, especially where they relate to Mediterranean Dialogue and ICI countries, increasing awareness of the positive elements that partnership with NATO can offer; and achieving better mutual understanding and dispelling any misconceptions about NATO among the general public in Mediterranean Dialogue and ICI countries.

While the Alliance's substantive cooperative activities will inevitably have a greater impact on perceptions of NATO in Mediterranean Dialogue and ICI countries than even the most effective information campaign, the Alliance has an extremely positive story to convey. The most successful and powerful alliance in history, it kept the peace in Europe during the Cold War and has since transformed itself to meet the challenges of today's fast-changing security environment. In the process, it has forged new cooperative partnerships that have brought practical benefits to both Allies and Partners. Furthermore, through its peace-support operations - from the Balkans to Afghanistan - and together with other international actors, NATO has helped establish a secure environment for post-conflict political, social and economic reconstruction to take place, which has also been of direct benefit to the Muslim communities living there.

Istanbul, the venue of the most recent NATO Summit that has given its name to the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, is in many ways symbolic of what the Alliance has become. Situated at the crossroads of civilisations, cultures and religions, the city forms a physical bridge between Europe and Asia. But it is by building political bridges and working together to overcome differences that the security challenges we all face today can be effectively addressed.

In recent years, the Alliance has focused its information efforts towards the region on opinion leaders, whose influence and standing in their societies help NATO's messages reach a wider audience. In this way, NATO's Public Diplomacy Division has already identified key opinion leaders in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries and forged links with academics from universities, think tanks and institutes of strategic and international studies, as well as with parliamentarians and journalists. It has also brought high-level opinion-makers to NATO and, with the help of matching funding from other institutions, co-sponsored a series of international conferences involving others. And once a year since 1995, NATO has organised an international brain-storming conference on security in the wider Mediterranean region, involving Ambassadors from both Mediterranean Dialogue and NATO countries, as well as scholars of worldwide renown. Last May, it organised an Ambassadorial conference at the NATO Defense College in Rome, for the first time bringing together participants from NATO, Mediterranean Dialogue and ICI countries.

The challenges that NATO faces in the Mediterranean and the broader Middle East are very different but by no means less difficult and complex than those the Alliance faced at the beginning of its cooperative relationship with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Moreover, the transformation of the adversarial relationship that existed during the Cold War into the far-reaching integration of countries in that region into Euro-Atlantic structures is remarkable by any standards. From the outset, that task involved a major effort to overcome prejudices, tackle misperceptions and build mutual trust and understanding by means of a concerted public-diplomacy campaign, working with governmental agencies as well as helping to build up non-governmental organisations able to take the lead in the discussion at home.

A similar effort is needed today, based upon the recognition that building bridges with the Mediterranean and the Middle East deserves the same degree of NATO attention as did overcoming the legacy of division between East and West in the early 1990s. Significantly expanding NATO's public-diplomacy efforts towards the region, in concert with our Partners, would be a first and crucial step in this direction.

Share this    DiggIt   MySpace   Facebook   Delicious   Permalink