Restoring the Eastern Mediterranean as a U.S. Strategic Anchor

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U.S. strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean is long overdue for revision. Policies, priorities, and activities girded by U.S.-led alliance structures were developed to stabilize Europe and deter Soviet aggression at the dawn of the Cold War. Seventy years later, they are no longer fit for purpose. However, the region remains a linchpin for an array of vital U.S. interests.

In the last decade alone, regional conflicts and state fragmentation have caused millions of migrants and internally displaced to flee their homes, creating one of the largest migration crises since World War II. The arrival of an unprecedented number of migrants has triggered political backlash and polarized domestic politics in Europe and in the Eastern Mediterranean. Many of the littoral states in the Eastern Mediterranean have faced destabilizing economic crises that have created deep political and strategic vulnerabilities. Significant natural gas deposits discovered off the coasts of Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt could boost regional economic prospects as a potential energy-producing region, but a divided Cyprus, historical animosities, as well as a lack of infrastructure connectivity hinder this regional economic potential.

The United States needs a holistic and integrated strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean that will stabilize Europe and shift the regional balance in the Middle East back toward the United States. 

Despite these dramatic changes, U.S. policy toward the Eastern Mediterranean region today is most often a series of tactical military operations. These operations focus on narrow tasks, without a longer-term view either of their strategic context or their impact on U.S. influence in the region. The diplomatic engagement, economic investment, and security presence of the United States—all hallmarks of U.S. policy since the 1940s—have dramatically receded. Other powers—primarily Russia, China, Turkey, and Iran—have increased their strategic footprint, weakening regional governments’ ties with the United States and Europe.

This report aims to offer such a new strategy, focusing on two priority areas: resolving the Syrian conflict, and recalibrating the relationship with Turkey.

The United States needs a holistic and integrated strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean that will stabilize Europe and shift the regional balance in the Middle East back toward the United States. Resolving the Syrian conflict is essential for Eastern Mediterranean stabilization, and developing an appropriate policy approach toward an increasingly antagonistic and antidemocratic Turkey is the key to solving the Syria puzzle and reanchoring the region toward the Euro-Atlantic community. These policies not only must be linked, but they must be integrated into a unified and distinctly regional approach. This will not be easy to accomplish, as U.S. bureaucratic silos prevent an integrated regional strategy, and taking a comprehensive approach requires an uncommon amount of U.S. interagency and transatlantic cooperation.

 

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Jon B. Alterman
Senior Vice President, Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy, and Director, Middle East Program
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Donatienne Ruy
Director, Executive Education and Abshire-Inamori Leadership Academy

Heather A. Conley

Haim Malka