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The Mediterranean basin.

The Mediterranean Basin

The Mediterranean basin, a major thoroughfare for Western Europe's oil supplies and Southern flank of NATO, is of enormous geostrategic importance for the West. It is an undeniable fact, however, that the turmoil it is going through makes this region of the globe, where North-South and East-West rivalries and conflicts intersect, a high-risk zone.

Recent months have witnessed their share of crises, problems and violence. In the European countries bordering the Mediterranean the social climate has in some cases tended to deteriorate. Last December for instance Spain experienced its first general strike. In 1988 Spain's economic performance had been among the best in W. Europe (5% growth), but the government's policy of austerity was no longer tolerated. For much the same reasons France, too, has been swept by strikes, more particularly in the public transport sector and the postal services, whilst Corsica continues to be a cause for concern. Since late last year Greece has been torn by a major financial scandal (the Koskotas affair) affecting a number of political figures. Yougoslavia has been grappling with its ethnic and nationalities problems. On the Southern shore of the Mediterranean Algeria, following the harshly suppressed urban riots of last autumn (resulting in hundreds of deaths), has been groping towards some sort of political opening. The only Moslem, albeit secularised country forming part of NATO, Turkey remains a key ally of the United States because of its geostrategic position vis-a-vis the Soviet Union; but here again, serious disputes subsist with Greece (Cyprus, territorial waters). Aspiring to become in the true sense "European" and democratic and to join the European Community, its political structure is weak.

The Middle East has been swept by its customary waves of violence-assassinations, kidnappings and armed conflicts between rival militias, and now between Moslem and Christian, in the Lebanon, armed infiltrations against Israel and a popular Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories. Tension persists between the USA and Libya, recently exacerbated by the discovery of a chemical factory suspected of manufacturing CW agents. Occupying a central place in the Arab world, Egypt plays key role in the balance of forces in the Near and Middle East. The treaty with Israel is an irreversible plus, but the country is subject to enormous internal problems (runaway urbanisation, the rise of fundamentalism, public sector crises). However, its reintegration in the Arab community is now virtually complete.

Gibraltar is another point of serious dispute between two NATO allies, but following the Brussels agreement of November 1984 there are prospects of an eventual solution, perhaps in the form of a "lease-back" compromise under NATO cover.

Even so, a number of indicators point to a gradual easing of tensions throughout the region. On its confines the three major conflicts - Gadhafi's invasion of Chad, Soviet interference in Afghanistan and the Iran-Iraq war - have come to an end. In the meantime the Palestinian question appears in a new light. The Palestinians have found a new strategy - the "intifada", now in its second year. Although it has already cost them hundreds of lives, it has proved highly effective. For one, it demonstrates to world opinion their determination, for another, it has given the Israeli government an uneasy conscience - and a bad reputation. In November 1988 the PLO National Council, meeting in Algiers, took the historic decision implicitly to recognise the state of Israel by accepting the UN's resolutions Nos. 242 and 328. Then in Geneva President Arafat officially renounced terrorism. These moves finally induced the USA to declare they were ready to negotiate directly with the PLO. Moreover, in the face of this diplomatic victory of the PLO's, Israel set up a new Labour-Conservative coalition pledged to forge a Peace Plan, and has now officially proclaimed that it intends to hold elections in the occupied territories and consult with the elected Palestinian representatives. Finally, it is to be hoped that "glasnost", if it survives and is really applied in practise, will reduce overall tensions in the Mediterranean region, as indeed elsewhere, and moderate the pretensions and actions of the more extreme nations and groups.

While these indicators are encouraging they should not obscure the fact that major imbalances still exist in the area. In the long term the one between the populations of the Northern and Southern seaboards is cause for grave concern: in 30 years the population of the five African nations bordering the Mediterranean has doubled. Such a demographic phenomenon cannot fail to accentuate the imbalances on the development level. Added to which both religious and political fanaticism is omnipresent and unavoidable. Faced with these problems it is clear that the countries of Western Europe would be well advised to define a common and genuinely European strategy towards the Mediterranean basin. Thanks to their economic power, their level-headedness and their experience, they should be able to help in defuzing any latent threats and in finding sensible solutions to the various problems that are bound to arise in the future.

Major-General (ret'd.) G. Fievet (on the Reserve List) is an officer in the French Army (Land Forces, Light Armoured Forces), a former associate member of the Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Defense Nationale and of the Centre des Hautes Etudes Militaires.
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Title Annotation:political and military turmoil in the region
Author:Fievet, G.
Publication:Armada International
Article Type:column
Date:Jun 1, 1989
Next Article:The rotary-wing aircraft and modern materials.

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