Center for Strategic Decision Research


Security Challenges of Southern Europe and the Mediterranean

Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola
Chief of Defense of Italy

Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola
In the Middle East, "...the Israeli-Palestinian question remains the central problem."

It is a distinct pleasure to have the opportunity to attend this workshop and to address such a distinguished audience concerning how the Italian armed forces look at the security challenges of Southern Europe and the Mediterranean, a very critical arena for global security. Because security is now a global issue, global responses are needed, including:

  • Elaborating new ways to effectively cope with security’s unpredictable scenarios;  
  • Analyzing its trends;  
  • Developing long-term, commonly shared strategies as well as day-to-day focused responses to the challenge


The disruption of what an Italian strategist called “the elegant simplicities of the Cold War” has resulted in profound changes in the security environment, presenting an even more complex situation because of the new actors and the emerging challenges. In addition, today’s security risks and threats involve ordinary people throughout the world, making global security a dramatically relevant political issue. 

The security challenges of Southern Europe and the Mediterranean stretch well beyond their geographic boundaries; their geopolitical dimensions encompass the Atlantic approaches to Gibraltar, the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, the Caucasus, and even Central Asia. From a Western point of view, this results in a “wider Mediterranean” arena; from an Eastern point of view there is a “greater Middle East.” However, both outlooks follow the historical perspective of “bridges and crossroads” among cultures.

The growth of civilizations as well as the expansion of the greatest empires have been crucial factors in developing the “common space” of the region. Today’s “wider Mediterranean common space” incorporates hundreds of millions of people from many different cultures who are now living in tens of different states, some of which originated very recently and are subject to strong external pressure. The region has remarkable dissymmetry in demographic trends as well as in its economic and political development. It also has an astonishing concentration of natural resources, vital for the development of the planet. 

Since the Cold War’s politico-military watershed, the area has been regaining its historical bridging ability. This offers greater opportunities, but it also presents new and old security challenges. From a political standpoint we are witnessing the two opposite phenomena of integration and fragmentation. While fragmentation often implies instability, integration is a more difficult process to handle, and we therefore consider the European Union project a success story that continues to gain momentum. Europe is now expanding both east and south, creating a strong, unified political area that projects stability, paralleling the expansion of NATO, another deeply engaged, reliable source of stability. 


Despite these steps forward, instability and insecurity continue to dominate the wider Mediterranean region. Instability has resulted from a variety of threats, above all terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction—which are fostered both by rogue states and those “black holes” of the planet we call “failed states”—and from religious fanaticism and organized criminal groups. The area is also a breeding ground for illegal trafficking of weapons, drugs, and human beings, and for the uncontrolled movements of people, including mass migrations. In addition there are ethnic and religious conflicts; fights for vital resource control; and political, social, and economic underdevelopment that deeply affects everyday life in society. Instability and uncertainty dominate the Southern Region.  

At the present time, the Middle East is fundamentally unstable. The Israeli-Palestinian question remains the central problem, and the war in Iraq continues to present great uncertainty. Further to the east, Afghanistan’s transition to a stable democratic state is still far off, and most of the newly emerged states in the Caucasus and Central Asia continue to engage in disputes with their neighbors or have ethnic-minority problems that impede building a stable society. In addition the control of natural resources has assumed great importance as has the offensive actions of fundamentalist and terrorist groups. The dramatic events of September 11, 2001, and the continuing and escalating terrorist threats illustrate the determination of terrorist organizations to pose a strategic challenge to our security. 


Just what are the main features of this challenge to our security? Many observers have rightly argued that the current security scenario is dramatically different from that of the Cold War period. But I wonder, and I would like to raise the question, what has really changed compared to the past? What are the analogies? What are the differences? 

The current challenge has several things in common with the old challenge. For example, there are still two main strategic actors: Western culture, based on democratic values, and a “global competitor,” terrorism. However, confrontation between the two does not run along a geographic axis: it is rooted in diverging cultural visions. These visions, unlike those of the Cold War confrontation, do not stem from homogeneous cultural values, which adds another element of complexity to the confrontation. 

As in the Cold War, Europe may become the “watershed” arena of confrontation, since it is directly on the line of attrition—a line that our open societies, with their open culture and open economy, have great difficulty protecting. The recent terrorist attacks in Madrid remind us that the southern European countries are particularly exposed.

On the basis of these analogies and facts, it clearly appears that the U.S. and Europe are facing, once again, a global threat from an actor that is capable of implementing global strategies, including the recent attempts to decouple the U.S. from Europe. 

Such are the similarities. But what are the differences? 

First of all, there is the great difficulty in identifying our antagonist: he is not a state, nor an alliance, nor a territory, but is very often among us, and lives close by. Our enemy does not have an army that we are accustomed to, and we cannot put a number on its divisions and its arsenals. Our enemy also does not wage war in the traditional sense, but spreads terror and uncertainty all over the world, weakening the will and the fabric of our societies and our determination to stand up to the threat. 

Many years ago, a well-known document, the Harmel Report, which served for a long time as a major source of inspiration for NATO policy, recommended a strong defense policy but also dialogue and constructive cooperation with the Eastern Bloc, our competitor at that time. This strategy, in the long run, was very successful, and I wonder now if it is possible to use the guidelines of the Harmel Report to design future effective strategies to cope with the new global threat. However, the nature of our present competitor demands different approaches for implementing those principles. 


As far as cooperation is concerned, we must adopt an indirect approach; our enemy is not a state, but he can use a territory as a safe heaven or, as in the previous situation in Afghanistan, rule a state. Our strategy should be to establish strong, reliable, concrete cooperation with countries in which the threat can breed. Since military deterrence does not work against terrorism, and since we are not facing a regular army, when the situation demands it we must directly and resolutely apply military power to neutralize its effect. 

In light of the above, it appears even more evident that Europe must reaffirm and strengthen its security links with the U.S., building on the transatlantic partnership that has been forged over 45 years. This is the most appropriate response to the new security challenges. Confidence-building initiatives will play a crucial role in bridging the confidence gap and prevent the reemergence of new dividing lines while fostering partnership and co-operation. 


A global approach to security can be developed only with the strong commitment of the international community and through the integrated use of a wide array of tools—political, economic, diplomatic, and, when necessary, military. A multidisciplinary, fully integrated approach will lead to a wide spectrum of coherent preventive strategies, including intelligence, civil and military cooperation, diplomatic and economic leverage, humanitarian aid, education, police mentoring, and, last but not least, a robust and phased public information campaign. 

To this end, NATO and the EU will both play significant roles, with initiatives such as NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue and EU’s Euro-Mediterranean Partnership aimed at fostering confidence. Italy recognizes the great importance of both of these organizations and is deeply engaged in the process of improving their effectiveness, strengthening their political dimensions, fostering their complementarity, and helping to realize their related initiatives.  

At the Prague Summit, Alliance leaders agreed on a package of measures to upgrade the Mediterranean Dialogue; the package is aimed at strengthening and deepening relations with Mediterranean Dialogue partners that have the potential to fundamentally change the nature of the relationship between NATO members and Partners in the wider Mediterranean region.  

Concurrently, the EU is advancing and deepening the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership in order to increase its effectiveness and is working to bring about a strategic partnership with the Mediterranean and the Middle East. 

The U.S. is also promoting an important Mediterranean-region process known as the Greater Middle East Initiative. This proposal aims to bring about a comprehensive, long-term commitment to the region and has been working toward that goal during the last two years through key policy speeches by President Bush and other senior administration figures and by focusing on democratization, economic reform, and education. The proposal has generated strong debate and promise and the next EU-U.S., G8, and NATO summits will add to the synergy of this and other related initiatives. 

Similar discussion and debate is underway with Gulf Cooperation Council countries and with other Middle Eastern countries interested in cooperation with both NATO and the EU. For example, at the Atlantic Council meeting in March 2004, the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs submitted a vision paper called “Toward the Istanbul Summit.” This document proposes several cooperation initiatives, including a national forum for consultation on security and defense, a multilateral networked and expandable architecture, and linking up with the forthcoming European educational network. Italy also favors a new cooperation initiative aimed at all greater Middle East region governments interested in forming a security partnership against the common threat of fundamentalism. In addition, Italy is strongly promoting synergy between NATO’s and the EU’s Mediterranean initiatives through national activities.  


Besides taking part in many bilateral and multilateral military activities, including training, exercises, and operations, with southern Mediterranean countries, since 1996 Italy has also been organizing a biannual Sea-power Regional Symposium for the navies of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Because security sometimes requires a military dimension, such activities are necessary, and the international community’s growing commitment to peace and stability and fighting terrorism must be backed by the availability of the military component. Crises and interventions are currently multiplying, however, stretching thin the resources that can be counted on, and making it more difficult to have an adequate reserve capacity at the ready.  

The multinational dimension of military efforts is therefore a necessity as well as a political opportunity, provided it is developed without a duplication of efforts. Security organizations such as NATO and the EU are now coordinating their efforts in order to develop military capabilities to deal with new risks and threats. Key to this work is effective interoperability, and since NATO has a record of success in this field, in my opinion it must continue to maintain the leading role. While the EU is also strongly committed to developing interoperability, it cannot be achieved without using NATO as a reference. 

As far as new capabilities are concerned, High Readiness Force Headquarters, the NATO Response Force, and the EU Battle Group are all transforming the operational field. The Italian armed forces are strongly committed to these initiatives, and I would like to state that both Italian NATO HRF HQs—land and navy—are already fully operational. 

But an important part of fostering multinationalism is avoiding duplication of effort. To this end I believe that EUROFOR and EUROMARFOR, created in the ESDI perspective, should be rapidly integrated into the wider EU ESDP context.  

However, multinational initiatives are not limited to the NATO and EU frameworks. The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), for instance, a “coalition of the willing” arrangement aimed at coping more effectively with WMD illegal traffic, is a successful example. Recently Italy hosted two exercises, one air and one maritime, that underlined the need for the military to deepen its cooperation with all pertinent civil agencies.  

Countering global terrorism requires a number of essential military capabilities: advanced C4I capabilities, the ability to rapidly project forces, jointness and multinationality—and therefore interoperability—effectiveness, high quality, civil military cooperation (CIMIC) units and special forces. These capabilities are part of the goal of the Network Centric Warfare concept. But to reach this goal there needs to be a very strong collective commitment from NATO and EU members as well as a commitment to prevent the U.S.–Europe operational gap from getting so large that joint operations would no longer be possible. The Italian armed forces, while playing a major role in the multinational effort to build peace and stability and foster military cooperation with the military partners of NATO and the EU, are strongly committed to this vital objective. 

New military capabilities, and the way they are created, affect not only the possibility for NATO and EU forces to effectively deal with the emerging threats, but also, on a wider level, their ability to play the role of military facilitators, fostering multinational efforts, interoperability, and cooperation among nations. Neither NATO nor the EU can afford to fail to meet these challenges. 


The wider Southern Region, including the Mediterranean and the greater Middle East, is home to a great many twenty-first-century security challenges. This is the new security frontier for NATO and Europe. To meet these challenges, we must craft a comprehensive strategy based on five critical points: 

  • Strengthening the political dimension of the Mediterranean Dialogue based on a sense of joint ownership of the initiative; and also tackling security issues of common interest to all participants (terrorism, proliferation, organized crime, drugs and human trafficking, the Israeli-Palestinian crisis).
  • Enhancing concrete cooperation (a maritime initiative is an easy first step). 
  • Seeking full complementarity between NATO’s Mediterranean Initiative and the EU’s Euro-Mediterranean Partnership.  
  • Broadening the southern horizon toward the greater Middle East by welding together the Mediterranean Security Initiative and the proposed Greater Middle East Security Initiative. 
  • Transforming our armed forces to enable greater operation readiness, availability, and deployability in order to make them more able to support our political strategy in the Southern Region and to defeat terrorism. 

It is an ambitious goal, but with NATO, Europe, and the moderate and willing countries of the region working together, we can reach it. 


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