Surprising as it may sound, many around the world believe that the best days of American world leadership are yet to come. In particular, the Mediterranean region is a region where the decades-long benefits of Pax Americana – Latin for “American peace” – are widely recognized and even cherished. It is to Washington that leaders in this region look when planning their responses to current and emerging threats, including the rise of alternative powers with hegemonic ambitions. Indeed, the Mediterranean demands more America, not less. It may be that now is the time for America to act to confirm and strengthen its regional leadership, as the actions of China, Russia, and regional powers create a set of circumstances that, if mismanaged, could see the American rivals gain an unwanted relative advantage in the region.
The Mediterranean region is an increasingly important piece on this chessboard and a region where the benefits of decades of Pax Americana – the period of established peace enabled thanks to the geopolitical reach of American leadership during the 20th century, notably through programs. such as the Marshall Plan – are widely recognized and even cherished.
America’s influence in the Mediterranean rests on NATO. European and Turkish member states cover almost the entire north coast. Along with America’s other main Mediterranean ally, Israel, these nations have absorbed much of America’s culture, governance, and approach to problem-solving into their DNA. Idiosyncratic markers of national identity remain, but it can be argued that the nations of the region have more in common today than at any point in the past century.
While the soft power of the United States has never been greater, NATO’s organization and its command structures have also shaped the region’s politics, and nowhere more than in Turkey.
Even today, Turkish state policy and military budgets remain shaped by the Carter Doctrine of 1980 that America will project its might to protect its allies in the Mediterranean, the Levant and West Asia. When America reaches out to the region, it finds itself talking to willing partners. One of those statesmen is Turkish Defense Minister former General Hulusi Akar, who has spent his career shaping Turkey’s engagement with NATO and is in a privileged position to succeed the President Recep Erdogan as the next President of Turkey; capitalize on Turkey’s positioning as a major power in the region.
In these regions, it seems absurd to suggest that American power is in decline. U.S. allies – primarily Turkey, Israel, Italy, Spain, and France – are using U.S.-built and funded platforms, such as NATO, to cooperate more than ever.
But in the midst of this craze in the region, it would be a mistake for the United States to allow any dilution of its influence. China’s purchase of the Greek port of Piraeus creates a Mediterranean endpoint for China’s Belt-and-Road initiative, a strategic asset for a rising power that requires US containment. Russia is also a growing threat. Moscow’s annexation of Crimea restored Russia as the most powerful force in the Black Sea, and Syria, home to Russia’s Mediterranean fleet in Tartus, is deeply in the throes of an expansionist and growing Kremlin more confident. America must reinvest in NATO’s western and southern fronts, if only to protect its current relative influence in the region versus these growing powers.
A second major source of change in America’s position in the region comes from Turkey’s grand project, the creation of the Istanbul Canal. The canal is expected to open in 2028 and will double the traffic between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. The Montreux Convention of 1936, established during Ataturk’s tenure, which governs merchant and military maritime traffic between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, is limited to the natural waterways of the Bosphorus, the Istanbul Strait, and has succeeded in maintain peace since its inception.
Should America and its NATO allies seek to expand Montreux to cover the new canal, or should they partner with Turkey to maintain the limits of Russian military transits while funding the infrastructure itself? ?
Montreux currently allows the status quo of the Black Sea States while the Istanbul Canal would allow an “update” compatible with the realities of proximity of the post-Cold War era. Since the canal is being built by an American ally, it is vital that NATO and Pentagon strategists play their approach to this new source of imbalance to strengthen America’s relative advantage and avoid this situation leading to the America’s perceived decline.
Moscow is also changing the rules of the game for Western Europe. Nord Stream 2, Russia’s new gas pipeline crossing the bottom of the Baltic Sea, potentially creates a critical point of weakness in the NATO alliance. With Germany and much of Europe more dependent than ever on Russian gas, a situation could arise in which European governments would have to choose between heating their country’s homes and alliance with Washington. Once again, it is in the Mediterranean that a potential counterweight resides.
America must seize the nettle and build a coherent and long-term strategy for the Mediterranean region. Arguably, the time has come for America to place the entire Mediterranean under one military command: a MEDCOM to replace the dilutive effect of America’s current division of the Mediterranean between three military commands.
An example of a declaration of firm intent regarding the long-term engagement of the United States in the region will be the placement of enhanced nuclear deterrence in the Mediterranean basin, consistent with the objective of maintaining “order based on rules ”strategically distributed over Allied territories. .
A further ambitious plan could see America lead the creation of a Mediterranean Union to better integrate politics, encourage trade, share resources and strengthen support for values held in the West from Washington to Ankara. US capital could be deployed to finance the warehouses and rail, road and maritime infrastructure needed after the construction of the Istanbul Canal. Regional coordination of military procurement will resolve conflicts, such as Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400s, and provide an attractive market size for US military technology, including Patriot missile defense systems and the F- program. 35.
Regional cooperation in the Mediterranean is accelerating rapidly. A Mediterranean Union would build on existing structures, pushing an open door. With so many changes in the pipeline, America would be gravely deviating from its homework if it didn’t act. The share price is a strengthened region, a stronger America and the removal of the potential geopolitical price board for Russia and China, thus the catalyst to begin the restructuring of Pax Americana both in the Mediterranean and in worldwide.
Alp Sevimlisoy is the CEO of Asthenius Capital, a diversified, emerging markets company headquartered in London, and an Atlantic Council Millennium Fellow headquartered in Washington, DC. Sevimlisoy is also an internationally published geopolitical strategist on the Mediterranean, focusing on regional unionism and defense policy. He is a member of the advisory board of Bayes Business School (formerly Cass Business School).
Peter Woodard is a Canadian-British cadre who geopolitically focuses on the moving elements within NATO and the potential for an expanded role in the region. He has spent considerable time consulting with stakeholders in Mexico on his role in supporting Western initiatives.