Pivot to the Mediterranean

Understanding the Region's Global Significance

Immigrants and asylum seekers, with their mouths taped, protest to demand for asylum in central Athens February 1, 2011.  John Kolesidis / Courtesy Reuters

The Mediterranean is the cradle of Greek culture, of the Roman Empire, of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is a sea with many names: Mare Nostrum, “Our Sea,” for the Romans; Akdeniz, or “White Sea,” for the Turks; Yam Gadol, or “Great Sea,” for the Jews; Mittelmeer, or “Middle Sea,” for the Germans. Africa, Asia, and Europe meet here, forming a vast, complex, and plural history.

Today, however, the Mediterranean is at a crossroads. It represents much more than just Europe’s southern boundary. It could become the Unstable Sea or the Peaceful Sea, depending on our actions there.

Italy occupies the historic and geographic center of the Mediterranean and therefore has a vested interest in the region’s stability. But the region should not be solely Italy’s concern. Alongside Italy, the European Union and the United States should pivot to the Mediterranean because the region has become the center for three big global challenges.

The first challenge is terrorism. Stretching from the Gulf of Guinea to Pakistan, the threat pervades the region. North Africa, the Middle East, and Yemen are epicenters of instability, with regular clashes and proxy wars between the Shiite and Sunni Muslim communities and within the Sunni community itself. 

The southern borders of Europe matter because they embody the key risks to modern society: migration, terrorism, lawlessness, statelessness, social and political exclusion, and inequality.

The second is Africa. For too long, European governments have associated the continent with hunger, diseases, corruption, tribalism, and violence. But the new century has highlighted a different Africa, one still plagued by institutional failures but that now also boasts impressive growth rates, improvements in human development, and new multilateral institutions, such as the African Union. For Europe, the Mediterranean can and should be a bridge to Africa, now often considered “China’s Second Continent,” given the country’s long-term investment in African infrastructure.

The third challenge has to do with demography. As wars and other conflicts ravage countries in the Mediterranean

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