THE Mediterranean region has always played a conspicuous part in history. Alike in prehistoric, ancient and medieval times--in peace and in war--high civilizations and great political activity characterized it. It is not one of those regions, like prewar Germany and the present Soviet Union, whose concentration of population and economic resources is great enough to make it a political base for a bid for world mastery. It engages the interest of the Great Powers, notably the great naval Powers, because of its political disunity and weakness, and its geographical location and character. Only once in history--in the heyday of the Roman Empire--did all the Mediterranean lands form one political unit.
In modern times, with the decline of Turkish and Spanish power, and in a world which had become "oceanic" in its relationships, Britain intruded her sea power into the Mediterranean to suppress piracy, to protect her commercial interests, to help maintain the balance of power in Europe, and to defend her territories east of Suez. Certainly Britain made good use of the geographical opportunity presented by the Mediterranean-Red Sea short route which flanked or pierced great desert obstacles and linked the two most populous and civilized regions of the Old World--Europe and monsoon Asia. It was possible for her to exploit this opportunity, among other reasons, because the entries from the Atlantic Ocean and the Arabian Sea were restricted and thus easily controllable, because island groups in the Mediterranean provided necessary ports of call and bases; and, not least, because the African flank of the Mediterranean and the desert coastlands of the Red Sea offered few political or naval dangers.
But today, when so much has changed politically both inside and outside the Mediterranean basin, it does not follow automatically that the part which this sea played for Britain in the past is the one it should now play for the American-led Western World. The place of the Mediterranean and Middle East in British defense policy was seriously questioned before the
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