Future Instability in the Mediterranean Basin

Dair Farrar-Hockley – 01/06/2016 – Institute of Statecraft

First published in Spring 1994, we are republishing this paper today because of its relevance to current events.

After more than 40 years of relative stability in the security of Europe, the rapid collapse of the former Soviet Union (FSU) – in less than two years – has invoked dramatic change.  There has been much talk of ‘a new world order’.

In support of such a theory, it is evident that the balance of power between the USA and the FSU is at an end.   These two, notably the second, exercised prior constraints on potential regional conflicts, which are now being unshackled – wholly or partially.  It may take decades for the new states emerging from the FSU to establish a different way of life: to progress towards democracy and competitive economies: revert to autocratic rule; or retreat into anarchy.  During this time, uncertainty will prevail.

Nowhere is this more manifest than in the Middle East; and along the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea.  A race to rearm after the 1991 Gulf War is apparent.  The success of a collective and continuing United Nations’ stand against Saddam Hussein may also be instructive.

In the Mediterranean Basin, existing political and military tensions will be exacerbated by burgeoning population and growing poverty among North African and Arab nations; in sharp contrast with the increasing prosperity and declining birth-rates of European Union (EU) nations along the northern shoreline.  Two further factors militate: concern for the environment and increasing radicalism among Islamic populations.  This latter problem, manifest in Algeria’s current dilemma, adds a potentially explosive ingredient.

The article will seek to establish the validity of such concerns and their likely consequences – now and in the future.  It will be important to examine ways of avoiding future conflict and reducing tension by taking timely collective action: whether on a global, regional, or bilateral basis.


The emergence of the UN as a potent force continues well after the 1991 Gulf War.  Deployments in Western Sahara and Cambodia – latterly into Yugoslavia – indicate potential for the future.  While the organisation cannot be seen as the physician to cure all ills, its continued pressure on Iraq constrains Saddam Hussein from further action in the Middle East.

Following the successful coalition of Western and Arab forces – with implicit support from Israel – adroit diplomacy by the USA led to unprecedented talks between Israel, a joint delegation from Jordan and Palestine, Lebanon and Syria.  Of particular note has been the tacit acceptance by Arab nations of Israel’s legitimacy as a state.

Although substantial progress has not yet been made, there is sufficient pressure for none to be first to withdraw from the negotiations.  Thus an opportunity exists, in the long-term, for some compromise towards harmony between Arab and Jew.  The results of the Israeli election on 23 June 1992 may provide a catalyst.  Labour’s victory has led to a less uncompromising approach, occasioning cautious optimism among moderate Arab neighbours.

American support for renewed negotiations will diminish, for a time at least, the likelihood of another Arab-Israeli war.  It is ironic that as the longstanding tensions ease in the area, the removal of Soviet influence, isolation of Iraq, and reorientation of regional alliances following the 1991 Gulf War promote, perhaps, another option: a power struggle between Arab states.

Ensuing uncertainties have led the Gulf states, for example: ‘to secure what they have by the trusted methods of massive arms purchases and the protection of stronger, outside and distant powers.’ [1] Noteworthy is the race to acquire ballistic missiles, throughout the Mediterranean Basin, with attendant risks of nuclear proliferation.  Confidence is not strengthened by the view of Ayatollah Mohajerani – Iran’s Vice President – who believes that if Israel is permitted nuclear status, all Muslim states should be similarly armed. [2]

The delicate process of establishing a lasting peace may be further hampered by the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism; and the complicated issue of what will become of the former Soviet Muslim republics of Central Asia.  Both will be addressed later in this article.

Of abiding significance is the vulnerability of oil and gas fields, which make up more than 60 per cent and 30 per cent respectively of world strategic reserves.  Water sources are critical in the region; hence the several disputes over access to waterways, such as the Shatt-al-Arab- crucial both to Iran and Iraq.  Similarly, maritime access is contentious, as witness claims and counter claims to control of the Straits of Hormuz.

These are items in a catalogue of risk.  Iran has decided to spend $10 billion on rearming over the next five years.  MiG-29s and coastal submarines are being purchased from Russia: this at a time when Syria has achieved political rehabilitation with the USA, for her part in the 1991 Gulf War.  Few doubt that President Hafez Assad is keen to secure a role for his country in any future regional security system.  Enjoying a trade surplus, looking to enhance her military training and hardware, an offer from North Korea to provide both Iran and Syria – Libya too – with ballistic missiles up to a 1000 miles in range is ominous.

The influence of two other countries is important if stability is to be maintained in the region.  First, the role of Egypt has been central to peace between Arab and Jew since the 1973 war.  The Camp David Accord of 1978 led to a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, the only Arab state to negotiate successfully to date. Despite the murder of President Anwar Sadat in 1981 and efforts by other Arab states to ostracize Egypt, she has maintained a firm line.  Re-instatement to the Arab league in 1987 has legitimised President Hosni Mubarak as a power broker in the region.  His unequivocal support for the coalition and firm commitment of troops to the Gulf War effort only served to underline Egypt’s importance.

However, a questionable economic future, complicated by a rising birth rate, may well be exacerbated by social and economic grievances taken up by radical Islamic groups.  There is also uncertainty where future arms supplies will come from to replace ageing Soviet equipment; and whether Egypt will acquire nuclear weapons.

By contrast, Turkey – a secular Islamic state – acts as the pivot between largely Christian Europe and the predominantly Muslim world of Central Asia and the Near East.  Full membership of NATO helps Turkey maintain her place as a regional power: The Alliance gains an important buffer against the disturbances threatened by fundamentalist movements; and the breakup of former Soviet republics, with unknown consequences.  Turkey’s influence there may be opportune.

For Turkey to enhance political and economic stability in the region, further ties with the Western community will be important.  A formal application for full membership of the EC in 1987, deferred at least until 1995, will be of mutual significance.  Questions over human rights and poor internal economic figures jeopardise current negotiations.  They are not helped by ever-rising population figures, not least among the disparate Kurdish peoples.  If fierce competition for new membership of the EU defers Ankara’s acceptance until the year 2000, further preferential economic ties may be a necessity, if Turkey’s capability as a ‘buffer’ is not to be threatened.


There is little doubt that a window of opportunity has been created by the chain of events which have followed Iraq’s expulsion from Kuwait.

In Israel, a combination of war-weariness among the people and economic pressure from the USA brought the Labour Party to power.  It remains to be seen whether its commitment to the principle of land for peace can achieve compromise.  In order to keep this momentum going, it will be important for the US to maintain pressure, both moral and economic.  There will be dissenters in both camps capable of stirring up trouble.

While there may be cause for optimism in this direction, it is less certain how inter-Arab and inter-Muslim rivalry can best be contained.  The build-up of arms is alarming; in particular, the desire for nuclear statehood.  With the potential availability of nuclear power from the FSU, North Korea and the Indian subcontinent, how should proliferation be controlled?

It is 26 years since the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was signed, under UN auspices: 163 nations now belong.  Iraq was one of the earliest signatories who undertook ‘not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices’.  Her covert programme – so nearly successful – was the first known breach of the treaty.  There is a salutary lesson for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – the NPT’s inspectorate – and the UN’s Security Council.  Succinctly put by the Independent on Sunday: ‘…neither the existing IAEA regime nor the traditional intelligence strategy was up to the task of tackling the proliferation threat.’[3]

The NPT was supported by many developing countries with the proviso that established nuclear powers would contract to reduce nuclear arsenals; eventually to achieve disarmament ‘under effective international control’.  At the 1990 review meeting there was disquiet at the lack of progress towards this goal, voiced by many signatories.

In 1995 the NPT comes up for renewal.  The June 1992 summit between Presidents Bush and Yeltsin, further reducing land-based ICBMs, can only be encouraging.  American pressure to assist the Russians in controlling and destroying excess nuclear weapons is essential; and offers to employ redundant Soviet scientists a necessity.  Yet with nuclear power now in the hands of Russia and three of her former satellites there are real concerns that technology and scientists will escape, perhaps to the highest bidder.

Two factors seem important.  First, if effective international control is to be achieved and proliferation prevented, the IAEA needs sharper teeth.   It will require a budget to allow it to operate fully; access to satellite technology; and powers to be intrusive.  If the UN achieves this, it can then call on members to employ sanctions against transgressors.  Having begun the process with Iraq, it is essential to pursue investigations to a conclusion while turning attention to North Korea.  Without such resolve credibility will be lost; and South Korea, Taiwan and Japan may reasonably ask themselves why they should not acquire a bomb.

The second factor is continuing encouragement by the UN for regional groupings to take more responsibility for their own destiny.  Latin America has its own regional nuclear disarmament treaty.  India and Pakistan – both unprepared to sign the NPT – are considered to be nuclear powers; though neither have formally declared it.  Their membership of the Southern Asian Association for Regional Cooperation creates a balance internally; and externally, against the threat of Chinese aggression.

In the Middle East, the overwhelming probability that Israel possesses a nuclear capability – if undeclared – increases the importance of peace talks.  With Algeria, Libya, Syria and Iran all recognised as potential developers of nuclear arms, rigorous inspection backed by effective sanctions seems to be the way forward, if proliferation is not to destabilise the region.

The signing of a Chemical Weapons’ Convention in Geneva, on 13 January 1993, is cause for optimism.  The USA and FSU have shown leadership by their agreement to end CW production and to reduce stocks.  Such a compromise is not only a confidence building measure between nations and a precedent for intrusive inspection; but, as Brad Robert remarks, ‘…a basis for states in the fluid post-Cold war environment to work together and take risks in pursuit of a larger goal.’[4]

While there may be signs of progress in the nuclear and chemical fields, the rise in world trading of conventional armaments – not least ballistic missiles – continues unfettered.  Nations need to defend themselves against would-be aggressors.  Governments decide to whom they wish to sell defence equipments.  Arms sales remain a tool of foreign policy and influence.  More importantly, they decide which countries should not receive these valuable exports.  Yet despite such prohibition, unauthorised shipments reach their goal with monotonous regularity.  One has yet to hear of an industrialist sent to prison for violating export controls.  No system can be fool proof, but deterrence is essential if even a modicum of international control is to be achieved – and instability reduced.

Since the 1991 Gulf War the conscience of many nations has been pricked by the disclosure of those who contributed to Iraq’s military power.  The five permanent members of the UN Security Council alone account for more than 80 per cent of the world’s conventional weapons’ export market.  It is difficult to argue against Russia’s determination to continue such exports.  Receipts for 1990-91 were equivalent to $11 billion.  At a time when hard currency is critical to stabilise the country’s ailing economy it is understandable that she chooses to maximise existing expertise.  What can be done to unravel this conundrum?

The aftermath of ‘Desert Storm’ has engendered much enterprise.  From a series of initiatives emanating from the Security Council one concrete measure has emerged.  The establishment of a register of conventional arms transfers under UN auspices is intended to provide overt information of excessive build-up of arms in any one region.  It is a tentative step, which can only work if nations commit themselves to its success.  The process begins with a state imposing effective national controls.

A more probable initiative has come from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), ‘who have noted the high number of developing economies spending more on defence that on health and education.’[5]  In line with revised schemes to link aid with tighter economic policies in recipient countries, efforts to limit defence spending as part of an aid agreement are encouraging.

Within NATO and the EU an idea is developing that future defence projects could be shared more openly: that more sales should be channelled between developed nations, than developing ones. In a time of reducing defence budgets, this would require major policy changes.  Meanwhile the proliferation of weapons capable of mass destruction continues.

Amongst the activity generated by the 1991 Gulf War, the potential of the UN needs stressing.  Properly funded and restructured under the guiding hand of Dr Boutros Boutros-Ghali – unshackled from the constraints of the Cold War – it has much to offer.  However, it is not a panacea.

First it can only operate with the willing support of the majority of its membership.  Second, the Security Council needs to continue to encourage collective regional security arrangements.  In an increasingly confused and uncertain world, stability is best encouraged by alliances of mutual interest; not least where they lead to reductions in defence costs, which few can shoulder on their own.  In a world recession these ties are even more important, when the natural tendency is to withdraw into protective isolationism.

The US peace initiative exemplifies such action.  There is also merit in encouraging the expansion of the Gulf Cooperation Council.  Nor should the idea put forward by Italy’s Foreign Minister to establish a Conference for Security and Cooperation in the Mediterranean be discarded lightly.  With large cracks appearing on Europe’s rim, now is the time to establish or strengthen existing confidence building measures.


Centuries of history have established traditional markets across the length and breadth of the Mediterranean Sea.  Whether motivated by conquest, alliance or simply the need to barter or exchange goods, this interchange has established contact not only in trade, but in culture and religion.

Over the last decade, the build-up by the USA, Japan and the EC of mutually exclusive trading blocs has fragmented other traditional trading relationships, often to the detriment of developing countries.  Many of these already face the handicap of a limited range of commodities, a lack of infrastructure, and inadequate supplies of food and water to satisfy growing populations.

Now, as the world begins to recover from recession, there is a real possibility of a trade war between the three economic giants if the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) – the current round has been under way since 1986 – is not settled swiftly.  If protectionism were to set in, the prime losers will be those emerging states already struggling to make ends meet, whose greatest need is access to such markets.  The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported earlier in 1992 that 20 out of 24 industrial countries are now more protectionists than they were a decade ago. [6]

The contrast between the emerging nations of the North African littoral and the southern states of the EU could not be more marked.  Membership of the EU offers real growth potential in the long term.  There is already evidence of benefits gained by its new and less prosperous Mediterranean members in annual budgetary transfers: Portugal, £800 million; Spain, £2bn; and Greece, £2.8bn.  European Union membership also provides access to a market of over 340 million consumers.  If a ‘cohesion fund’ is established – envisaged at Maastricht – these sums should increase further.

The disparity is growing for a variety of reasons.  First, fearing default, private banks have reduced their lending since the mid-1980’s.  The vacuum has not been wholly filled by the IMF, the World Bank, or other official sources.  Developing nations are now transferring more in interest and capital repayments on old loans than they are receiving in new ones.

Next, manifest in the Mediterranean, the failure of GATT – so far – to open world agriculture markets, along with trade barriers established by the EC’s Common Agriculture Policy, has reduced traditional markets for states of the Maghreb and the Levant.  Third, rapidly rising populations have reduced levels of aid per capita – and, lately, living standards.  Finally, the collapse of communism has created priorities – for self-evident reasons – in central and eastern Europe, which have, to all appearances, deflected attention away from the Inner Sea.

The consequences can only breed discontent between nations.  Take as an example, the governments of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt.  Economic pressure of this order simply increases existing threats to political stability.  Meanwhile the rising unemployed are tempted to migrate across the water, to southern EU states which, in relative terms, are lands of plenty.


Despite budgetary pressures and appeals from the FSU and Eastern European states, industrialised nations cannot ignore other regions of the world.  Some are potential beneficiaries of official and private debt reduction schemes.  Egypt has already had half of its external debt to official creditors written off, but that reflected its contribution to the liberation of Kuwait and is unlikely to be repeated elsewhere.

Many developing nations are possible recipients of the Brady Plan, launched in 1989.  It involves the provision of IMF resources to facilitate reduction of bank debt.  Successful applications are tied to improved economic measures.  Prominent beneficiaries to date have been Mexico and Venezuela; each securing 35 per cent discount on their commercial bank debts.  In April 1990 Morocco became the first Arab country to benefit.  Elsewhere there has been lack of leadership and impetus to make the scheme more universal.  While the debt burden for the sub-Sahara is now recognised as being unsupportable – hence agreement by several governments to write off 50 per cent in stages – levels of external debt along the North African littoral remain high.  By 1989 Algeria’s deficit – despite oil and gas reserves – had reached $26bn (57.6 per cent of GDP): Tunisia’s then stood at $6.8bn (71.7 per cent of GDP).[7]  While debt forgiveness is unlikely, further rescheduling of debt and assistance under the Brady Plan may be advantageous.

There remains a need for aid; but allied to specific projects essential to infrastructure.  As the UNDP further reports: ‘…aid can work.  Even in the poor countries, indicators of living standards show signs of improvement.  But trade works better.’ [8] Enter GATT.

In the past three years, opportunity upon opportunity has been missed to bring the Uruguay round of GATT negotiations to a conclusion.   The stumbling block continues to be agriculture.  Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that the cost of subsidising agriculture in 1991 amounted to $54bn in the USA and $146bn in the EC.  Subsidies to farmers for unwanted crops; consequent price inflation for food in the shops – costing a family of four £1300 each year in the EC – and storage costs for huge quantities of food, well beyond the strategic needs of any nation, all contribute to this madness.  To make things even worse, surplus commodities are then dumped on the world market at reduced prices which denies developing countries a fair price for their produce.

The blame for such profligacy lies with those politicians who have lacked the courage to address a vociferous farming lobby.  Thus the level of subsidies has gone on rising, with diminishing accountability to the tax payer.  In Europe, both Germany and France have been prime offenders.  It is another example of an unpreparedness to forge collective EU policy.

Improved farming techniques require less farmers to produce essential foodstuffs.  There is a need for strategic reserves.  The countryside does need managing.  But not at a price which threatens world economic order.  What should be done?

The EC proposed a compromise on its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).  Modest though it may be – 30 per cent reductions against a US target of 70 per cent – it is arguably a step.  Despite the pressures of an election year in the USA, preparedness to accept even minor progress in this field could save the overall package, right across the spectrum of goods and services.  Failure would lead to the worst sort of protectionism; damaging to developed and developing nations alike.  Success, the Economist considers: ‘…would immediately raise global income…by $120bn a year.’[9] A more radical approach – including 70 per cent reductions in agriculture and unlikely in the current climate – could increase this figure to $262bn.

With an agreement in 1994, a free-trade export-led recovery could then offer hope; not only to the emerging states of central and eastern Europe, but also to developing nations elsewhere bent on economic reform.  It would certainly enhance the prospects of countries along the North African littoral and in the Levant.  Critically, revenue so derived could also begin to address the environmental questions, which surfaced at the 1992 Rio Summit, and failed, in no small part, over arguments as to who should pay.

The final string to this bow concerns regional assistance.  In the Mediterranean, if the gap between north and south is not to widen, it is of particular importance that the history of mutually advantageous trade continues.

In 1989 the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP) became concerned that economic support from the EC under the Lomé Convention was dwindling – in favour of Eastern Europe.  Their fears led to a revised convention and marked improvements in financial and technical aid.

As a further measure, spurred by perceived dangers of instability on its doorstep, the EC’s Council adopted…’a framework for redirecting the Community’s Mediterranean policy’…over the next five-year period. [10] The general thrust is for a much more comprehensive package, tied to the efforts of countries involved to reform their economies.  A prominent omission from this welcome initiative is agriculture, where for protectionist reasons only limited changes are envisaged.

The importance of CAP reform permeates everywhere.  In 1989 the CAP accounted for 67 per cent of the EC budget; against 2.3 per cent on development cooperation to countries outside the EC.  One way to prevent impoverished people entering your country is to invest in their development.  Despite encouraging increases now in train the question remains: will it suffice?

If we value our future – and genuinely seek greater stability and prosperity for all – the measures outlined offer a choice.  Hopes for a positive outcome are not enhanced by the perennial absorption of politicians and bureaucrats with their current term of office – despite identifiable smoke signals over the horizon.


Historically, emigration and immigration have long been a component of Europe’s development.  It began with overseas exploration and discovery, leading to colonisation.  The 1850’s saw the beginnings of mass emigration to the Americas due to rising populations and the attraction of renewed prosperity.  In its wake, opportunities for immigration were afforded to industrial and craft workers, seeking temporary employment, notably from eastern Germany and Poland.

Such were the economic needs of an industrialised Europe in the aftermath of World War II that many countries sought foreign labour on a regular basis.  The majority came from the less developed states of southern Europe.  As decolonisation gathered pace, increasing numbers from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia also sought improved employment prospects; primarily, but not exclusively, in France.  Thus, within the continent, a north-south migratory pattern emerged.  There was, however, no coherent immigration policy among nations, singly or collectively.

The collapse of the oil market in 1973, ensuing recession and rising unemployment culminated in a suspension of labour immigration.  Many governments envisaged this to be a watershed.  Mass voluntary returns to countries of origin were anticipated; while those remaining would be quickly integrated.  The reality has been less clear-cut.  Many have been joined by their families.  More than 10 million legal migrants now live within the EU: the majority without the benefits of full citizenship.

As EC countries have become more prosperous, the trend has been towards declining birth-rate.  Both the cost and responsibility of bringing up children has been weighed against the desire for greater consumerism.  By contrast, along the North African littoral and in the Levant, with few exceptions, the Muslim culture of producing large families has continued.  With dramatic reductions in infant mortality, the burden on these impoverished states is increasing.  By John Salt’s calculation: ‘…the combined population growth of EC and EFTA countries in the 1990’s will be 5.5 million, while the countries around the southern and eastern rim of the Mediterranean will grow by 58 million.’[11]

High unemployment, not least among the young, makes matters worse: Tunisia 12 per cent, with half under the age of 25: Morocco 16 per cent – but 30.9 per cent unemployed in the 15-24 age group and 18 per cent of those aged 25-34: Egypt more than 20 per cent of the total work force.  The trend continues upwards. With little prospect of employment in their own countries, the temptation is to migrate to areas of greater prosperity; especially for those with relatives abroad.  Since the EC accounts for more than 40 per cent of total world trade, its magnetism is alluring.

With the aim of completing the single market by the end of 1992 the EC has been concentrating on strengthening ties within, while coping with the aftermath of the breakup of the FSU.  Setting aside doubts cast upon the efficacy of the Maastricht agreement and fears for the outcome of the civil war in former Yugoslavia, the natural emphasis is towards helping central European states establish a market economy; linked to future membership of the EU.

If these issues were not complex enough, the Commission faces a growing problem from the movement of people, broadly in three categories.  First, migration from states of the former Soviet Union is now open to many who were previously denied the choice.  Second, there has been a significant increase in numbers seeking asylum from political persecution in a variety of developing countries: 70,000 in 1983 against 500,000 in 1990.   Many claims are found to be false: in reality, based on economic and social difficulties.  Finally, there is pressure from population explosion and deprivation which is encouraging illegal migration, predominantly from the southern and eastern rim of the Mediterranean.

While the first two categories may yet prove unmanageable – not least if civil wars in central Europe predominate over the next five years – there are grounds for optimism that tighter border controls to the east and progress towards political and economic stability may prevail.  Similarly, more positive vetting procedures and timely judgment over asylum-seekers may stem this human tide.

Of greater concern is the third dimension which can only be magnified if measures to stem the first two fail: for it is the most difficult to resolve.  The unspecified number of illegal entrants to the Community – currently guesstimated at four million – increases the difficulties in achieving the ambitions of the visionaries who drew up the Treaty of Rome and the subsequent Single European Act of 1986.  When, on 1 January 1993, the free movement of peoples is guaranteed, it refers to passport holders of member states.  The lack of migration policies in the 1950’s means that the majority of the ten million legal migrants within the EU are debarred from this and other rights: second class citizens because they have not been granted citizenship by the country who employs them.  The growing band of illegal migrants becomes third class, because they have no status at all.  And people who live illegally behave illegally, with obvious consequences for social disorder.

The combination of these trends has already created tensions in France, Germany and Italy.  An increasing number of foreigners – without coherent plans to absorb them – are burdening welfare resources, already stretched by recession.  With higher birth-rates than their national neighbours, fears for the spread of what are seen as alien cultures and religions have given rise to extreme right wing parties, who feed on uncertainty and incite racism.  Hence Monsieur Le Pen’s 13.9 per cent share of the vote in France’s regional elections early in 1992.  As The Times stresses: ‘Controlling migration…is not racist.  The racist cause is helped only by pretending the opposite.’[12]

Accepting the current burdens which face the EU, there is a danger that the Community will continue to consider that problems of demography in the Mediterranean Basis are peripheral.  Since a high proportion of legal migrants – and a majority of the putative four million illegal migrants – come from the southern shores, this may be unwise.

While Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece have all be encouraged to sort out their own difficulties, geography alone provides a natural conduit for determined immigrants.  And who should pay to keep them out; if some form of policing were possible over such vast tracts of sea and rugged coastline?


If the population of the southern and eastern Mediterranean is rising at such a disproportionate rate, perhaps the first consideration should be birth control.  Egypt, whose population was rising at rate of a million every nine months has lately enjoyed some success: a growth rate of 3 per cent in 1985 has reduced to 2.4 per cent in 1991.  However, despite strong political support for such programmes – and the endorsement of the Grand Mufti, Egypt’s senior cleric – many religious leaders continue to declare contraception sinful.  The resultant confusion is compounded by two factors: doctors’ failure to ensure that women are fully educated in usage and side-effects together with Muslim cultural practice of large families, despite ever-reducing infant mortality figures.

Similar programmes exist throughout the Maghreb, with varying degrees of success.  Nations are conscious of the burden upon their development.  However, uncertainty over the Koran’s interpretation remains a stumbling block to significant progress throughout the region.

While individual Islamic governments will continue to deal with this sensitive issue in their own way, education does seem to be an essential factor in any programme.  According to the World Bank, the most effective single contribution to population limitation in the African continent is investment in the education of young women.  It does not absolve men from their responsibility.

There may also be merit in financial incentives for families who limit their progeny.  More than 40 per cent of North Africa’s people were under the age of 15 in 1991: 50 per cent of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza were then under 16 years.  There is no time like the present to examine new ideas.

Underpinning any proposals to reduce the imbalance is a fundamental requirement for a statement of intent from the developed nations in the region.  The aim, surely, should be to continue to encourage the developing nations of the Maghreb and the Levant to help themselves establish economic and social prosperity; with a view to absorbing the majority of their own populations.  Sustained improvement in both areas would assist political stability.

None of this will be easy; but the consequences even ten years hence are daunting, if a measure of success is not achieved.  A firm regional policy from the EU, in concert with the group of seven (G7) industrial nations, would be a positive start.  The latter’s recent meeting was thus disappointing in its lack of forward direction.  The IMF and World Bank remain key players in this issue.  What steps are necessary?

First, there is continuing need to reduce debt, if littoral states are to be able to invest more of their own GNP in infrastructure.  Despite Egypt and Morocco both receiving help with their burdensome debt, economic problems abound.  Meanwhile, Algeria and Tunisia would benefit from the advantages of the Brady Plan.  Rescheduling by the IMF and World Bank have brought results when allied to demands for reforming economic practice.

Aid still has a place, when tied to specific projects.  Withholding aid and loans is a measure to be employed against excessive defence spending: a further tool in slowing down the arms race.

While debt relief and aid may be important planks of reform, trade is arguably central to stability and future prosperity.  Once again GATT has a critical part to play in regional and global development; providing the wherewithal for export-led recovery.

It is important to stress that legal migration still has its benefits: to the receiving country in need of labour: to the individual worker: to the donor country in terms of foreign earnings.  Accepting the pressures created by current growth rates, what opportunities remain for the migrant worker?

In the first instance, the EU is still accepting highly skilled workers, where vacancies exist.  Some commentators have argued that more semi-skilled and unskilled migrants will be required by the turn of the century, because of an increasingly aged European society.  By the year 2000, there will be more than 13 million males over the age of 65 in the southern EU states; compared with just over 3 million among the peoples of North Africa and the Levant.  However, current and projected unemployment figures throughout the EU suggest that this is an unlikely solution.

There remain opportunities along the littoral and in the Middle-East; although fluctuations in the price of oil and instability in the Gulf have taken their toll.  Egypt’s expatriate workers are said to number between three and four million.  However, at least half a million returned from the Gulf, Iraq and Jordan when Iraq invaded Kuwait.  Few have gone back.  Since the formation of the Arab Maghreb Union in 1989, Libya has provided openings for an influx of foreign workers, predominantly Tunisians and Egyptians.  Contributory though these factors may be, they will not absorb the present trend in population explosion.

An additional factor in this conundrum is internal migration.  Despite some notable successes, a combination of drought, famine and failed economic initiatives have taken their toll over the past 30 years.  In consequence, farm workers have left the countryside in increasing numbers to seek improved prospects in townships.  Initially they took the place of migrants who set off for Europe in the late 1950s.  Over time numbers have swollen to such an extent that shanty towns have emerged; providing increasing social problems for governments unable to feed, house or employ them.  Riots in Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt since the mid-1980s are indicative of continuing tensions.  In sharp contrast, Syria is now encouraging a return to agriculture and other rural developments to reverse the trend, after achieving a foreign trade surplus in 1989 and 1990.

Even if some or all of these initiatives could be met, considerations need to be given to the EU’s current problems of integrating existing legal migrants, while preventing further illegal immigrants entering the Community.  As a result of a ruling by the European Court of Justice on 9 July 1987, the EC Commission took steps to harmonise member states’ legislation regarding foreign nationals.  EC countries now agree to keep each other informed on such issues: and the Maastricht Treaty sets out to achieve a common policy by 1996.[13]  Two measures are deemed fundamental: an improvement in the status of legal migrants; and tighter controls at external frontiers to include visas from nationals of 61 countries.

While the intention to integrate is laudable, practical achievement will be more difficult.  Without ‘citizenship’, the freedom of movement extolled under the Single European Act is disallowed.  To date, there has been little progress in improving the working and living conditions of many ‘ethnic’ groups: thus they occupy the bottom rung of the social ladder.  Language difficulties hamper job opportunities and impinge upon success at school.  As a result, second generation migrant workers tend to inherit the disadvantages of their parents, which include higher than average unemployment and a sense of social injustice.

Lack of any previous policy has led to overcrowding in urban areas.  This has already led to unrest between ‘citizen’ and ‘foreigner’ in parts of Germany, Belgium, France and Italy.  Unless fears for the safety of national culture and religion can be allayed, governments may find it increasingly difficult to integrate migrant workers into society.

In turn, measures to tighten border controls, reduce political refugees and limit migration militate towards an increase in illegal activity; both from clandestine migration and bogus asylum-seekers.  It is doubtful whether visa and passport controls will keep out the determined or desperate.  Can border controls be effective?

The Schengen Group has done much to integrate policy among EC members: primarily towards achieving a relaxation of internal EC frontiers on the mainland of Europe.  However, a problem remains along the Community’s southern littoral.  Huge tracts of land – often sparsely populated – abut an open sea between Portugal and Greece.  This natural conduit for illegal entrants is arguably unpoliceable.  While improving policing effects a measure of control, geography defeats the idea of a cordon sanitaire.

If economic and social pressures on growing numbers of potential migrants were not enough, it is now important to consider how deterioration in the environment may add a further dimension to their problems.


There is much conflicting evidence as to the damage caused by ‘man’ to our global environment.  Leaving aside a Doomsday scenario – which cannot be proved by scientific evidence – there are sufficient indicators to show that continued use of fossil fuels at present consumption rates, as one major example, are likely to cause irreparable harm.  Awareness is growing of the need for governments to take resolute action – singly and collectively – to redress this situation.  Initiatives by the EC have set a target date of 1997 to reduce the emission rate of chlorofluorocarbon gases.  The USA, despite pressure from other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, agrees with the principle but not yet the date.

The UN Conference on the Environment, which took place in Brazil in June 1992, was a test of world resolve.  After considerable pre-meeting hype, the outcome was disappointing.  It created awareness and good intentions among heads of state and industrialists: made provision for national reports and plans: established treaties on climate and biological diversity; with a fund to encourage more: all commendable steps, but lacking concrete proposals to guarantee progress.

The conference also confirmed – lest anyone was in doubt – how costly it would be to alter industrial practices, after such high levels of development.  Herein lies the rub.  While states of the developed world may find ways of coping with necessary change by investing in new technology, their less well-off neighbours – states who are still developing – may find similar actions more difficult.  As they strive to establish their economies through now outmoded industrial practices, should they not be permitted to seek socio-economic progress – as prosperous industrialised nations did before them.  The situation in the Mediterranean Basin is indicative of a global problem.

Growth in population, tourism, industrialisation and changing weather patterns are contributing to an increasing environmental problem.  The ecological balance of the Inner Sea is threatened by pollution from increasing residential populations along the south and east shores of the Basin; and a continuing rise in tourism around the whole region (excepting the unusual circumstances of the Gulf War in 1991).  Human effluent is not the sole problem.  Industrial waste and nitrogen from fertilisers threaten rivers, often sources of water for drinking and agriculture, before casting their pollutants into the sea.  Reduction in forests and soil erosion add to this catalogue of concern, threatening already scarce agricultural resources along the southern shoreline.



Under the auspices of the UN Environment Programme, the ‘Blue Plan’ was published in 1989.  At the invitation of the littoral states of the Mediterranean, it sought to draw up a number of ‘scenarios’ for the region in the period 2000-2025.  Of importance, it set out ‘to highlight the linkage between events and actions; to illustrate tomorrow’s consequences of decisions taken – or not taken – today’.  It was a prospective study.  Among the objectives was the aim ‘to make available to the authorities and planners of the various countries…information which will enable them to formulate their own plans to ensure optimal socio-economic development without causing environmental degradation.’

The findings of the study are instructive.  To begin with there are warnings now of the impact of slow progress out of recession.  Low growth rates in the more developed states to the north of the Basin can only impact on their less prosperous neighbours to the south and east.  The obverse should also be true.  Greater cooperation among major economic nations could lead to recovery and steady growth; with concomitant benefits for those less well off.  As has already been discussed, the future of GATT – and the mental approach towards free trade and greater cooperation – is an important key to future progress.

Across the spectrum of scenarios considered, the difficulties of the countries to the south and east of the Inner Sea in their future development was highlighted.  This was true whether economic growth was weak or strong, in an international climate of fierce competition – ‘resulting in little or inadequate attention being paid to the environment’.

By contrast, the alternative scenarios offer the prospect of a new stimulus to socio-economic progress; and, by association, to the environment.  They propose ‘a better distribution of effort, knowledge…market organisation and international cooperation’.[14]  Specifically, a more balanced world is envisaged with greater collaboration between ‘north-south’ or ‘south-south’ nations.

Surely there is an argument to encourage both.  One is reminded of Winston Churchill’s advice after World War II.  He stressed not only the importance of future alliances based on common bonding; but also the need to ensure harmonious and balanced relations with those countries contiguous with any alliance.  While the USA and EU member states are pursuing such a policy, with sound reason, in central Europe and beyond, similar emphasis is missing on the north-south axis, of particular concern in the Mediterranean.

That some of the worst consequences of neglect may not become a serious concern until the year 2000, is a poor reason now to accept the status quo.  In this regard, future progress is not aided by a natural tendency for politicians to be less than interested in events outside the lifetime of their parliament.  If there is reluctance for more developed countries to widen their interest as economic recovery beckons, there may be another avenue to explore.   As John Ravenhill opines, it may be politic for developing states to agree to cooperate over environmental issues, only if they receive appropriate aid to stimulate growth.  Similar policies might also be effected over the traffic in illegal immigration and drugs. [15]

If there is to be genuine international progress more concerted effort is required.  In this regard, the results of the much-heralded Rio conference were not encouraging.  Most disconcerting was the fact that world leaders chose not to consider the basket of associated factors which affect the environment.  Chief among these is the issue of population growth, which promises to have such a major impact on developed and developing nations alike.  The Economist believes that: ‘the legacy of Rio will not be truly secure until the USA revives its interest in the environment.’ [16] While America’s approach to the conference was clearly introspective, much greater responsibility needs to be taken by influential bodies such as the G7; and, critically, by regional councils.


The influence of Islam is not new to the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.  At the beginning of the seventh century AD – while the forces of the Byzantine and Persian Empires were locked in combat – the divided peoples of Arabia had become united, politically and religiously, by Muhammed, through the unifying force of a new monotheistic religion.  Despite his death in 632, the strength of Islam lived on and was to expand rapidly.

In 634 Arab armies went on the march, conquering all the Levant and Mesopotamia by 642.  By 649 all of Persia had fallen under Islam’s influence.  In the following year the armies of the Prophet drove north into Armenia to fight the Khazars; themselves expanding into the modern-day Central Asian Republics.  By 709 the Maghreb had been overrun; and Arab forces crossed the Straits of Gibraltar to subjugate Spain.  A combination of logistical difficulties and internal squabbles eventually brought further expansion to a halt, in this direction.  Meanwhile, forays continued into Central Asia and India.

By 936, the influence of a single Caliph was confined to religious duties.  From there onwards, the history of the Arabs evolved within their separate kingdoms.  Yet the message and influence of Islam continued to grow through conquest and trade to all corners of the earth; measured by its present day importance.

Perhaps the key to current concerns over a revival of Islamic ‘fundamentalism’ lies in this statement from The Times Atlas of World History:

“In most of the Middle East and North Africa, rainfall is scanty and irregular and vegetation sparse, and settled agriculture depends on strong government and good irrigation.  In the tenth century, there was some disturbance of the settled order…This order was maintained by a common religion and law and the Arabic language in which they were expressed, and by widespread trade along the sea routes of the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the land routes of Asia”[17]

As has been adduced earlier, strong government and a reasonable prospect of life – enough food to eat and the opportunity to work and support a family – is not a feature common to all the countries along the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean Basin.  Nor is the prospect of ‘widespread trade’ encouraging, given the present stalemate in GATT negotiations – which concomitant risks of protectionism.  It is thus arguable that a lack of national success, for a variety of compelling reasons, has given rise to the present wave of so-called Islamic Fundamentalism.

One interpretation of this re-emerging phenomenon is that Western influence has not brought the promised rewards to several of these nations.  Why not, the logic follows, return to the ‘fundamental’ teaching of the Koran, with its message of compassion and mercy; and strict adherence to Sharia law?

There are fears for the outcome of such movements.  For it is extremists wishing to exploit the schisms between state and people who present the greatest potential menace.  As the Economist suggests: ‘These new men are clerics, religious laymen and politicians who hitch themselves for opportunistic reasons to the Islamic wagon.’ [18] Saddam Hussein provides one such example.  While Iran, Iraq and Syria exemplify extremist Muslim states, there has been less progress among more moderate states.  However, the March 1992 outlawing of the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria – on the point of winning power through the ballot box – may be indicative of a new trend.  As The Times reported:

“A worried member of Kuwait’s royal family issued a warning that, if the fundamentalists had taken power in Algeria, Tunisia would have followed suit immediately, Morocco a year later, and the ripple effect would have spread through the area”.[19]

Nor are the two most populous countries in the region immune to such pressures.  Egypt – a central figure in the maintenance of peace in the Middle East – has, thus far, kept at bay the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, prominent among radical societies.  Despite their successful assassination of President Sadat in 1981, Egypt’s policy of involving more moderate groups in her developing democratic process has been quietly successful.  However, there are good reasons for concern: future economic prosperity; population growth of a million very eight to nine months; a renewal of terrorist attacks against Coptic Christians and tourists; and, to the south, Sudan’s new junta, increasingly dominated by the National Islamic Front.

Turkey, meanwhile, continues to provide a buffer between Christian and Muslim nations.  As has been addressed earlier its role may well be pivotal.  The involvement of moderate Islamic traditionalism in parliament and the repression of extremist factions in the countryside at large has ensured the maintenance of a secular statehood.  However, with similar demographic trends to Egypt, the Turkish government can only be concerned by the continuing growth of the Kurdish population, whose birth rate far outweighs the remainder of the country.

When added to the persistent flow of refugees from Iran and Iraq, the Kurdish peoples now make up between 20 and 25 per cent of the overall Turkish population.  With the threat of further civil war on Russia’s south-west rim, the potential for growing migration of Muslim tribes increases; and, with it, a challenge to stability in this vast country.

There are those who argue against full integration of Turkey into the EU on the grounds of the access it would provide to her numerous peoples and eastern culture.  A de-stabilised Turkey with a refugee problem might well produce a far greater problem for the economies and security of the southern members of the Community.

Unlike Islam’s emergence in the seventh century, conquest is no longer a key factor in the spread of the Muslim religion.  As Imam Mahmoud – a cleric in southern Spain – remarks: ‘We are sure that Islam will be the prevalent religion of the next century, because only Islam can solve the problems of the world today.’ [20] Such a holistic approach to life is compelling among peaceful Sunni believers and their increasing converts.

As the century draws to a close, the combination of rising migration and a return to fundamentalism – the latter increasingly subverted by political activists – is disquieting.  Neither is this radicalism a monopoly of Shia nor Sunni Muslims.  If social unrest is not to be the cornerstone of the first decade of the twenty-first century, it is now that the stability of the southern and eastern Mediterranean states should be considered: not when it is too late.

In an EU under pressure and certain to enlarge, there is already sensitivity among members that the balance of society is threatened by mass movement of peoples – legal and illegal – in the aftermath of the Cold War.  The emergence of support for extreme right-wing parties does not augur well.  Tolerance is essential if these displaced persons are to be harmoniously absorbed.

Daily rising numbers from the east and lately the Balkans may well be dwarfed by those forecast from the Mediterranean rim by the end of the decade.   Illegal migrants, imbued with a sense of envy, despair and radical beliefs will not complement those societies in Western Europe, already unsettled as a result of previous short-sighted immigration policies.


While some conflict is unforeseeable, history reminds us of occasions where it might well have been avoided.  Every so often, surely, there is merit in climbing the watch-tower to look beyond the nearest range of hills.  Today’s observer would no doubt find much to obscure his telescope.  However, apart from the swirling mist of confusion, some of which arises from ideas about ‘a new world order’, there exist some clearer images.

Arms control, lack of economic development, poverty, growing population imbalance, mass migration, Islamic radicalism and a deteriorating environment are all manifest threats to future stability on Europe’s southern borders.  Most are considered singly.  Rarely are they thought of collectively.  Of greater concern is the lack of evidence that their consequences are evaluated beyond the immediate future.  A prescient Valéry Giscard d’Estaing – then President of France – said in 1980: ‘Demography maps out the next 20 or 30 years, but it is hard to believe it while we remain blinded by the present.’ [21]

The problem remains with us, almost 14 years on: only now the scope of identifiable difficulties appears to have widened.  Resolution is not easy.  National decision-makers are inclined to be in office for four or five years, which tends to constrain long-term policy making.  The influence of special interest groups is pervasive.

For example, French agreement to the GATT provisions for agriculture has been withheld; as much as anything for fear that her farmers will block the roads if subsidies are abolished.  Almost every nation has greater or lesser special-interest groups holding undue power to modulate national policy.

It is surely time for all states to see that – moral considerations apart – it is in their mutual economic interest to move towards closer cooperation; a change that should begin with a GATT agreement.  There is also a pressing need to give some thought to the long-term.  At present this is more often adopted by multinational companies, keen to ensure the validity of their exploration and investment, rather than politicians.

If the challenge to Europe’s development and future stability were not formidable enough, the breadth of problems emerging in the Mediterranean – and, by association, in the Middle East – are increasingly liable to encroach over its southern doorstep.  Actions now to resolve these incipient crises should be tackled at three organisational levels: UN, EU and nationally.

There are unlikely to be any all-embracing solutions.  A stronger, more effective UN, as envisaged by its founders, is now possible, with the ending of the Cold War.  Its officers must be capable of restructuring UN institutions to fit a more dynamic role.  Financial commitment must be honoured – some accounts are long overdue.

However, the UN is not a panacea.  It is essentially a forum to encourage dialogue and self-discipline; with a collective capability to intervene when its charter is violated.  Beneath its umbrella, the importance of effective regional councils – alliances of nations with mutual interest – cannot be overstated.

In Europe, the EU struggles to establish itself and expand.  As yet it has failed to grasp several collective foreign policy opportunities – to the detriment of the region and its neighbours.  Its current inability to forge a policy towards ending the fighting in former Yugoslavia is compounded by a niggardly response to a refugee problem unsurpassed since World War II.  France, Germany, Italy and Britain are also G7 nations, whose influence in global affairs remains central.  Leadership from the world’s largest industrial economies was never more necessary; but is presently lacking, as the July 1992 summit confirmed.

As developed nations struggle to recover from recession, governments are prone to look inwards; and to develop international policy to suit national difficulties.  The opposite approach is surely in their best interests.  Dialogue with one another – and preparedness to compromise – are the ways forward: not to eschew sovereignty; but to seek collective benefit and, from it, stability.

The long-awaited signing of the Uruguay round of GATT in April 1994 affords a potent opportunity to ensure progress among developed and developing countries alike.  Meanwhile, the breakup of Yugoslavia provides an object lesson.  The nationalist schisms which were manifest after Tito’s death have once again brought violence to the Balkans.  For differing reasons, there are now perceptible signs of future instability in the Mediterranean Basin, which threatens to spill across Europe’s southern rim.  If these indicators are similarly ignored, there is a clear alternative.  It is to bequeath to tomorrow’s children the poisoned chalice of an ever more insecure world.

European Security, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Spring 1994), pp. 58-81


[1] IISS. Strategic Survey 1991-1992 (London: Brassey’s, May 1992), p.102.

[2] Harvey Morris and Tom Wilkie, ‘A Lid on Armageddon’, The Independent on Sunday, 26 April 1992, p.8.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Brad Roberts, Chemical Disarmament and International Security, Adelphi Paper 267 (London: Brassey’s for IISS, Spring 1992), p.66.

[5] Mark Harvey, ‘Arms Export Control’, RUSI Journal 137/1 (Feb. 1992), p.39.

[6] World Development, ‘Why the poor don’t catch up’, Economist, 25 April 1992, p.76.

[7] Economist Intelligence Unit Country Profiles, 1991-92

[8] As note 6.

[9] ‘GATT will build the world’, Economist, 27 June 1992, p.9.

[10] The European Community and Mediterranean Countries (Brussels: Commission of the EC, Oct. 1991) p.6.

[11] John Salt, Current and Future International Migration Trends Affecting Europe (Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 1991) p.20.

[12] ‘Out of Africa’, The Times, 24 March 1992, leader page.

[13]   Nicholas Hopkinson, Migration into Western Europe (Wilton Park Papers, Dec. 1991) p.41.

[14] Grenon and Batisse, Futures for the Mediterranean Basin – The Blue Plan (Oxford: OUP, 1989), p.76.

[15] John Ravenhill, ‘The North-South balance of power’, International Affairs 66 (1990), p.744.

[16] ‘The Green Legacy’, Economist, 13 June 1992, p.62.

[17] The Times Atlas of World History (London: Times Books, 1979), p.134.

[18] ‘Islam resumes its march’, Economist, 4 April 1992, p.74.

[19] Christopher Walker, ‘Disillusioned Arabs tread warily towards democracy’, The Times, 7 March 1992, p.7.

[20] Robert Fox, The Inner Sea (London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1991), p.27.

[21] Statement from the Elysée Palace, Oct. 1980.

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