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The geopolitical importance of maritime security for Italy

    Meeting with Giuseppe De Giorgi
    • Rome
    • 19 January 2015

          Discussions at this Meeting for the Aspen Junior Fellows began with acknowledgment that Italy’s maritime border along the Mediterranean is the country’s only extra-European frontier. Italy’s location and coastal development continue to ensure the country a flow of income from its role as a strategic European hub in what has come to be known as the new “maritime century”. In addition, Italy boasts the largest ferry fleet, the twelfth most extensive merchant shipping fleet in the world (fourth in Europe), and the third biggest European fishing fleet, with the national maritime cluster generating 3% of GDP.

          It was further noted that while the Mediterranean only represents 1% of the planet’s water surface, it is traversed by 19% of the global maritime traffic, 30% of world oil, and 65% of all other energy resources en route to Europe (including transport by underwater pipeline), with the area also containing significant recently discovered energy reserves. It was stressed, however, that issues impacting on these transit flows arise well beyond the geographical boundaries of the Mediterranean basin, and are closely linked to prevailing conditions in the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Guinea, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Indeed, Italy’s national maritime interests have expanded, reaching as far as Mozambique and Angola, in areas where growing piracy calls for greater protection of strategic commodity flows.

          There was recognition in this regard of the persistent difficulties hampering the reform of international cooperation mechanisms that governance of the Mediterranean requires. In particular, in addition to European collaboration, cooperation with countries on the sea’s southern shores is also necessary in order to anticipate and possibly prevent the migration flows of biblical proportions that have dominated the headlines in recent years.

          Figures were cited indicating that, in 2014, there were 3,224 refugee deaths in the Mediterranean, representing 66% of the world total (4,868) and a fourfold growth in the figures for 2013[1]. With 33 million internally displaced persons and 17 million refugees worldwide, the number of people fleeing conflicts is now at its highest since the Second World War. Italy’s recently concluded Operation Mare Nostrum was held up as an international paradigm, having enabled the rescue of 140 thousand people. It was questioned, however, whether the reduced capacity of the EU’s new less-resourced Operation Triton would have the desired effectiveness. In particular, there was a perceived need for clarification as regards the role that Europe should play and how the defense and security resources of its individual member states should be coordinated to address this humanitarian crisis.

          It was suggested that the growing instability in the Mediterranean requires effective and communal responses to maintaining this bridge between a stable North and a South that is conflict-riven as a result of the Arab Spring uprisings, the expansion of Islamic fundamentalism and the emergence of intra-Islamic conflicts (of which ISIS is the most extreme manifestation), the shift of the US naval focus to the Pacific, and the “territorialization” of the high seas, which hinders the legitimate exploitation of marine resources.

          Attention was thus drawn to the need for support of a policy that protects Italian and European interests, including by congruent military means. Such an approach was considered the only way of ensuring that Italy will play a stronger primary role in advanced defense and security, all with the strategic aim of maintaining order in the region, serving as a role model to countries in North Africa and the Middle East, and offering a shared response to the humanitarian and strategic challenges which the area poses.

          [1]  As reported by the IOM (International Organization for Migration – UN).