Sea Changes: U.S. Challenges and Opportunities in the Eastern Mediterranean

The Eastern Mediterranean is rapidly reemerging as a geopolitical flashpoint after a sustained period of relative calm. Historically, the region’s vital position at the nexus of Europe, Asia and Africa made it an epicenter of great power competition and a cauldron of conflict. It was also where the United States began pushing back against communism in the Cold War, and it remained a focus of U.S. grand strategy until the collapse of the Soviet Union. But since then the United States has turned to problems elsewhere.

Now, remarkable geopolitical realignments are underway across the region that require America’s renewed attention. Under President Erdogan, Turkey has become an unpredictable ally whose increasingly Islamo-nationalist foreign policy and gunboat diplomacy put it at odds with traditional partners. Iranian and Russian efforts to gain footholds in the region have brought with them the return of high-stakes geopolitical rivalry identified by American strategists as the chief U.S. national security threat.

At the same time, the Eastern Mediterranean is home to the largest hydrocarbon discoveries of the past decade, with prospects for significant additional findings. However, many regional actors have competing territorial claims to these valuable resources, adding considerably to the stakes involved in the region and compounding the risk of conflict.

Combined, these developments create new strategic opportunities for the United States, but also potential hotspots which could once again destabilize the region and which resemble the currently tense environment in the East and South China Seas. American policymakers must treat the region as a coherent strategic entity, and make abundantly clear to allies and adversaries alike that the Eastern Mediterranean is back as a critical focus for U.S. grand strategy.

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Eastern Mediterranean Policy Project Co-Chairs

Amb. Eric Edelman
Former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy

Gen Charles “Chuck” Wald, USAF (ret.)
Former Deputy Commander of U.S. European Command

Eastern Mediterranean Policy Project Members

Gen Philip M. Breedlove, USAF (ret.)
Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander and former Commander of U.S. European Command

Gen Kevin P. Chilton, USAF (ret.)
Former Commander, U.S. Strategic Command

Svante E. Cornell
Policy Advisor, JINSA Gemunder Center for Defense & Strategy

ADM Kirkland H. Donald, USN (ret.)
Former Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program

VADM Mark Fox, USN (ret.)
Former Deputy Commander, U.S. Central Command

ADM Bill Gortney, USN (ret.)
Former Commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD)

John Hannah
Former Assistant for National Security Affairs to the Vice President; JINSA Gemunder Center Senior Advisor

Reuben Jeffery
Former Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs

Alan Makovsky
Former Senior Professional Staff Member at U.S. House Foreign Relations Committee

Edward Morse
Global Head of Commodities Research at Citigroup

GEN David Rodriguez, USA (ret.)
Former Commander, U.S. Africa Command

Lt Gen Thomas “Tom” Trask, USAF (ret.)
Former Vice Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command

This brief was made possible by the generous support of the Gettler Family Foundation and a portion of the research was conducted on the Benjamin Gettler International Policy Trip.