For some years now, the international security environment has been showing a lot of insecurity, fear, ambiguity, and even unpredictability. The shortfalls of thesecurity in the trans-Mediterranean area are quite renowned: fragmented environment, the North-South wall of the fault lines in politics, economy, and demography, which intertwine and give rise to a high migratory pressure. These are the constants to which we should add the dynamics triggered by main and derivative factors: migration, terrorism as a method of achieving strategic objectives, global paralysis of the governance, and the vicious cycle of sectarian divisions. Along with them, weapons have been increasingly spreading, both to fuel conflicts were vested interests are at stake and to increase security spending.
The last decade, in particular, has proven to be intense and strategic navigation in the rough seas of the international waters struck by the storms of the systemic crisis in foreign relations is far from being simple. We must strive to understand the dynamics and the upheavals of the Arab world in the light of what my teacher, Admiral Jacques Lanxade, called the “montée de l’Islam” (“the escalation of Islam”). They need more attention, strong nerves, and far-sightedness. Antonio Gramsci wrote in his Quaderni – to describe the Italian situation that led to fascism – that “the crisis consists in the fact that the old dies and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum all kinds of morbid phenomena happen”. Mutatis mutandis, it works just fine also today. And, contextualizing the scenario, Hillary Clinton has to admit U.S.’s paternity of the monsters that have been tormenting us for over fifteen years now, Al Qaeda and the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
Today as yesterday, the Mediterranean is the hinge between three continents, hence it is the hub of different situation which are separated, but not separable, with their contradictions and tensions, that history has not solved. Extremist fanatics act according to brutal, but effective operational schemes. The mix of ideology and terrorism goes far beyond Arab nationalism which is resentful towards Israel. And power vacuums exert fatal attraction on the militants of political fanaticism for religious purposes who master both military and criminal activities, according to the model of the “criminalization of space.” Profits from drug trade and other illicit business are reinvested to expand the scope of action, increase capacity, and corrupt officials and politicians. Thus, they further corrode the residual areas of sovereignty and accelerate the ripping apart of the social fabric.
The impressive increase of the number of Daesh militants and its spread gives shape to a pluralistic and elusive threat, which, by its size and dangerousness, represents the strategic challenge of the international community. Its effective foreign legion of commuters and the spread of the affiliated groups which have sworn allegiance to the provinces, such as Afghanistan, Nigeria, Egypt, and Libya, has created a kind of multiplication of security fronts and conflict relocation. The new aggregation of the Caliphate redraws the boundaries of the Levant, strengthening the notion of expanded space, an extended hinterland not included in the acronym MENA (Middle East North Africa), born in the western financial world to group Mediterranean economies.
In two key-States, Libya and Syria, the situation is incandescent. Libya, unified Italian colonial era, connects Maghreb and Mashreq; Syria is the battleground between two historic rival regional: it is the door to the Middle East of the Ottoman Empire and a bridge towards the Mediterranean area of the Persian Empire. In Libya, the political crisis is interwoven with the problems of terrorism and internal security, as well as with the migration phenomenon. After the exhausting negotiations between the representatives of the two rival parliaments, Tripoli and Tobruk, and a series of twists and turns, they have finally approved the long-awaited national unity government, sponsored by the United Nations. Meanwhile, taking advantage of the vacuum created by the two governments in conflict, the Daesh increased its presence on the ground, consolidating in the Fezzan, Sabatra, Sirte, and Cireniaca. In Syria, the conflict has already spilt over into Lebanon reviving latent frictions, with the result of producing some setbacks in the expansion of Daesh.
Since 2014, a coalition of 62 countries trying to fight the self-styled Islamic State; 20 of them carry out operational activities (some, like our own, with no-combat roles), others are restricted to logistical and humanitarian support. There are countless diplomatic marathons to handle the differences in order to maximize efforts against the Caliphate. But, the last Paris attacks have shown that the presence of the Caliphate is well organized, direct, and lethal also in Europe. As to the modus operandi of the West, the current situation has led to a rethinking of strategies to resize and defeat the threat. The idea that responsibility for internal wars falls onto the respective regions where they explode affirmed itself. Fear of ending up embroiled in endless war commitments looks like an insurmountable obstacle, both for the military and political leadership and for society, all of which are extenuated by long-term efforts. As to Italy, its intervention is “limited”, as part of a strategy of attrition, which includes other types of non-military actions, such as keeping track of cash flows), and in order to develop capacity on the ground, such as training troops, police, air traffic controllers, and so on.
Recent events have highlighted the need to balance, in the game of special relationship, the public interest in the stability and in national security with social awareness of the rights. In fact, faced with an unprecedented threat, there are dissensions and disagreements between the partners on priorities, methods to follow, and political objectives. Unity of views is missing. Besides, some Member States of the U.S.-led coalition have continued the war on their own, thus breaking a canonical principle concerning conduct of war: unity of efforts. A critical situation was created, to the point that potential damage far outweigh the individual interests to be defended. The fight against the Caliphate cannot be limited to the armed militias; it must pursue other lines of action, such as financing channels, culture, society devastated by war action. In the battle on social ecology of hearts and minds, soft skills play a decisive role and temporary terms move in the long run. This implies the involvement of non-State actors, civil society, research, and the University.
Mario Rino Me
Former Chief of the Steering Committee of the 5 + 5 Defense Initiative, Chairman of NATO Military Committee, Deputy Head of the Department “Military Policy and Planning” of the Defence Staff, and Head of Multilateral Affairs and Strategic Planning