NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue aims to contribute to regional security and stability, achieve better mutual understanding, and dispel misconceptions. In 2011, unprecedented changes occurred in the Middle East with people demanding better living conditions, the protection of human rights, and more accountable and democratic governments.
The Arab public awakening has demonstrated that the political landscape in the Mediterranean and the Middle East is fundamentally changing with new electoral processes in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco. The crisis that erupted in Libya in early 2011, at NATO's doorstep, is just one example of how the security of NATO countries and the security of the Mediterranean and the Middle East are so closely linked.
The Arab Spring was perhaps the most unprecedented event of 2011. Ever since their independence from colonialism in the second half of the twentieth century, most of the Maghreb countries were controlled by autocratic regimes. The beginning of 2011 saw widespread discontent turn into revolt, which suddenly grew and spread. Arab publisc demanded better living conditions, more accountable governments, and the protection of human rights. The revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya succeeded in establishing new regimes in the place of the old ones.
At present, one of the most pressing concerns is the role NATO played in the Arab Spring and what role it will continue to play working with these regional partner countries, especially with regards to regional security and stability. How will NATO be able to support the processes of transition in these countries, and strengthen regional security and stability?
The answer to this question is linked to NATO’s role in the Arab Spring, as well as the Mediterranean Dialogue. One should also consider what NATO is doing now, and what it could be doing, not just on an inter-governmental level, but also encouraging support at a grassroots level.
What was NATO's role in the Arab Spring? NATO’s involvement was limited to taking action in Libya. By means of a resolution of the UN Security Council, a coalition of NATO Allies and non-NATO members protected endangered civilians by establishing a no-fly zone and arms embargo.
At the Forum for New Diplomacy, held in June 2011, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that NATO was renewing its commitment to foster democracy, security, stability, and prosperity in the Arab world. Rasmussen stated that peace and security in the Euro-Atlantic region could not be protected when there were unresolved crises on its borders. Thus, we can conclude that NATO has committed itself to aiding those countries that have undergone revolution and created new governments, if only to keep the Mediterranean region safe and secure.
Now that NATO has made a commitment to uphold peace and security, how will it go about achieving its aims? NATO’s Mediterranean dialogue seems to be one means to this end. The Dialogue is an initiative launched in 1994, involving Jordan, Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia. According to the information available on the NATO website, the Dialogue's three main goals are to contribute to regional security and stability, achieve better mutual understanding, and to dispel any misconceptions about NATO in these countries. The key principles of the initiative range from diversity to non-discrimination and non-imposition. The security and stability goal of the Dialogue seems to have been strengthened by the Strategic Concept, adopted in November 2011 at the Lisbon summit.
In my opinion, perhaps the greatest strength of the Mediterranean Dialogue is its soft power aspect. Soft power, a term coined by J S Nye, aims at winning over the hearts and minds of people to gain their support. Soft power initiatives, such as the Mediterranean Dialogue, are an ideal way for NATO to foster long-term support for its missions amongst the inhabitants of the region. NATO might also use the media - especially the Internet and social media, since they played an important role in Egypt and Tunisia in 2011 - as a pathway for such initiatives.
Take Facebook or Twitter: NATO could easily create a profile on both websites in Arabic. This would be an excellent way of educated and trying to make young people feel involved. NATO could also hire influential people as spokespersons, whether politicians or celebrities: I imagine that the Mediterranean Dialogue would sound more appealing coming from a winner of Arab Idol than from a NATO representative.
Another way of maintain long term stability and security in the region might involve looking to other countries in the Mediterranean; perhaps providing them with assistance, or increasing cooperation between such countries and those of the Mediterranean Dialogue. Consider Malta: the island took on thousands of refugees fleeing civil unrest in the Maghreb in 2011. It has also taken on many irregular migrants fleeing North Africa in the past ten years. Malta and other Mediterranean states could prove important to the long-term success of regional security and stability arrangements. Such states would have a regional interest in the matter, and perhaps would be more likely to cooperate with the Dialogue Including non-Dialogue states in any security and stability decisions or project would probably allow for greater cooperation in the region.
NATO appears to be heading in the right direction to foster long-term security and stability in the Mediterranean, having created initiatives to win over the peoples in the region to its cause. By including non-Dialogue countries in its schemes, and perhaps by utilising social media as a soft power tool, it may succeed.
Elizabeth Mallia is a student at the University of Malta. She is currently enrolled in law, but remains passionate about international relations.