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Navigating Complex Maritime Security Challenges in the Black and Mediterranean Seas: Insights from the Updated EUMSS

In March, the European Union announced a update to its 2014 Maritime Security Strategy (EUMSS), identifying new and persistent threats to European security at sea. Undoubtedly, Russia invaded Ukraine on a large scale in February 2022 helped influence the updated EUMSS approach to the Black and Mediterranean Seas, with explicit and implicit references to warfare scattered throughout the document.

In particular, the danger of unexploded ordnance (UXO) to military and civilian maritime activities, threats to critical maritime infrastructure such as oil pipelines and submarine cablesand territorial and maritime disputes are identified as security concerns that have been exacerbated by Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine. Broader security cooperation between EU members and with non-EU partners is necessary to address these security concerns, but effective responses will be challenged both internally and externally. There are still more systemic threats and security concerns identified in the 2014 EUMSS, such as illegal migration, people smuggling, and illicit shipments of arms and narcotics. And in the updated EUMSS, the EU intends to continue working with non-EU partners in and around the Black and Mediterranean Seas to respond to these security concerns.

The new EUMSS identifies six strategic objectives to protect European security interests in the region:

  1. Intensification of activities at sea,
  2. Cooperating with partners,
  3. Improve situational awareness of the maritime domain,
  4. Risk and threat management,
  5. strengthen capacities and
  6. Educate and train.

Compared to the previous iteration, EUMSS 2023 places a greater emphasis on further European defense cooperation, through Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) missions and Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) projects such as the development of the European patrol corvettegetting better antisubmarine capabilities and expand the physical and cyber security surrounding critical infrastructure. Also, in contrast to the latest version, the Black Sea was conspicuously absent from the 2014 EUMSS and nods to Mediterranean security issues were relatively limited, with more emphasis on more remote water masses such as the Gulf of Guinea and littoral areas around the Horn of Africa. However, the updated EUMSS continues the legacy of the 2014 document by highlighting cooperation with non-EU partners in the region through information sharing, joint training exercises, and border security enforcement as key priorities moving forward.

Security cooperation with NATO, as well as Turkey’s role in the region

Both the 2014 and 2023 versions of the EUMSS identify cooperation between the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a priority, and the most recent edition continues to place an emphasis on cross-training of EU member states. in NATO. centers of excellence, as well as improve bilateral and multilateral cooperation at sea. Last year’s sabotage of the north stream natural gas pipelines likely influenced the revised EUMSS approach to protect critical infrastructure, with EUMSS 2023 Joint Communication stating that “The EU should intensify cooperation with key partners and relevant non-EU countries in this area, in particular through the structured EU-NATO dialogue on resilience and the working group on critical infrastructure resilience”.

Shortly after the revised EUMSS and Action Plan were announced, the EU-NATO Task Force on Critical Infrastructure Resilience was set up. thrown out. While there is no specific mention of the Black or Mediterranean Seas as areas of responsibility for this working group, the extensive network of submarine cables in the Mediterranean and upcoming Black Sea cable-laying projects certainly stand out as key areas for security cooperation between the two organizations. One Black Sea project worth noting is the planned construction of the world longer cable line and submarine power, intended to deliver renewable energy from Azerbaijan to the European Union, via Romania and Hungary. The project is part of the EU’s push to diversify its energy sources, namely away from Russia, and will affect EU and NATO countries alike. This project is unlikely to be the last of its kind as the EU sees the Black Sea region as essential to advance the European Green Deal and future efforts towards climate neutrality.

Although the updated EUMSS does not explicitly mention coordination with Turkey, any EU (and NATO) plans regarding the security of the Black Sea will be subject to Turkish acceptance. Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine last year, Türkiye used its legal powers close the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits to warships not based in the Black Sea. Turkey could use similar grounds to deny access to EU vessels attempting to remove UXO and provide safety to commercial shipping, or to delay construction or maintenance of undersea pipelines and cables. As evidenced by his hesitation to ratify the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO, as well as his increased trade relations with Russia, Türkiye has shown that it values ​​its own security concerns above those of the EU or NATO, especially in the context of the Black Sea. However, the future of EU-Turkey cooperation in the Black Sea is likely to depend on the next elections in Türkiye. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s main rival, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, has stated that if he is elected, one of his first goals would be to make Turkey a member of the European Union. And even if membership will remain a distant prospect, Kılıçdaroğlu’s intention, should he win the election, means the potential for further Black Sea security cooperation with the EU and the rest of NATO.

Extension of the European neighborhood cooperation

The wider European neighbourhood, which includes non-EU countries in the Balkans, Eastern Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa and the South Caucasus, has presented the EU with both opportunities for security cooperation and perennial challenges. After the publication of the 2014 EUMSS, subsequent crises across the Middle East, including the rise of the Islamic State, continued destabilization in the Levant, and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, exacerbated migrant flows into the EU and the neighborhood. european. , while cross-border crime increases activities throughout the region. The new EUMSS therefore continues to prioritize the integration of non-EU partners in the Black and Mediterranean Seas, with greater emphasis on efforts to promote burden-sharing of security issues.

One avenue that the EUMSS identifies to enhance cooperation with non-EU partners is through greater involvement in migration and border management. The European Border Surveillance System, for example, has seen success in recent years monitoring migrant ships and deploying EU maritime assets to intercept and deliver them safely to EU ports of entry. High impact areas for illegal migration and people smuggling in southern Spain, southern Italy and Greece are prime regions for further collaboration with non-EU partners in North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean. In addition, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) has worked to ensure efficient border security for almost two decades and continues to do so. In it last year, the European Commission negotiated status agreements with Moldova, North Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro, which will allow the deployment of Frontex border management teams in these countries to strengthen border security and collaborate through information sharing. With ongoing conflicts in the Levant and Ukraine, it is essential that the EU continue to work with other countries in the European neighborhood to ensure effective border security.

A second way the EUMSS identifies further cooperation is to facilitate the exchange of “information, experience, technical assistance, training and best practices among the countries of the UfM (Union for the Mediterranean) to address illegal activities at sea”. Last month, the UfM published a road map towards the implementation of what he calls the “Sustainable Blue Economy”. This roadmap includes suggestions for improving maritime security, such as the development of an EU Common Information Sharing Environment (CISE) counterpart that is accessible to non-EU UfM members. recent projects like WITH OSMOSIS, whose objective was to develop regional and local interoperability for maritime surveillance activities, enabled UfM members from the EU and from outside the EU to work to develop a common operational picture for the security of the Mediterranean. Creating an ICSE-style system for non-EU UfM members could help partner countries familiarize themselves with EU approaches to maritime security and increase the interoperability of information-gathering systems and the databases among all the members of the UfM.

the way to follow

The EU understands the growing geopolitical challenges that will affect security in the region, both from non-state actors and as a result of state conflict and competition. The updated EUMSS shows the wide range of security issues present in the region, including UXO transported by sea, human and drug trafficking, and threats to critical infrastructure. Security in the Black and Mediterranean Seas is not the sole responsibility of the EU, and cooperation with non-EU countries will be essential to promote maritime security. As the EU navigates the changing geopolitical landscape, incentivizing partner countries through further integration within the European Neighborhood Policy or offering greater opportunities for joint training programs and exercises can pay dividends for EUMSS strategic objectives. in the region.

Hunter Stoll is a defense analyst with the RAND Corporation and a captain in the US Army Reserve. He has an M.S. in Security Studies from Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service. All views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the RAND Corporation or the US Army Reserve.

Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images

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