The Mediterranean Region during the Cold War and after
No region of the world as much as the Mediterranean can claim to have experienced, or as often been the main theatre of the great divides of history. Once considered the centre of the world, if not of the world itself, this sea and its littoral lost its centrality in international affairs after the onset of ‘modern’ history, then resumed its importance once the new northern European powers had asserted themselves and proceeded to vie with one another for its domination and control. The sixteenth-century Mediterranean witnessed the peaking of an acute contest between the two great empires of West and East, the Christian Habsburg and the Muslim Ottoman empires, respectively. Concurrently intersecting it, however, there emerged a much more enduring North-South contest within Christian Europe itself, signalled by the Reformation that was grafted upon the emerging fracture between the economically progressive North and the politically reactionary South. During the next two centuries the Mediterranean East-West contest was abandoned, as northern Europe consolidated its ascendancy at the expense of Mediterranean Europe, which continued sliding into under-development. In the course of the nineteenth and the early part of the twentieth century then, the great powers which had emerged in the meantime to direct international affairs turned their eyes on the Ottoman Mediterranean, dominating it through conquest, patronage and various forms of protection and tutelage, and, in a way, standing vertically the once horizontal Christian-Muslim contest. In this process not only did the southern and the eastern Mediter ranean fall under European control, but to the dominant sea power in particular, Great Britain, it assumed the character of a single geo-strategic region, from where it could both protect its national interest as an imperial and commercial power and monitor and influence affairs in continental Europe. In the years that followed World War II, the
Mediterranean region returned to be the contesting ground, this time for world powers from East and West. The reverse side of the specificity attached by such powers to the Mediterranean region is the regional fragmentation induced by the same competing external powers and the unequal development of its component parts.