New geopolitical architecture in the Mediterranean

Ioannis Kotoulas
Wednesday 13 Oct 2021

Egypt, France, and Greece are the three focal states in the new geopolitical architecture that is emerging in the Mediterranean and North Africa region

There is a new geopolitical architecture emerging in the Mediterranean, North Africa and greater region comprising important bilateral agreements and multilateral cooperation projects. Egypt, France and Greece are essential actors in this new landscape.

Last week, Greece and France signed a $3.5 billion defence and security deal accompanied by a strategic defence partnership between the two countries that provides for military support beyond their joint NATO membership. 

Under the deal, Greece will obtain three advanced Belharra FDI frigates with the option for an additional one. It will also obtain three or four Gowind corvettes from the French side. Over the past year, Greece has agreed to obtain 24 fourth-generation Rafale fighter jets from France, upgrading its fleet of fighter jets, which already stands at 187 and is the 16th largest globally.

The state-of-the-art warships agreed on in the new deal can establish effective aerial and naval control over an area of up to 200 kms. The Belharra frigates, the first to be obtained by a state other than France, feature cutting-edge weapons such as up to 32 Aster-30 hypersonic surface-to-air missiles that travel at four-and-a-half times the speed of sound and can strike guided ballistic missiles. 

These weapons are supported by sophisticated radar systems, advanced digital technology and overall highly advanced capabilities in anti-air, anti-submarine and anti-ship warfare. What is most important, though, is not just the ships themselves, but also the provision of a strategic defence partnership with France.

Article 2 of the French-Greek Agreement is a mutual defence clause that includes the use of military means by the signatories to protect the national territory of each state in case of external attack, even if the attacking party is a NATO member. This is the first time that two NATO members have concluded such a defence pact overriding the NATO framework. Greece has also signed a similar mutual defence pact with the UAE, while the Greek military has deployed a Patriot missile system in Saudi Arabia intended to bolster its defence against external attacks.

We are thus seeing the emergence of a new geopolitical architecture in the Mediterranean and North Africa region based on important binding bilateral agreements, such as the one between Greece and France and the partial Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) deal between Egypt and Greece, and fundamental multilateral projects, such as the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum under the leadership of Egypt.

There are three focal states in this new architecture: Egypt, France and Greece.

Egypt is the leader of both the Arab world and the continent of Africa, controlling the strategic Suez Canal and with interests extending to Libya, the Sahel region and the African continent, the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. France is the emerging leader of Europe against a receding Germany, the only nuclear power in the EU, and a permanent Security Council member.

Greece has the fifth-strongest air force in Europe, an extended maritime front in the Mediterranean, a large EEZ and is the guarantor of the independence of the Cyprus Republic. As a result, its commitments stretch from the Adriatic Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean. The three states share amicable relations on the military, financial and cultural levels, and their national interests coincide in both the Mediterranean and North Africa.

The new geopolitical order is based on overlapping networks of cooperation and defence that are not contradictory but complementary. Greece and France are members of both NATO and the EU, France has a diplomatic network in the Sahel region and in Sub-Saharan Africa, and Egypt is a member of both the Arab League and the African Union and has excellent relations with both Greece and France.

Egypt could take into consideration the possibility of concluding a moderate version of a defence pact with Greece, with provisions for indirect military assistance and coordination in the case of external interference. It could also, if deemed necessary, consider a trilateral defence pact including Egypt, Greece and France. 

In the event of a bilateral defence agreement with Greece, this could cover four major aspects: strategic cooperation, foreign-policy coordination, joint military exercises in the Mediterranean and Red Sea and inter-state cooperation with regard to the two countries’ respective national military forces, as well as intelligence and technology sharing in joint-production projects.

The future of international cooperation and regional stability lies in a pro-active strategic mentality and depending on national forces and cooperation with trustworthy allies in the long run. Egypt and Greece have repeatedly proved their commitment to regional stability and international law. In the near future, they could upgrade their relations to a version of a new alliance.

*The writer is a lecturer in geopolitics at the University of Athens in Greece.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 October, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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