General Umberto Cappuzo, while Chief of Staff, Italian Army, provided a useful overview on the strategic significance of the Mediterranean region:
The Mediterranean is undoubtedly the most dangerous area, as far as the application of the new forms of Soviet combined strategy is concerned. The only stable thing in the Mediterranean today is instability! And it is here that the dichotomy between freedom and stability, pluralism and order is most apparent. It is a dichotomy which has been present throughout history and which is far from being solved today.
The Mediterranean is at the crossroads of three continents and three monotheist religions. It is an area of conflict between political, military, ideological, religious and economic blocs. It is a region where more than 300 million people live and as much as 18 different nationalities are present. The absence of a unifying power has its origin in a combination of factors, among which we can mention the mosaic of ethnic national settlements and the strong spirit of autonomy people have developed as a result also of the natural choke points existing in the region. These conditions are also linked to the geostrategic patterns of the area which is characterized by numerous high ridges and passes and narrow seas: that is to say, positions from which the lines of communication can be controlled.
Sea traffic is very heavy in the Mediterranean: more than 2,000 ocean-going ships are present in the area every day and approximately 40 percent of the energy supplies for Central Europe pass through this basin. This will give some idea of the economic value of the area for the world. The 106Mediterranean, however, has not only maintained its role as a vehicle for exchanges of goods and services. It now plays several others. The industrialization of fishing activities, the exploitation of the continental shelf, the use of biological resources: these are all factors that affect international competitiveness and therefore security in the area.
The Arab-Israeli conflict, the Iran-Iraq war, the dispute between Greece and Turkey, the question of Cyprus, the aggressive and dangerous politics of Qadhafi, the Polisario problem referring to the guerrilla group fighting for independence in Western Sahara, the instability of Malta, the revitalization of Islam: these are only some examples of the reasons of conflict. But that is not all! Other crises and hotbeds of tension, even if located outside the Mediterranean, could also have serious repercussions for the area. Events in Afghanistan, in the Persian Gulf, and in the area of the Horn of Africa, examined in a single light, can be grouped together under one threat: the threat to the oil routes to Europe.
To sum up, then, the fulcrum of the East-West confrontation has moved towards the Mediterranean, which therefore becomes the meeting point of three different axes of conflict: East-West, North-South, and South-South. It is around these that the fate of mankind revolves. 1