1919 was one of the great years of world history, even if it was not one of historical dates like 1789 or 1945. World War Οne had just been ended, the world order had collapsed. Although the old world was in ruins, new, great hopes were emerging. When "peacemakers" met in Paris to "reconstruct" the world, new ideas and new nations emerged as well. Today, a hundred years later, we still live in a world that is under the great influence of the Treaty of Versailles and other conferences held after the end of the Great War, and instead of hope, fear prevails.
The withdrawal of Great Britain from European institutions, the rise of extremist national leaders, and the challenges posed by the assertive policy of global political actors pose new questions, apparently without positive paths towards the future. The geopolitical rivalry in the EU neighborhood, as a reflection of the global confrontation of the United States with China and Russia (as well as other BRICS countries), all in order to redistribute power and influence at the global level, has transformed this area into the one with unpredictable future. In the neoliberal conditions of the global crisis, the changes that have been caused are particularly sensitive and indicative, and its long-term consequences are still not fully clear.
Particularly in the Mediterranean region we are faced with an unstable political and security situation. The Palestinian-Israeli problem "dangles as a timed bomb" in the Middle East, while the civil war in Syria is continuing. The Islamic Middle East is affected by a radical movement calling itself the Islamic State. At the same time, despite significant progress over the last decades, the Balkans are still confronted with an unstable political and security situation. This "vicious circle" of wars and conflicts, of a smaller or greater intensity, which in various ways endangers the vital interests of EU members, and as a result of the inadequate intervention of major geopolitical actors, like a century ago, has caused that the Europe is far from achieving its main revised strategy - the establishment of security in the EU neighborhood, in the Balkans, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Caucasus.
Going back to 1919, Sir Halford John Mackinder, whom they also call "the father of Geostrategy", in his work Democratic Ideals and Reality: A Study of the Policy of Reconstruction, clearly states that in the event that the Mediterranean crosses into the sphere of interest of one land-based Eurasian force (Russia), this force would be allowed to establish premises for global domination, expressing thus a claim that reflected the diachronic geopolitical perception of Anglo-Saxon naval forces, and subsequently became the "cornerstone" of the Cold War American strategy of "containment" of Russia. Once again, this region that has long represented the arena of opposing religions, ideologies, nationalisms and ambitions, faces historical challenges.
It is the currents of modern history that point to the area of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East as a potentially "inflammable" war zone. It seems that the period of peaceful post-Cold War evolution is over and no one can easily predict the ways in which these areas will develop in the next decade. In all of these scenarios, Europe has been brought to the edge of a new, modern version of the Cold War, which is much more dangerous than its classic form, as its bearers are not in a position to ensure control over the consequences of their actions. Bearing in mind that we are at the threshold of the largest global redistribution of power from the above mentioned period, as well as the fact that in the coming decade geopolitical options will increasingly be conditioned by the geography of transit, overcoming the importance of geography of natural resources or military geography, the aforementioned regions, and especially the Eastern Mediterranean, is again in the focus of global political actors.
Assuming that some of the acute global problems are rooted in the political legacy of these regions: arrangements and divisions during and immediately after the end of the Great War, an insight into the process of "reconstructing" these strategic areas of "supply and transit" as part of diplomatic, military, economic and political processes that took place exactly one hundred years ago could be crucial to answer the question - why many unresolved issues in this area potentially represent the world's most malignant conflicts.
The region of the Eastern Mediterranean basin and the Middle East for centuries have been the scene of conflicts between nations, states, religions and cultures, representing a potential geopolitical reward in the struggle for supremacy in Europe. Since ancient times, these areas have represented a commercial bridge between Asia and Europe. The theme of control over the Straits was imposed as vital. The strategic, geographical position of the area became even more significant after the discovery of oil at the end of the 19th century, due to long-term British interests in Mesopotamia, as well as its position in relation to the British military and trade routes towards India. The decision of the British government, just before the outbreak of the World War One, that the Royal Navy ships so far stirred by steam, should be replaced with the oil drive ones, further increased its significance.
The existence of oil reserves in Persia was also stirred by the strong interest of the German Empire, which wanted the breakthrough in Persia, as well as the control over resources, to achieve through the alliance with the Ottoman Empire, and its strategic goal was to sabotage them, either by their control by the Turks, all in order to prevent the possibility of supplying the British and Russian with liquid fuel. In addition, British foreign policy had to take into account the claims of its allies, the French, who generally wanted the territories in Syria inhabited by numerous Christian communities. It was also a new ally, Italy, who had a claim on the islands in the Aegean Sea, inhabited by Catholic populations of Italian roots, as well as in the territories of Asia Minor. Russia wanted to control the Northern Asia Minor, on the Black Sea coasts, in order to protect Orthodox life, Armenian and Greeks. Additionally, there was also Greece, which wanted the Thrace and Asia Minor inhabited by the Greek population.
While the Great War raged in the Balkans, the Kingdom of Serbia accepted a strong joint attack from the German-Austrian-Bulgarian forces. The withdrawal of the Serbian Army in October 1915 had made Greece a crucial territory, and its officially proclaimed neutrality made it the epicenter of the interests of the warring parties in further "penetration into the East". Indicative claims by then Serbian Prime Minister Nikola Pasic that the allied politics towards Greece was shaped by internal antagonism in order to create influential areas within the policy of the Eastern Mediterranean, was evidenced by the enormous pressure of Anglo-French forces on the official Greek structures of entering the war in 1916 at the moment of signing the Sykes-Picot agreement on the division of the Middle East after its expiration, as well as the "patronage policy" of the same forces during the period that followed.
The geostrategic importance of this area is further evidenced by facts about the British annexation of Cyprus and Egypt at the very beginning of the war, the operation of the Athens Intelligence Service and the transformation of the British Embassy in Athens, after the disastrous defeat of Anglo-French in Dardanelles to a collection center of military information, and in continuous contact with the British Headquarters in Cairo. Especially Cyprus was a key area for both Turkish intelligence and British counter-intelligence services, and control of this territory provided the passage of trade from India to the English maritime route (Aden, Suec, Cyprus, Malta, Gibraltar). The proximity of Cyprus to the shores of Ottoman Syria in the east, the Karaman and Silicia (southern Asia Minor) in the north, increased the island military-strategic importance, and with the base in Cyprus, British agents landed in Asia Minor and Syria. In December 1916, Alexandria became the permanent headquarters of the Special Information Bureau of the Eastern Mediterranean, all in order to maintain direct communication with Thessaloniki and Cyprus.
While the predominant definition of the Balkans as the main bridge to the eastern parts of Europe, traditionally controlled by Russia, as "the hinterland" for the countries of Central and Western Europe, the border zone in relation to the Middle and Middle East, but also as a suitable maneuvering space North Africa, to some extent conditioned further political processes in this area, so the geography of natural resources, in the tendency for dominance in energy dialogue, among other things, played a first-rate role in the further course of events in the area of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. The decisions of the San Remo Conference in 1920 set the foundation for energy supremacy in the Middle East (an oil agreement was signed according to which the "Turkish Oil Company" was purchased from three companies: "Anglo-Persian oil companies" (47.5%), Royal Dutch/Shell (22.5%) and French oil companies (25%), with the participation of the Armenian, Caoluste Gulbenkian, who organized the agreement.
In 1928, the "Red Line Agreement" was signed among shareholders of the Turkish oil company, with the redistribution of shares and the entry of another partner, the Middle East Development Company, which represented the interests of five US oil companies, (in 1929 it was renamed the "Iraqi Oil Company"), so far the decisions of the Cairo Conference in 1921 drew out the future borders of the Middle East (among other things, with the aim of the completion of the provisions of the Balfour Declaration to the Zionists in the British mandate of Palestine, west of the Jordan River, the plan for the creation of a Jewish state was applied, and in order to aggravate Anglo-French agreement, the Sykes-Pikot, Syria and Lebanon remained in the hands of the French.)
Eastern Mediterranean as a new geopolitical center
Today, the role of the Eastern Mediterranean, and therefore Greece, in the redefinition of the international system, maybe even more critical than in the past. First of all, the more apparent melting of the Arctic ice, which forms a new maritime corridor for rapid communication around the Eurasian periphery, makes it doubtful whether the United States, thanks to its maritime assets or other major European powers, will play a first-rate role in the area, thanks to its landlocked power. Even the analysis of this process in accordance with strictly geographical parameters suggests that the Eurasian-African cluster as a center has the Mediterranean, while the Eastern Mediterranean is the center of the center. The new Silk Road, the Chinese BELT and ROAD Initiative (BRI), transforms Eurasia into a particularly interesting element of the BRI structure, because its lines converge in the Eastern Mediterranean, where Greece is emerging as a natural way of extending it to Western Europe. As a third factor, due to the increased importance of natural gas, as a regional good, in the international energy context, decentralized energy geography is noticeable. Another reason is certainly the US energy, caused by the discovery of large local slag hydrocarbon deposits. Because of this, the US does not seem to be convinced of the necessity of the constants of energy flows from the Middle East to the West. Moreover, a part of the US establishment could positively look at possible large-scale turmoil in the Middle East. The sharp increase in today's low oil prices would make US shale oil, whose exploitation is extremely expensive, again competitive on the international market.
Great energy game in the Eastern Mediterranean
Thanks to the natural gas capabilities, the Eastern Mediterranean has attracted a new interest in recent years, and international oil companies make great discoveries one by one. However, for the energy sector today, only a few areas represent such a complicated chessboard.
The wealth of the Eastern Mediterranean attracted the attention of the world back in 2009 when a consortium led by US Noble Energy discovered the Tamar site on the Israeli coast. Although Tamar with proven and estimated reserves of 320 billion m3 was "God's gift" for Israel, the next discovery was what changed the game. The new deposit, Leviathan, with 600 billion m3 of proven and potential reserves, offered Israel the opportunity not only to satisfy domestic demand, but also to become the main exporter. After discovering another deposit, approximately 30 kilometers northwest of Leviathan, the Afrodit gas field with 130 billion m3 of gas, the estimation of the leading energy giants indicated a possible annual production of trillion m3. However, as the biggest surprise, which completely changed the game in the Eastern Mediterranean, influencing the re-examination of individual strategies, there was the discovery of the Zor gas field, as the "jackpot" of Egypt, (850 billion m3), and only by the end of 2019, production of 30 billion m3.
The decision of the Consortium of Hellenic Petroleum, French Total and Exxon Mobile to continue research on hydrocarbons in marine parcels west and southwest of Crete were made in the period when the discovery of new deposits changes the energy chessboard of the Eastern Mediterranean. New discovery of the Italian ENI of the Nur deposit in the Suruk Sea area within the Egyptian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is estimated to exceed at least three times the value of the Zor (90 trillion m3 of natural gas) deposits. At the same time, the intention of the French "Total" to expand its presence in the Cypriot EEZ and conduct a confirmatory drilling in the Calipso deposit demonstrates the determination of international energy giants to cooperate in the discovery of new deposits. Equally important is the planning of the Greek company Energean Oil and Gas to embark on a new research in the northern part of the Karish field within the Israeli EEZ, as well as discussion on the development of the Palestinian reservoir Marin in the Gaza Strip. It is important to mention that within the Israeli gas field Karish, the Greek energy company secured production of 4.2 billion m3 per year for a period of 16 years, and that a total of 12 contracts for natural gas supply were signed.
Undoubtedly, Greece is at the center of the field of numerous challenges, but also promising opportunities for development. Of particular importance is the strengthening of geoeconomic diplomacy in the development and exploitation of energy reservoirs within the maritime parcels of the Eastern Mediterranean, which tend to grow into the regional cooperation between Greece, Israel, Cyprus and Egypt. The role of Greece in the transit of energy can potentially be enhanced by supporting programs of regional and European interest, such as the construction of an underground gas pipeline East Med, which would pass through Greece and transport natural gas to the coastal countries of the Eastern Mediterranean. Nevertheless, the newly discovered energy wealth intensifies the game of power among the countries in the region, and different political constraints and fragile relations of power make it difficult for gas to enter the market and prevent the countries of the region from maximize their profits. Possibilities are however too large to be ignored, and oil companies continue to explore the next discovery that could change the scattered figures on the energy chessboard of the Eastern Mediterranean.
The position of Greece on the energy chess board as a catalyst?
Geopolitical plans in the area of Southeast Europe are influenced by middle and large geopolitical national, supranational and international actors such as the United States, Russia, Germany, Turkey, Greece, the European Community, NATO, China, extremist Islam, and large geoeconomic plans are being developed for this area, with the aim of either "unifying" Eurasia, such as the Vardar expansion plan and its connection with the Danube to help transport products from China to Central Europe, either to lead to its "separation" through the formation of a gas pipeline from the Caspian Sea and Eastern Mediterranean, in order to reduce the dependence of Europe on the natural resources of Russia. If the EU continues to diversify its energy needs far from the Russian gas giants - of which East Med, as a strong support from the United States, would be a small but important first step - the influence of Russia, as the main natural gas supplier to the EU, in the context of prices gas and geopolitical issues could be called into question. Turkey's great preparations for changes in the Southeastern Mediterranean and its efforts to search for living spaces in this area due to global geopolitical mutations (pretensions to Greece's and Cyprus's maritime parcels as well as other countries in the region e.g.), Egypt's tendency to double its gas production in 2020 to the levels from 2015-2016 and to complete 11 new production platforms in the deep waters of the Mediterranean, the Suez Bay and the Western Desert, strategic cooperation between France and Cyprus in the sphere of defense and energy, the possibility of passing the second line of Turkish Stream via Greek territory, as and increased US pressure on the plan of the German-Russian gas pipeline that potentially turns into an energy and diplomatic milestone between Washington and Moscow and many European countries, including Germany and France, are just some of the facts pointing to a potential change in the energy future of the region, with implications for security, stability, economy, and refugee flows. The geopolitical competition of NATO-Russia, which passes through metamorphosis and emancipation of the European Union in achieving its goals, both in the economic sector and in the sphere of security, determines the actuality of the aforementioned region during 2019, as a center of geopolitical development of events, primarily due to the failure of the character of previous geostrategic approaches in establishing security and balance.
Bearing in mind that the current geopolitical moment is the period of the greatest redistribution of power since the Cold War period, the antagonism in the energy sphere re-actualizes the question "who will have the keys of the warm seas", and all indicators point to geo-historical changes in the Eastern Mediterranean as a key area within a following period.
It remains to be seen which is the "roadmap" that global leaders will decide to implement, since the history is not measured by months and years, but exclusively with political decisions.