There were plenty of jokes about how those old, shuffling, ignored, and slightly grumpy Russia hands in the Beltway and Pentagon were all of a sudden demanding face time and wildly gesticulating with an unexpected youthful vigor after so long in the wilderness. Well, not so funny or ignored now.
As the USA continues to want to pull back and/or be stuck in analysis paralysis at the POLMIL level, that vacuum will draw others in. Smoldering and quiet areas will flame up to meet whatever fuel is there.
At the end of the Cold War, remember what we had deployed to the Mediterranean? The 6th Fleet was strong on the surface and subsurface. In the air, including a carrier's airwing, Navy alone had squadrons of VQ reconnaissance and VR fixed & rotary wing cargo aircraft based out of Rota, Spain and Signoella, Italy. CONUS based VP squadrons deployed to Rota and Sigonella, Italy. There were full time detachments in Souda Bay, Crete as well.
The Med was busy ... in the last 20 years, notsomuch.
Victor Davis Hanson thinks, like Russia, the Med might be back in play;
The Mediterranean (“in the middle of the earth”) has been history’s constant cauldron. It provided too easy access between three vastly different and usually rival continents — Asia, Africa, and Europe. And it helped birth and spread three major and often warring religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Without it, there would have been no Roman or Ottoman Empire.I also very much like his reminder that this great international maritime partnership with the increasingly militarily impotent Western Europeans is a mirage;
Most of the Mediterranean’s history, then, is one of abject violence. The unfortunate islands situated in the sea’s vortex — especially Cyprus, Crete, Malta, and Sicily — were invaded, occupied, and fought over constantly by Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, Franks, Ottomans, British, Italians, and Germans. To chronicle these islands’ history is to study massive castles and walls, which are still what first greet any visitor to port.
For the last 70 years, the Mediterranean has been quieter than at any other time in its long history — at least since the second century a.d., during the reign of the five so-called “good” emperors of Rome, when all the shores of the three continents were tranquil and interconnected by what the Romans called “mare nostrum” (our sea).Why?
Largely because of American warships. Except for the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, and occasional violent spillage offshore of the various Middle East wars, the U.S. Sixth Fleet, based in Naples since shortly after World War II, has been able, with its NATO partners, to keep pirates out, aggressors down, and peaceful nations in.
Will that always be so?
If the U.S. recedes and lowers its naval profile, it is not hard to see how the Mediterranean could once again heat up. Amid the relative peace of a divided Cyprus, we forget that the island’s fate has never been resolved. An increasingly Islamist Turkey is becoming neo-Ottoman in its relationship to Greece and Israel. If Vladimir Putin’s Russia continues to rebuild its military as the U.S. continues to downgrade its own, it is not hard to envision Russian ships leaving their now-permanent Crimean ports on new missions out of the Dardanelles.
The great European fleets of the past — the Spanish, the French, and the British — are shadows of their former selves. Some of the worst violence in the world today — the civil war in Syria, the bloodletting in Libya, the war in Gaza — takes place on the shores of the Mediterranean, but so far has not spread to sea.In a message navalists need to be repeating as much as possible;
Americans might think the Mediterranean is too distant to care much about. But from our very beginnings that sea had an odd ability to draw us into its turmoil. “To the shores of Tripoli” is a refrain known to most Americans, and we also remember the Barbary Coast — the scene of our nation’s first foreign fights and our most recent, in Benghazi.
As we dismantle our military, we should remember that history’s natural order of things unfortunately is not peace, but instability and war. Peace, as a character in Plato’s Laws remarked, is a brief “parenthesis.” It occasionally breaks out because aggressors are deterred by the superior military forces of those committed to the general peace — and all nations understand the consequences of weaker aggressive nations’ stirring up trouble.One thing he does not cover is something top of mind to Italians, Spaniards, and Greeks in their demographic dotage and economic dystopia. As Africa and the Islamic world continue to be in turmoil and are unable to meet the aspirations of their people - where is the nearest access to a Western lifestyle? North and west to Europe. How do they best get there? By sea.
We can see the results of the new lower profile of the U.S. fleet also in the South China Sea, as Japan squares off against China, and South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines anxiously watch. As the world heats up, and as the U.S. global deterrent forces erode, there is no intrinsic reason why history’s most contested sea might not be so again. We should remember that when we talk of defense cuts, and before we pull too many American ships out of a maritime intersection where peace has usually been the exception.
It has only started.