God does not play dice

(To Gino Lanzara)
23/10/19

Globalization invests and involves the Mediterranean military sphere, evaluated geostrategically according to the spread of conventional and unconventional weapons, satellite systems and cyberwarfare, of the economic potentials expressed by the budgets and industrial systems of the countries facing the Mare Nostrum, the availability of armaments nuclear.

About the 70% of the budgets that are interesting for military expenditures concerns States which, although with different frequencies, engage both the Mediterranean basin and adjacent waters, where the depth of globalization can be calibrated according to the number of Military Units present.

La North shore, is characterized by high tech and by the contraction of the number of available fighters, while that South, technologically less capable and with a significant number of not always qualified conscripts, it is sensitive to purchases and implementations of military capacity, an activity witnessed by Moroccan efforts to acquire conventional Russian underwater vehicles, and by the delivery of the Algerian amphibious unit Kalaat Beni Abbes, set up in Italy; between the two shores, a package of States, producers and importers of military technology, characterized by different availability of resources1.

Pushing our gaze to the limits of a Mediterranean for us more neglected and expanded, it is possible to evaluate both the effort of the Gulf countries and the one in progress from China, increasingly free of Russian technology. The gap existing along the east-west and north-south axes, which cannot be filled in a short time, is accompanied by the deterrence of nuclear weapons whose possession, however, is not always explicitly stated, as in the case of Israel, which makes use of it as a guarantee of survival towards the Iranian threat.

First conclusions: the distribution of power in the Mediterranean, without the NATO monopoly, has laid the foundations for a new arms race that can hardly be avoided, especially if we want to continue to hold an acceptable Maritime Power indispensable for the achievement of national strategic objectives . Importance of fleets; Royal Navy and Marine Nationale, numerically less nourished than in the past, remain however versatile and capable, especially because they are equipped with nuclear-powered boats equipped with ballistic launchers; Italy, rewarded by its geographical position but not always by far-sighted planning, disputes the place of honor to Spain, also engaged on the Atlantic front; the second naval line sees Turkey on the eastern side, with a numerically significant fleet, and Greece, with an underwater component focused on German production vehicles Type 214.

South and south-east, and it should not be a surprise, Egypt and Algeria make their way, which did not hesitate to strengthen both surface and underwater forces, and Israel, equipped with class submarines Dolphin armed with cruise missiles with likely nuclear warheads and fitted with the system Iron Dome Maritime to protect gas fields.

Still the atom: the MENA area (Middle East and North Africa, ed) aims at nuclear energy or to increase exports of energy resources, or to free itself from subjection to crude oil, subject to excessive monetary fluctuations. Despite the fact that Algeria aims to increase energy production thanks to atomic energy, the only country that seems able to significantly materialize its nuclear aspirations is the hegemonic Egypt; Beyond the intentions and the possibility of realizing them, a common requirement to atomic ambitions and to their policy must be remembered: volatility and determination even in the presence of impediment factors, ie costs, timing, water scarcity, seismic risks, competitions between the great powers for the division of the African continent.

In short, the power policy in the area follows well-defined lines; paraphrasing Einstein we could say that God, even here, plays dice at random.

The dark side of strength

The MENA area, for the most distracted, always reserves surprises linked to geostrategic developments. The common feature lies in three very specific factors: possession, exploitation and use of the war instrument.

Egypt is again in the hands of men in uniform since Al Sisi, deposed Mursī, has revived the military institution, founded on nationalism and preservation of financial benefits, in a context in which it is itself one of the pillars of national economy, controlled for at least the 40% of productive activities, and under the influence of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, composed of official 21, which exercise vast powers especially during the phases of vacatio government; beyond the undeniable political weight, it is impossible to find economic sectors in which the FFAAs have no interests and do not intend to forge an efficient national industrial apparatus.

The value of the parallel economic lever, useful both to foment and to appease the popular uprisings, depends however on the conspicuous financing of the USA, which esteem Egypt as a strategically relevant entity even if not yet able to completely pacify the Sinai despite the efforts made to demonstrate a real reaction against jihadism, and crossed by corruption, unemployment and frequent frictions between the Army and the Police.

The Egyptian war apparatus, based on 4 military regions and equipped with vehicles of the most varied origin, counting however on the largest Navy of the MO, tends to give an image suitable both to stabilize the interior and to reassure partners with exercises joint in the Eastern Mediterranean aimed, among other things, at recalling the possession of immense energy resources, both to support the Gulf countries (except Qatar), comforted by the repression of the Muslim Brotherhood, given the US push aimed at the establishment of the Unitary Force of the Arab League to be projected against Iran.

Russia provides support for air defense systems; China supplies drones; Germany produces naval armaments.

And it is precisely the Navy that Egypt is betting on, a geographical meeting point between North Africa, MO and the Mediterranean, with helicopter carriers Nasser e Sadat provided by France, thanks to the Saudi financial support, which allowed, in order to regain possession of the islands of Tīrān and Ṣanāfīr, both the purchase of other surface vehicles, and to aim at Chinese underwater installations of contained tonnage.

The Navy, articulated on the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, is therefore turning into a versatile force aimed at dissuading and containing the most assertive area powers, both preserving the possibility of projecting itself into Arab and African contexts of interest, and protecting its SLOC , the Suez Canal and the accesses on the Red Sea side.

The military also play a decisive role in the Orphaned Algeria of Bouteflika, and find fertile humus precisely in the political indications provided by the Egyptian Al Sisi, skilled in exploiting the power vacuum created. The pouvoir Algerian is even more opaque than the Egyptian one, and does not allow to easily establish who is really in power in one of the world's largest hydrocarbon producers.

The Army, present in the Algerian DNA since the establishment of the State, by the hand of General Gaïd Salah has now established itself as a permanent guarantee force, and has neither hesitated nor to operate heavy purges in the entourage of Bouteflika, nor to postpone the vote for the presidential elections, thus imposing a long transitory phase in a complex system of power, where the figure of the Chief of Staff, from the 90 years, has always played an important role, despite the attempted control exercised by the political apparatus; broadly speaking, a bloodless coup but decisive for the stabilization of political structures.

Young and poorly ideologized, the FFAA, already strengthened by the 2014 thanks to a budget that puts Algeria among the African countries that spend the most for their war machinery, have now become the political needle of the balance, triggering the fear that they might rise to an all-encompassing role like that played by the Egyptian Army, and yet possible difficulties in ensuring the containment of the social economic crisis and jihadist risk.

Germany has provided both land and naval vehicles (Fregate MEKO A200), such as Italy, although in different percentages; of particular importance are the supplies of conventional Russian boats (KILO), together with S400 missile systems, since they lead to fluctuations in the balance of power in the Mediterranean maritime area, a balance guaranteed within the Country by Aviation, indispensable for control of a country so morphologically harsh, and aimed at monitoring threats from Mali, Niger and Libya. Algeria, as and if not more than Egypt, shows the overall war capabilities that it would be imprudent to underestimate, especially if related to the particular political moment.

What to do when you grow up

How important is foreign policy associated with military capabilities? Very much, as always happens between magnetic poles that attract and rarely repel each other.

If it is true that there are potential affinities with Egypt, it is equally true that Algeria does not consider a Haftar, supported by the Franco-emirate-Egyptian interests, which reunites Libya, in an area like that of the Sahel / Sahara strongly destabilized and that it does not present fully legitimate leaders at the head of centralized entities.

Egypt and Algeria therefore diverge on strategic aspects, but not on tactical / diplomatic ones, which favor the establishment of regional relations (Tunisia, Chad, Niger, Sudan); what is certain is that if the internal splits will prevail, the Algerian mediating force could cease, leaving the field to extremes and migratory waves that are difficult to contain.

Tunisia also plays a politically relevant role; deprived of the military strength of its neighbors, a force that, however well trained and renewed over time has prevented the explosion of a civil war at the time of the springs, Tunisia occupies a geographical and political position that, in terms of rent, highlights our absence, given also the electoral outcomes that led to the top a pro-Islamist politician.

North shore, Italy; our interests are many; foreign policy affects investments in the field of armaments, where countries are less pure of our aim to occupy spaces guiltily abandoned; or in the energy field, where the State can only assimilate the ENI strategy, which is not supported by a strengthening of military capabilities, and currently engaged in Libya and Algeria with the state company Sonatrach, and in the future in the waters of the 'East Med, where the creation of a gas hub that could interest the fields of Egypt, Cyprus, Lebanon and Israel is conceivable.

The area dynamics suggest a foreign policy and a different power, noticed both to investments and not to underestimate the abilities of Countries that take care of training, equipment, and underwater abilities of Marines potentially able to launch ballistic vectors. We have left the title of this last part of analysis without question marks: you decide whether to put them or not.

1 Greece, Slovenia, Turkey, Bulgaria, etc.

Photo: web / Egypt State Information Service / Egypt MoD / Algeria Ministry of National Defense