Aspects of Hydrocarbon Insecurity in the Eastern Mediterranean: Maritime Claims, Access, and Quest for Energy Resources

Article

Issues related to maritime claims, access, and the quest for energy resources have always been considered as significant aspects of sea power, strategy and security. The Eastern Mediterranean at the turn of the 21st century is not an exception to that, particularly in the light of recent hydrocarbon discoveries in the region....

S. Süha ÇUBUKÇUOĞLU, M.A.
Seaborne Energy Advisory Group, Koç University Maritime
Forum – Turkey
 
Prof. Dr. Salih SANER
Middle East Technical University, Northern Cyprus Campus,
 

Abstract

Issues related to maritime claims, access, and the quest for energy resources have always been considered as significant aspects of sea power, strategy and security. The Eastern Mediterranean at the turn of the 21st century is not an exception to that, particularly in the light of recent hydrocarbon discoveries in the region. This paper seeks to examine the mounting instability in the Eastern Mediterranean particularly with regards to rising energy geopolitics. By addressing a range of political, social, military, and economic insecurity issues related to offshore hydrocarbons, this research highlights possible emergent threats, challenges, opportunities, and responsibilities for related actors.
 
The paper conceptually views “hydrocarbon insecurity“ within the broader context of the term “security“ itself. Intrinsically, the assessment recognizes the essential maritime component in international relations and analyses issues that illustrate how factors in the possession, supply, and distribution of energy resources may impact the outlook of conflict and cooperation in the region. It is argued that the intensive political engagement should be advanced among conflicting parties to build confidence and resolve fundamental differences over competing claims of maritime delimitation. This can reduce risks and vulnerabilities associated with the endeavor of accessing, exploring, and exploiting energy resources in the region. The paper ultimately seeks to discuss the instruments through which hydrocarbon security challenges can be addressed such as advancement of regional security order and of multilateral maritime security governance in the region, particularly in reference to the role of regional alliances.

1. Introduction

In an increasingly multipolar world, the perceived insecurity in the Eastern Mediterranean is sustained by intractable conflicts that draw local, regional, and global actors into a quagmire. The region borders the most tumultuous neighborhood in the world – the Middle East – often referred to by ethnic, religious, and sectarian confrontations. Situated in a geopolitical hotspot marked by uncertainty, economic stagnation, social cleavages, religious strife, and civil unrest it is a stage of shifting power play of partnerships, where countries suffer from influx of refugees, domestic violence, terrorism, and power struggles of various types if not outright hostility. The pursuit of power politics in this war of “all against all“ culminates itself in an anarchic order. In particular, competing parties involved in the so-called Arab Spring and the ensuing intense Syrian civil war created a disaster of colossal magnitude on Aspects of Hydrocarbon Insecurity in the Eastern Mediterranean: 71 multiple fronts. The region seems to be more fragmented than ever with diverse national and transnational interests competing to gain influence.
 
Inextricably linked to long-standing confrontations over the region, discovery of offshore hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean sparked a new dispute over delimitation of maritime zones, due to a competition over rights to exploit rich energy resources and to exert political influence for furtherance of national interests. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimated that the Levant basin houses 1.7 billion barrels of oil and 2 trillion m3 of natural gas, according to more realistic recent findings, that could meet the regional demand and be available for export to the outside world for 20-25 years.

Nevertheless, the blessing of hydrocarbon wealth might often turn into curse, as seen in other parts of the world, the consequence of which is that the struggle for power to access, explore, and exploit resources exacerbates rather than abates existing tensions among littoral states, especially in the face of volatile energy prices. The question is the ability of the current international order to absorb and regulate maritime disputes to address hydrocarbon insecurity in the region.
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