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Representatives of Mediterranean Nations Discuss Regional Security Issues

By James E. Brooks George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies

GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany, Oct. 13, 2017 — More than 30 diplomats, academics and military officials from the Mediterranean region gathered Sept. 25-28 in Rome to examine the shared responsibility nations have for security at a conference hosted by the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.

"The purpose of this Middle East-North Africa workshop was to share viewpoints on the shared responsibility and comprehensive security through partnerships around the Mediterranean Sea," said Dr. Petra Weyland, Marshall Center professor of Middle Eastern affairs.

"When partners put their understandings of shared responsibility in security matters on the table -- when they share their thoughts, experiences and dedication to achieve security -- then true communities of interest become a reality. Then common efforts to achieve more security for all become much more effective," Weyland said.

German-American Partnership

The Marshall Center plans, develops and conducts more than 100 nonresident events like this one each year. In October 2016, U.S. and German defense officials signed a new memorandum of agreement increasing Germany's role at the center and increasing their investment in the center's programs with personnel and funds.

One of the focus areas for Germany's defense minister is the Middle East-North Africa region and the threats of terrorism, regional conflicts and government instability in North Africa facing southern Europe. While the Marshall Center has a traditional geographic focus on Europe, its sister organizations, the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies and the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, typically take the lead for programs involving Africa.

Organizers say the Marshall Center workshop was facilitated by Germany's increased focus on Mediterranean tran-regional security challenges.

"This event was successfully implemented based on Germany's increased contributions and political direction. We were glad to have the Africa Center for Strategic Studies associate professor of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, Dr. Benjamin Nickels, be a part of our workshop. This shows good cooperation between the two organizations," Weyland said.

Regional Security

The three-day Middle East-North Africa workshop featured a series of moderated discussions. Participants had the opportunity to learn how others from different nations in the region as well as from different career fields viewed security in the region, the role of parliamentarians and politicians, culture, history and more.

"More than half of the participants were women, and the discussion oftentimes came to the role of gender in security -- the fact that security oftentimes means different things to men and women living around the Mediterranean. And this came in a very natural way, and without having the topic inscribed in the agenda," Weyland said.

Col. Stefan Nievelstein, a military attache at the German Embassy in Rome, stressed the importance of these discussions with all partners in the Mediterranean region.

"Today's challenges with regard to our common security often have their roots in this wider Mediterranean region. For sure, the solutions to the current migration crisis lie within this region. Exchanging views and perspectives, sharing or combining of efforts, and striving for common solutions are imperative, given the scope of the challenge. We have to combine our work across the board to include political, economic, security and defense policies -- the comprehensive approach which will pave the way -- as there is no single-service solution," Nievelstein said.

Future Meeting

Organizers said the post-conference surveys focused on specific topics the participants wanted to discuss in more detail at a later conference.

"Participants largely narrowed down their interests into three main topics:  preventing and countering the foreign fighter threat through education programs, conflict resolution through diplomatic actions, and preventing conflict," Weyland said. "Within three workshop days, a very ambitious community of interest saw the light.

"It may very well make its voice heard in Mediterranean security matters in the future," Weyland continued, "and the Marshall Center should do everything possible to help this community to thrive. This development and the topics suggested by the group will help the Marshall Center strengthen existing resident programs such as our Seminar on Regional Security Studies and European Security Seminar-South."

Exact dates and details of the follow-on workshop are in the early stages, but the initiative continues to have strong support from the German Defense Ministry as well as the Marshall Center. Organizers said Tunisia's Education Ministry indicated support for hosting the next conference.