European security is much in the news today. Brexit, EU parliamentary elections, unresolved issues in the Balkans, Russia’s unremitting war on European integration and democracy, and Ukraine make it easy to surrender to pessimism about Europe. But this despair is unwarranted and antithetical to U.S. and European interests in democracy, integration and security. Moreover, there are mechanisms available through which European governments, institutions and the U.S. can advance their shared interests and values in Europe if not beyond.
The Three Seas Initiative is one of those mechanisms. Conceived by Poland, Croatia and Romania, it promotes practical projects to bring European states bounded by the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Seas closer together in shared democratic values. The projects are located in the fields of energy, transport and digitalizing European communications networks. Both the U.S. and Germany explicitly champion this initiative. To the extent that its projects are completed this initiative strengthens European integration and weakens Russia’s ability to undermine European governments, institutions, security and democracy.
The initiative’s third summit occurs on June 5-6 in Ljubljana, Slovenia. High-ranking German, EU and U.S. delegations will attend, demonstrating their support for the initiative and its projects. One key project is a liquefied natural gas infrastructure, with sea terminals in Poland and Croatia and a connecting pipeline. Completing this project will help reduce dependence upon Russian gas, the revenues from which subsidize Russia’s campaign to undermine European security. New pipelines and interconnectors also facilitate increased U.S. LNG exports to Europe, a key U.S. priority. But beyond the U.S. there are abundant gas supplies closer to home that with some imagination and U.S.-German, and EU political and financial support can greatly advance European security.
Admittedly, many challenges exist in bringing this gas to European markets even though Egypt, Cyprus and Israel, Greece and Italy have embraced the idea of an Eastern Mediterranean pipeline from these fields to Greece, and thence to Europe. These obstacles are Turkish efforts to derail the project by drilling in Cypriot waters. There are also Russian efforts to gain entry into these fields and utilize its own pipelines, Nordstream II and Turkstream, to dominate Central and Eastern European supplies. Additionally, the cost of a pipeline confronting serious political risk. Furthermore, investors will not build a pipeline without certainty of a real market for this gas.
The Ljubljana summit, the administration, Germany, and the EU can provide a major stimulus to bringing this gas to market by persuading the initiative to welcome Greece into the organization and by prioritizing pipelines from Greece to major European markets through interconnectors. Italy, a major gas consumer, already supports this pipeline. If the Three Seas Initiative can support bringing Eastern Mediterranean Gas through Greece to the Balkans through interconnectors, and then to major consumers like Poland, Germany and Italy, this would greatly advance European security.
U.S. and German support could put enormous pressure on Turkey to stop threatening Cyprus, and implicitly, Greece. Such policies would also restrict Russia’s ability to use gas through the Turkstream and Nordstream II pipelines to undermine European integration and security. The ensuing network of pipelines and interconnectors would represent a major step in North-South integration from the Baltic to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.
Moreover, these pipeline and terminal projects could also strengthen cooperation among Middle Eastern states and between Europe and that region.
While there are serious problems like demarcating the unresolved Lebanon-Israel maritime and land borders; Washington is already active here to ensure that Moscow cannot leverage that problem for its benefit. And should Washington succeed in demarcating either or both borders, that would bolster an Israel-Lebanon peace treaty that would sharply reduce Iranian influence in Lebanon and the Middle East, and open Lebanese deposits for investment.
It is also possible that such strong political and economic commitments might lead Turkey to reconsider its aggressive policies that have only antagonized its neighbors and threaten it with regional isolation. It might then also be possible, given the size of these deposits to build pipelines from Israel or Lebanon — if not Egypt, to Turkey. This could reduce Russian leverage on Turkey while also calming Turkey’s relations with other Middle Eastern states.
Admittedly, the problems are significant but the opportunities are enormous as are the potential benefits of this vision. If we want to advance European and Middle Eastern security, we must pay for it to reap those benefits and realize a vision of what is possible here. If we do not seize this opportunity, who knows when we will be able to do so. If we do not, others with more hostile agendas will exploit those opportunities for their own benefit. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that “there are no second acts in American life.” Similarly, there are no second acts in world politics and if we do not grasp the present opportunity, it may never come back and other, adversarial forces will occupy the vacuum we so carelessly abandoned.