By Jonathan Roberts/Washington, DC
The existing opportunity in the Eastern Mediterranean has been vouched for countless times: large-scale projects tapping into the region’s proven energy reserves can bring economic, political, and social prosperity to the region.
With its substantial natural resource reserves, growing energy sector, dynamic markets, and framework of production supportive of future development, the region has all the right components for success.
However, with low natural gas prices due to overproduction, the energy market is competitive the world over.
The reduction in demand due to the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting global lockdowns has only compounded this fact.
In a tough market, the would-be windfalls face further obstacle in the lack of mutually delimited maritime boundaries; while 21 countries comprise the Mediterranean, there exists only 16 boundaries with treaties.
Sustainable development, expanded access to modern energy services, reconciliation of geopolitical differences amongst neighbouring states — these and more can be the fruits of the labour for inclusive delimitation of contentious maritime boundaries.
In its absence, exclusion, unilateral decision-making, and aggression will only maintain, if not intensify, the status quo.
How then is equitable maritime boundary dispute resolution best achieved? In his book Maritime Disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean: The Way Forward, recently published by the Transatlantic Leadership Network (TLN) and distributed by Brookings Institution Press, Dr Roudi Baroudi offers a new and exciting solution: the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (Unclos) can be a pathway to achieving proper and precise delimitation and unlocking the full potential of the region’s energy discoveries.
This was an underlying theme in the Transatlantic Leadership Network’s (TLN) June 11 launch of Dr Baroudi’s publication.
The launch featured a prominent panel, which included: energy executive Dr Roudi Baroudi; ambassador Jonathan Moore of the US Department of State’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs; Deputy Assistant Secretary Kurt Donnelly of the US Department of State’s Bureau of Energy Resources; and energy executive Dr Charles Ellinas.
From the Transatlantic Leadership Network, Debra Cagan, Distinguished Energy Fellow, and former senior State Department official, chaired the panel; ambassador John Craig, Senior Fellow and former US ambassador to Oman, provided introductory remarks.
At the launch, Baroudi added that the US can catalyse the process, stating: “All of the nations in the East Med and Euro-Med are party to the UN Charter; they are also all party to the Barcelona Process. I am sure that the US can help -- especially the State Department -- as an honest broker to bring the parties together.”
While the United States does not in general take a position on the maritime disputes of another country, officials do urge all nations to resolve their maritime disputes peacefully and in accordance with international law.
Ambassador Moore stated: “We encourage all parties to act with restraint, and refrain from actions that increase tensions in this region and other regions. Energy resource development in the Eastern Mediterranean should foster co-operation among the neighbours and provide a foundation for durable energy security and economic prosperity.”
With a proper mechanism for mediation and an independent (and preferably US-based) platform, the Eastern Mediterranean can begin to act as a cohesive unit that accomplishes intra-regional development.
The wealth from Calypso, Leviathan, and Zohr, and other fields will foster energy access that reduces dependence on foreign aid, expands social provisions, and alleviates poverty in all its forms for the ca. 450mn people in the region.
DAS Donnelly emphasised that access to electric power is key to development, stating: “We have growing economies and rapidly growing populations. We must do better than holding our own. We must do more to extend access to power to all populations of the world.”
Many actors in the region are already beginning to do their part to negotiate inclusive agreements on energy exploration. They should be celebrated for their efforts.
A rules-based and independently mediated mechanism for delimitation can help defuse tensions and unlock the full wealth lying in the Mediterranean’s eastern seabed.
Dr Baroudi’s book is an important step in the right direction.
* Jonathan Roberts is a Researcher at the Transatlantic Leadership Network in Washington, DC.
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