When I was cleaning my Athens apartment a few months ago, I came across an old globe with a light inside that my father had given to me when I was seven years old. This was the first encounter with geography in my life. As a child, I spent a lot of time at night exploring our planet. Years later, while studying, I came across the idea that geography is destiny, determining the fate of each country, particularly its foreign policy. This is exactly what is happening today in both the Central and East Mediterranean Sea as well as the Indo Pacific, putting both areas squarely in the crosshairs of 21st century geopolitics.
On the one hand, for many centuries, the East Mediterranean was the primary trade route for spices and exotic goods from Asia to Europe. Then, shipping and oil transportation from Gulf countries followed the same route, adding strategic value.
Since February 24, 2022, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Central and Eastern Mediterranean Seas have grown in geopolitical importance. Considering the European Union’s strong political will to wean itself off Russian oil and gas as soon as possible, which could transform the Mediterranean Sea into a potential energy hub in the coming years. First, through an undersea power connection from Egypt to Cyprus and Greece, as part of the Euroafrica interconnector. Second, through undersea pipelines that could transport natural gas in the beginning, most likely from Israel, Lebanon, and Cyprus, and third, in the medium term, bringing green hydrogen produced in countries such as Saudi Arabia to Europe.
If all of this comes true, maintaining peace and stability in this vast maritime area will become even more critical, particularly for the European Union.
On the other hand, the Indo Pacific region accounts for approximately 60 precent of the world’s population and 6 0precent of its GDP.
Six of the G20 countries are located there, after all. This is the world’s largest economic hub, with a very strong potential, year after year, and a wealth of natural resources that remain untapped. With a vital maritime route connecting Asia to the American and European markets. All of this could explain the increased focus on these waters by all big powers. Especially after the COVID19 pandemic’s deep scars on international trade and logistics.
France has geopolitical interests in both areas.
Since Charles De Gaulle, there has been a desire to play a key role in the Mediterranean Sea, even beyond NATO goals and priorities. Of course, during the Cold War, limiting Russian influence in this territory was a hot potato issue. Something that was exacerbated by the 2022 war in Ukraine. Meanwhile, following Washington’s strategic decision to prioritise the Pacific Ocean over Europe, a more ambitious Turkey is attempting to dominate this maritime area. Something that does not appear to be accepted in Paris. Leading the way to rapprochement with Greece, by establishing strong political and military ties with Athens.
Simultaneously, on the other side of the globe, in the Indo Pacific, are located nearly 93 precent of the French overseas territories with a population of more than 1.5 million people. Paris’s main goals for the coming years is to preserve its own interests by contributing to the freedom of navigation, economic growth, and environmental issues related to global warming. In this regard, the recent restoration of relations with Australia appears to confirm the fact that, despite their differences, Paris and Canberra need to work together.
After all, geographically speaking, New Caledonia is only 700 kilometres away from Australia. Then, for more than two decades, they have both participated in the FRANZ Arrangement, which provides humanitarian aid to Pacific countries in the event of natural disasters such as tsunamis or earthquakes. Finally, despite any clichés and stereotypes, they share common values and civilization.
This could become the pivotal point for countering China’s growing economic and military influence in this region of the world. Putting both undeniably under pressure. And, as Newton’s third law states, there is always a reaction to every action. In a perilous and unpredictable century like the 21st, this brings France and Australia even closer together. Where the cards in the world’s power game are shuffled.
Dr George Tassiopoulos is a Greek French political scientist, with a doctorate in political science from the University of East Paris. He was born in Athens, and has lived in France for the past 20 years where he teaches geopolitics in a business school in Paris.