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  • Cited by 2
  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: September 2010

12 - The Cold War and the transformation of the Mediterranean, 1960–1975


If one takes a long-term view of the Mediterranean region between 1960 and 1975, it is characterized by its transition from one defined by the European colonial system and menaced by Soviet encroachment to one that became, fifteen years later, a vital conduit of communication and a channel for shipping Middle Eastern oil into a wider world dominated by the United States. The convergence of Mediterranean history with the global dynamics of the Cold War inspires the consideration of the longue durée. From the early decades of the eighteenth century, the Russian Empire had exerted continuous pressure from the Black Sea toward the Mediterranean. The Soviet Union inherited this geostrategic imperative. The messy decolonization of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East and the Balkans in the early part of the twentieth century, and subsequently that of European empires in Northern Africa after World War II, added further complexity to the region. As a result, newly independent Mediterranean states faced the problem of developing foreign and commercial policies compatible with their own interests while recognizing the influence of often distant naval powers that dominated their coasts. During the period considered here, the global rivalry of the two superpowers – with the United States always being the strongest, with unprecedented capabilities to project its power – gradually imposed itself on complicated regional dynamics with roots going back to the ancient world.