Cyber Security and Emerging Threats John Woodside Maritime Nation

The Little Engine That Couldn’t: Phasing Out Mare Nostrum (Part One)

This past July I wrote about Italy’s Mare Nostrum project, which was designed to save vulnerable migrants while crossing the Mediterranean. The program has cost the Italian Government approximately 9 million euros per month, and will be officially phased out by the end of the year. Part of the reason the program was ended was due to the establishment of ‘Operation Triton’, a new initiative launched by the EU border security agency Frontex on November 1.

Proponents of Mare Nostrum have argued that it is essential for protecting lives, while critics have argued that it encourages people to make the risky journey, knowing that the Italian Navy will save them. While it is certainly possible that Mare Nostrum could galvanize potential migrants, it is far more likely that people would be making this trek regardless. Given that the UN has been publishing reports on migrant smuggling by sea for years, it seems highly unlikely that the issue of people fleeing from North Africa has only come about because of Mare Nostrum. However, the influx of migrants making the journey is inherently tied to the on-going insecurity, despite claims otherwise. The issue of people making the illicit journey to Europe fundamentally exists at the intersection between human rights and border security, with a variety of other factors influencing policy.

Source: Source:

Caught in an awkward miscommunication, in mid October, only a couple weeks before it was announced by the Italian Government that Mare Nostrum was officially ending, the Executive Director of Frontex, Gil Arias Fernandez, reaffirmed that Triton would not replace Mare Nostrum, and added “The agency and the European Union cannot be a substitute for member states’ responsibility in controlling their borders: we will provide support.” Operation Triton’s primary aim is border security and surveillance though “saving lives will remain an absolute priority for Frontex” according to Fernandez. That said, he paradoxically added, “but the Agency’s mandate is to control borders, we do not do search and rescue.” With less than a 1/3 of the budget Mare Nostrum had, it is unlikely Triton will be able to provide the humanitarian assistance that human rights activists are calling for.

Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Director, John Dalhuisen, said, “Frontex’s Triton operation does not begin to meet the needs of thousands of migrants and refugees, including those forced to flee war and persecution in the Middle East and Africa. The suggestion that it could replace Mare Nostrum could have catastrophic and deadly consequences in the Mediterranean.”

So far there have been close to 3000 migrants who have drowned while crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe this year. Violent smugglers are still at large, vulnerable migrants increasingly continue to make the treacherous journey, and the business of human trafficking shows no sign of slowing down. Dropping Mare Nostrum in favour of supporting an operation with a different mandate, and dwarfed budget, while expecting it to achieve the same results is simply going to further jeopardize the lives of those who are trying to flee their war-torn countries.

The rapid increase is driven by a variety of both ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors. The devastating civil war in Syria, the threat of militant extremism expansion in the region, and a lack of economic opportunities all provide substantial motivation for people across the North African region to flee. Europe is an attractive destination for those affluent enough to afford the trip, meaning that the region’s poorest and most vulnerable are moving en masse to neighbouring states with their own security issues to address. States like Jordan are now suffering from massive migration from conflict states, with refugee camps like the Za’atari Camp exceeding its maximum capacity by thousands of people, and becoming both Jordan’s fifth largest city by population, as well as a hotbed for crime and violence. Jordan has opened a second camp to relieve these pressures, and is in the process of building a third, contingent on international aid to support the initiative.Source:


Europeans have a choice to make. They can either work towards saving migrants who will otherwise drown in the ocean, or they can invest in their own border security to further the idea of Fortress Europe. With limited resources the choice is not necessarily a case of ‘either/or’, but is more accurately understood as which side of the coin to favour. Nuanced solutions do exist, but they are not being implemented, and that is having a direct impact on both the lives of Europeans as well as the lives of the migrants at risk.

Part Two examines the impact of migrant immigration on Europeans facilities, transit countries, and the criminal networks involved in smuggling.

John Woodside
John Woodside is a recent graduate of Queen's University having completed his BAH in the fields of History and Political Studies. In his final year of studies he was proud to serve as a Vice-President of the Queen's International Affairs Association, which seeks to promote dialogue on global issues. Having studied conflict resolution in the United Kingdom for a summer, he found conflict resolution, prevention and management to be areas which greatly interested him. His other research interests include emerging security challenges, the impact of transnational actors on the global community, identity, human rights, and hegemonic processes. As a Junior Research Fellow he primarily writes for Maritime Nation which has provided him the opportunity to explore a variety of naval issues. More recently he has begun to explore the impact of security education, how it is taught and how that shapes military leaders. His personal interests include music, cooking, film, and road trips. When not writing for the NCC he can be found in the city of Kingston working as a research assistant.