Mediterranean Foresight Forum

Syrian and Iraqi refugees arrive from Turkey to Skala Sykamias, Lesbos island, Greece, where Spanish volunteers help them in October 2015

Global strategic interest has been growing around the Mediterranean, a region facing political tensions, armed conflict, economic and social instability, and transnational criminal networks. These complex issues demand solutions that cross traditional boundaries of policymaking.

The Mediterranean Foresight Forum was a RAND-funded effort to monitor current affairs, analyse future scenarios and simulate policy options to support the implementation of comprehensive responses to these challenges.


New and emerging geo-political challenges are reshaping the international order, requiring governments to consider novel strategies and tools that integrate diplomatic, economic, and military instruments of power. This dynamic is particularly evident in the Mediterranean, which has progressively returned to a region of global strategic interest.

Political tensions, armed conflict, economic and social instability and transnational criminal networks demand solutions that transcend traditional institutional boundaries of domestic and international policymaking. Although there is plenty of information (and misinformation) being shared among both government officials and the public, there appears to be a lack of coherence, comprehensive analysis, and use of evidence to support strategic-level decision making at both national and international levels.


The overarching objective of the Mediterranean Foresight Forum (MFF) was to act as a policy shaping mechanism, connecting current political, social, economic and technological developments in the region with short-term policy agendas (1-3 years). The MFF aims to support the development of comprehensive, integrated civil-military responses to complex challenges through an innovative combination of research, scenario-based sensitivity analysis and table top-exercises. The MFF focused on cross-cutting issues grouped under three themes:

  1. Foreign policy and diplomacy
  2. Defence and security
  3. Criminal activities

Key Observations

The MFF made a number of key observations:

  • Unprecedented challenges in the region require high levels of civil-military and intergovernmental cooperation. These challenges, which are undermining the stability of the entire region, include growing criminalisation, widespread insecurity, the volatility of key states and the lack of coherent and coordinated policy responses.
  • All the complex issues and problems in the Mediterranean region are interconnected. The escalation of one particular issue leads to ramifications across a number of different areas. For example, conflicts and crises, such as in Syria, mobilise high numbers of refugees which add to the number of migrants leaving the region. The scale of the migrant exodus allows for criminal enterprises involved in people smuggling to flourish and puts significant political pressure on Europe, both for individual member states and the region as a whole.
  • The link between terrorism and criminal activities in the Mediterranean region should not be overlooked. Terrorist groups in the region often use different forms of criminality as a means of generating funding in pursuit of their objectives. The criminalisation of the Mediterranean region, with refugees looking to travel to Europe being exploited by criminal enterprises profiting from people smuggling and criminal activities. Evidence suggests that in some isolated cases human smuggling networks have been used to infiltrate terrorists in Europe.
  • Diplomacy is a key component of a sustainable solution to migration challenges. This should focus on push factors in the countries of origin, such as conflicts, weak governance and criminal networks, as well as pull factors within the EU and beyond.
  • The actions of external players, for example Russia and the U.S., in individual countries of the region represent a significant complicating and potentially escalatory factor. A major concern for defence planners on all sides has been the conduct of parallel U.S.-led and Russian aerial campaigns over Syria, which poses the risk of an unintended confrontation due to miscommunication, mistrust or other error.
  • Islamic State is not likely to disappear, even if it is eradicated from one country in the Mediterranean region. Destroying Islamic State in one country while other countries remain fragile and violent is likely to see the problem relocate rather than disappear.
  • Further risks to the security and stability are likely to emerge in the Mediterranean region. Problems are likely to escalate if the EU fails to successfully deal with the complexity of the refugee crisis, the U.S. increasingly prioritises the Far East over European affairs and Russia increases its influence and presence in the region.