The bloody end to the schoolhouse hostage crisis in North Ossetia, and recent clashes in Georgia between government troops and separatist forces, have put the troubled Black Sea region on the front pages of newspapers once again. This rising violence is also a wake-up call for the West, highlighting the need for a new Euro-Atlantic strategy in a vitally important region that lies at the crossroads of Europe, Eurasia, and the Middle East.
Indeed, the Black Sea region is the Euro-Atlantic community's eastern frontier with the wider Middle East. With Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran topping the list of strategic challenges facing the West, anchoring democracy and security in these new borderlands of the Euro-Atlantic community has become imperative for both the United States and the EU. Moreover, success here can provide lessons in how to facilitate the daunting process of reform and modernization in the wider Middle East.
Georgia's "Rose Revolution" last winter demonstrated that the will to implement radical reform now exists. For the first time, a country in the region is matching its aspirations with the concrete steps needed to become a viable candidate for eventual membership in Euro-Atlantic institutions. A visitor to Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, now sees the same level of determination to join the West that existed a decade ago in the Baltic states.
America and Europe share an interest in the success of these efforts, particularly as they seek to diversify energy supplies away from Saudi Arabian and Persian Gulf oil. The Black Sea is poised to become a key conduit for non-OPEC, non-Gulf oil and natural gas flowing into European markets and beyond. The Black Sea region's long-term stability and integration with the West is thus critically important to the long-term energy security strategy of EU and NATO members.