Aspidesfrom the ancient Greek “shield, defense”, is the name of the Italian-led naval mission that will leave for Red Seawhere clashes between people have been intensifying for several weeks Houthis and U.S. and British ships to block cargo ships passing through the Suez passage. Unlike the mission Prosperity Guardian Fielded by the USA and the UK, this is a defense mission. It was strongly supported by Germany, France and Italy and should be approved on February 19th. It will probably be based in Larissain Greece, a strategic point not far from the Red Sea. But let’s see in detail what this European defense mission entails and what the consequences are.
The objective of the Aspides mission
Aspides will be one naval mission purely defensive, unlike those conducted by Great Britain and the United States. In addition to maritime frigates, it was announced that the mission could be integrated with air checks with the purpose of surveillance and data collection, but categorically excluding land-based military interventions. The European Union has asked theItaly to guide the operation through the Force Commander, i.e. the admiral officer in command of the ships that will take part in it. Italy will send the ITS Frederico Martinengo frigate which would take the place of the Virginio Fasan, present in the region since December or the Caio Duilio destroyer, created specifically to coordinate these types of actions.
The mission was announced with the sole purpose of ensuring the correct functioning of the international trading, but for this reason it can foresee the use of force to respond to Houthi attacks, thus allowing fire to be opened albeit for defensive purposes.
A further step towards common European defense?
According to article 44 of Treaty on European Union (TEU), the European Council can entrust a mission to a group of member states, who manage it together with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. At the moment Italy is the country chosen to lead the mission but, if the operation were to be prolonged, a six-monthly rotation at the helm of Aspides among the member states that will participate, in particular the France which has its own naval base in Djibouti, a few nautical miles from the coast of Yemen. Italy, through the Force Commander, will therefore lead the naval mission with the aim of planning and coordinating operations. Aspides was considered by some observers to be a concrete step towards a common European system of defense and foreign policy and will represent an important test for theEuropean Union.
Following the announcement of Italy’s intervention in the Aspides mission, one of the Houthi leaders, Mohamed Ali al-Houti stated that Italy’s involvement in the mission could make it a target of Houthi attacks and cause aescalation. It should be specified that the Aspides mission is configured as a European mission separate from BORN and the mission Prosperity Guardian implemented by the United Kingdom and the United States: many in fact consider this a first step of emancipation from the defensive point of view of the European Union towards the Atlantic Pact. The purpose of the mission is to ensure the principle of freedom of navigationexcluding any type of involvement in land operations against Houthi bases in Yemen.
The importance of the Red Sea for European and Italian maritime trade
The 40% of Italian maritime exports and the 12% of the world one passes from Suez passagewith an important part of the manufacturing sector (il 30% is represented only by container ships). From a maritime point of view, therefore, the attacks by the Houthis are also increasing maritime insurance with inevitable increases in costs and delays in the main European ports, ranging from 5 to 14/21 days of waiting. As an alternative to the Suez Canal we look at the Strait of Panama, which however is facing drought problems (it is estimated that there is a 24% decrease in transit due to this problem).
At the moment this is not only causing problems from the point of view of global maritime trade, but is also rethinking trade structures by 2050. There will probably be a increase in rail transport: only in 2023 China-Europe freight trains have increased by 6%, and there will also be a restructuring of the logistics chains, with a Mediterranean which could lose its centrality, taking back the debate on the Arctic routewith a northern Europe stronger and the centrality of Suez and Panama increasingly in question.