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Home Archive October 2009 Issue Issue Content Twenty Years After the Fall of the Berlin Wall: NATO's Enduring Energy Challenge

Twenty Years After the Fall of the Berlin Wall: NATO's Enduring Energy Challenge

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Twenty years after the watershed events of 1989 NATO confronts a new set of strategic challenges. High on this list is the issue of energy security. The fact that energy has moved far beyond a resource issue is  borne out by: Issues of energy scarcity acting as a trigger for competition between nations and even among NATO members; NATO member and partner countries’ varying import dependence on oil and gas  from non-democratic producer states; the fact that producer countries exact political leverage and economic influence based on their natural resource endowments; and the implications of global climate change on resource conflicts from the Arctic to Africa. Energy, power and its availability are global security challenges. Energy security is a 21st century risk for the Alliance, which, if left unattended, will undermine Transatlantic consensus and active cooperation on the panoply of traditional security challenges NATO was designed to address and if necessary confront. 

In Riga, Bucharest and most recently in the NATO Strasbourg/Kehl Summit Declarations, NATO reaffirmed its commitment to consult “on the most immediate risks in the field of energy security.” It tasked the “[North Atlantic] Council to prepare an interim report for the Foreign Ministers’ meeting in December 2009 and a further report on the progress achieved in the area of energy security for our consideration at our next Summit.” The release of the interim report in December, which is presumably intended to clarify the Alliance’s position on where it can add value in preventing, mitigating,  or in deterring energy events which impact negatively on Alliance members and on the fundamental security of its member citizens, is eagerly anticipated.    

In reflecting on the post-Cold War world that has evolved over the past twenty years, it must first be acknowledged that NATO’s commitment to the collective security of its members has been decidedly enlarged since 1989. All of the former Warsaw Pact member states, with the exception of the Russian Federation and former Soviet republics, are now full NATO members. This geographic expansion necessitates the review of NATO’s strategic concept now underway. It also implies that the security requirements of these new states may differ from NATO’s pre-1989 member-state composite. Of chief concern to the states that have joined the Alliance since 1989 is continuing and in many cases growing dependence on Russian hydrocarbon exports: both oil and gas.

Energy security is grounded on three pillars: supply diversity, transportation diversity, and fuel diversity. In terms of the later, fuel diversification, no one blames European NATO nations’ dependence on oil and gas any more than it blames import dependence in the United States on gasoline in the transportation sector. All members of the Alliance realize that energy resource dependence can and does skew any given nation’s foreign policy. It sets up inconvenient and sometimes alarming allegiances between states whose fundamental principles and values are seemingly at odds with one another. A recent glance at a map of the planned Nabucco pipeline, a gas pipeline designed to diminish European gas dependence on the Russian Federation, is a case in point. The pipeline’s map shows a trunk-line originating in northern Iran and running to Turkey.




NATO recognizes the destabilizing effect of a nuclear Iran on the global security environment. But are European Union members—many of them concurrently NATO members-- so desperate for gas that they are willing to flood the Iranian regime with Euros?  Probably not, but the mere dichotomy in purpose, e.g. starve a nuclearizing Iran from Western financial subsistence yet take their gas on any account, raises critical and important fundamental questions  as to the role of energy in Alliance politics and its role in consensus-building or in consensus-destabilization.

For Russia’s part, since the fall of The Wall it has done everything in its power to maintain former allies' energy subservience and to increase former adversaries' energy dependence. One can well understand Russia’s national security objective of enhancing its economic power through energy exports. At the same time it must be acknowledged that this revenue feeds its ability to project power, at a minimum across its region, which inconveniently borders on the European Union. This is why Russia matters to the NATO Alliance. The stability of the Russian Federation is a key determinant of stability in Europe. NATO does not wish Russia evil; NATO does not want an imploded Russia.

Yet understanding the principle desire for economic growth and stability in Russia should not be held quid pro quo with acquiescing to its exercise of power. In European energy markets this exercise has manifested itself in corruption and manipulation by using the language of Western capitalism to describe and demonstrate its economic offensive. It throws up avoidance transit pipelines (South Stream for Nabucco) to prevent alternative (read non-Russian) pipeline development, or, in the case of Nord Stream (Nord Stream for Druzhba), to develop a parallel pipeline in order to be able to selectively shut off the gas tap to one or more countries (read Ukraine) without denying European downstream gas customers product. Russia's successful exercise of bilateralism in the energy sphere has effectively prevented the emergence of a common European foreign energy policy. It has prevented NATO from developing a common Alliance strategy on confronting energy supply disruptions in the European theater and has officially limited Alliance discussion on energy to the protection of critical infrastructure which has gone nowhere. Most importantly, this strategy ensures the probability of Russian success in leveraging its national resource wealth and influence in policy areas far afield from energy itself. Its desire for regime change in Ukraine and Georgia, its meddling in Moldova’s Transnistria region, and its ability to influence Azerbaijan, Armenia, and even Turkey are all cases in point.  In short, if you sit in Tbilisi or Kiev, Europe’s energy paradigm, particularly in gas, quickly translates into a national security dilemma. This is why the Georgians overwhelmingly seek the collective security compact of NATO. The perceived risks associated with extending NATO membership to this small, Caucasus state are also why some NATO countries deny it membership.     

In December 2008, Vladimir Putin declared at a Gas Exporting Countries Forum meeting that “the era of cheap natural gas is over.” Less than a year later, Gazprom Marketing and Trading, USA launched its US activities on October 1, 2009. As of its first trading day Gazprom is marketing more than 350 million cubic feet (mcf) of physical gas supply per day in the US. A top Gazprom executive recently said that 6 billion cubic feet per day volumes could be reached within 5 years and it has stated its intention to corner 10% of the US gas market over the next 10 years. Tactics in the post Cold War world have changed. While Russia has replaced its “tanks with banks,” and while it cannot presently win a financial war of attrition over gas with either the US or with Europe, it can inflict some pain on individual European countries as it did in January 2009 in Bulgaria and across South-eastern Europe. So the old adage, “we either hang together or hang separately,” is once again germane to post Cold War Europe in the energy sphere.   

In 2009, twenty years after the fall of the Berlin wall, as we celebrate the cause of freedom, we should keep in mind the heavy energy price that the post Cold War world has delivered us: a European gas market monopolized and increasingly ring fenced by the Soviet Union’s successor state the Russian Federation. Russian state energy proxies are active across the MENA region, including in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Iran, and Iraq only to name a few. The strategy is clear: to deny European consumers enhanced energy security through limiting energy supply from potential competitors.

Russia’s revised National Security Strategy to 2020 also warns that, “It does not exclude that the use of armed force as applied in the international fight for hydrocarbon resources, and that this could disrupt the power balance in areas near the Russian border.” This is a clear signal that it is determined to exercise control over, and dominate if necessary, energy resources across the former Soviet republics (now independent states) of Central Asia and even the Caucasus. Some of these states are NATO EAPC partner states. Finally, its National Security Strategy reads that, “Russia possesses great energy resources...which is the basis of economic development and the instrument for carrying out internal and external policy.” Clearly Russia, based on its multi-vector foreign policy, may at times act as a friend of NATO, but it has not yet proven itself as a steadfast ally.

Precisely because NATO’s energy requirements over the next 20 years will continue to move off-shore, with deepening dependence on the Middle East for oil and on Russia for gas, a just and lasting peaceful order in Europe requires a realistic assessment of these relationships. The reality is that, holding all else ceteris paribus, by 2030 75% of the Alliance’s oil supply will be dependent on a handful of Middle Eastern states, and NATO’s European members will average 60% natural gas dependency on the Russian Federation.

Oil and gas markets are not free. They are heavily influenced by cartels and often controlled through the monopoly practices of the decidedly non-democratic states that supply them. Managing this uncertain future is central to peace and prosperity across the Alliance. This includes mitigating potential conflict through responsible cooperation, in all spheres of engagement well beyond that of energy,   

In Europe, as stated the fulcrum of engagement rests on the NATO-Russian relationship, and somewhere in this relationship energy needs to be addressed. Within this context, there are a number of steps NATO could undertake given its present mandated focus on critical infrastructure protection. These steps include establishing a NATO-Russia sub-committee within the NATO-Russia Council to focus on transnational energy infrastructure protective measures and emergency response to energy transit disruptions, collaborating on the construction of a database of incidents carried out against energy infrastructure on a global basis, and establishing an early warning system and an intra-NATO response mechanism for future energy supply disruptions to downstream NATO members. This shortlist suggests Russia can and should be part of the solution to energy and infrastructure security issues within the European theater that involve its resources. It does not mean the Alliance should tread lightly when this state acts belligerently and in doing so threatens the energy security of NATO members and partners.

More engagement will be required as NATO continues to engage the Russian Federation, Istanbul Cooperation Initiative states, Mediterranean Dialogue states and others on issues ranging from counter-terrorism to peaceful management of the Arctic to maritime piracy. New and specialized mechanisms which focus on the transnational protection of energy infrastructure and its supply from commercial disruptions and terrorist attacks are warranted on a global basis. For example, researchers at the Center for Security Studies at the Technical University in Zurich, Switzerland claim more than 200 attacks have occurred against energy infrastructure globally since 2005. Yet without a technical database to track and catalog these attacks noting modalities, targets, responsible parties and the cost of downtime due to the disruption or destruction of this infrastructure, security professionals either with government or in the private sector have little information to base protective measures on. Terrorist inspired attacks, and in the case of al Qaeda their jihadi motivations, provide a new feature to the energy landscape that has emerged over the past twenty years. Specialists also know that the methods of terrorist attacks migrate from country-to-country and region-to-region. This gives further credence to the usefulness of such a database, yet it has not appeared on the radar-screens of independent oil companies or in collective security circles. As a result, companies continue to discount the importance of these low-probability but high-impact events. This in turn sets the stage for defense-security organizations to be de facto responders to events that could cripple a city, nation, or even region based on the connectivity of energy networks in the 21st century.
Re-conceptualizing NATO’s minimum military requirement in terms of a minimum human-security requirement, and measuring what this would mean in terms of sustaining basic human services within NATO member countries in the event of an energy disruption or massive destruction of critical infrastructure, would catalyze a re-think of NATO capabilities and engender renewed vigor and citizen support for NATO’s  collective security commitment. As the Arctic and other regions warm from the effects of climate change, new security arrangements are called for between NATO Member and non-Member states to deal with issues ranging from maritime safety and security in Arctic waters to the threat posed by the internal migration of peoples due to climate change and to intra-state conflicts over energy resources which directly threaten Alliance security. As global energy transportation of resources intensifies so will the threat from piracy.

There is no need to invent a new security agenda which NATO will most certainly be expected to respond to. There is a need however to undertake contingency planning on how NATO will respond to these emergencies tomorrow with energy as a catalyzing force.

Responsibility begins at home. A huge potential exists in the hands of NATO’s military command structure and its related civilian technology and scientific agencies to examine energy and its use from a tactical military standpoint. The United States alone, as part of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, moves over 600,000 gallons of fuel a day in Afghanistan. Diesel generators provide power to troops deployed far from any energy grid for unlimited durations of time. IEDs focused on motorized fuel, troop transport and armored vehicles account for the majority of deaths and injuries to ISAF forces today. Multiple solutions exist with off-the-shelf technologies to assist in mitigating the provision and movement of fuels across conflict zones. Success in the introduction of these technologies and potentially non-fossil based fuels will be measured by the number of lives saved. Fuels related research, development and deployment in the transportation sector monopolized by fossil fuel could contribute to a paradigm shift in moving global transportation’s dependence on oil that is at the heart of myriad national and global security concerns.

NATO’s unprecedented success as the world’s most vibrant and vital collective security organization is contingent on its ability to address new and emerging threats to Alliance security and stability. The energy and security nexus, in one if not in many of its permutations, is already part of this new security landscape. The challenge is in defining how it will be a part of NATO’s new security framework and in fashioning operational mechanisms for addressing this challenge within a NATO context.

Kevin Rosner is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in Washington D.C. and the Managing Editor of the Journal of Energy Security.



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