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Click to read: Energy Security - What role for NATO? - NATO Research Paper No 29, October 2006.
This paper by Dr Andrew Monaghan provides an extremely good overview of the energy
security dilemma that is a primary issue for NATO governments and the European Union.
He offers a basic and straightforward definition of energy security as 'sufficient resources at
affordable prices'. The paper identifies areas of concern that are causing these
governments to feel vulnerable about energy security and foreign energy suppliers. It
examines a potential role for NATO that would be compatible with the EU's agenda and the
role of other institutions. More importantly, the paper highlights the complexities of the issue
and raises questions that governments need to address as a matter of urgency together with
the pitfalls to be avoided.
The underlying premise of the paper is that the sustainability of energy reserves is now more
a question of politics than geology. The issue here is not about the extent of energy
resources or the increasing consumption of China, but about the political stability of states
that have resources, access to those resources and the fear of terrorist attack on the global
energy infrastructure. In addition, there is anxiety that states may use energy resources for
political leverage following the Russia-Ukraine problems of January 2006. The focus of the
paper is mainly about relations over energy with Russia as the leading producer and
exporter of gas and second largest for oil.
The reasons given for some European states looking for NATO involvement are quite
credible in that they reflect the internal dissension and mistrust that has bedevilled the EU for
years and who have no wish to see national energy policies suborned by a Brussels-led
integrated foreign and security policy. However, in this instance there may be good cause
as the EU member states have different energy mixes and transit means, whilst remaining
quite diverse in their use of different energy types and sources.
The desire to involve NATO has manifested itself in a Polish proposal to create a new
agreement binding NATO and EU members to act together and provide mutual assistance in
the face of a threat to energy supplies. The paper does not evaluate that proposal per se
but uses it as evidence in support of a US proposal to discuss the merits of a NATO policy,
strategy and contingency plans at the North Atlantic Council.
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The overt justification for a NATO role is well made on the basis that a threat to energy
security affects the stability of member states, whilst terrorist threats, accidents and disasters
have a military and civil defence aspect. Because the US is a global player in energy, any
discussion would inevitably take on a global dimension and the analysis demonstrates the
mutual benefit of locking-in the US. There is further sound analysis and argument with
respect to the positive relevance of NATO's partnerships and regional initiative programmes
involving energy producing and transit regions, as well as the importance of Turkey's
aspirations to become an energy hub and major artery for supplies to Europe. In this context
the prospective EU membership of Turkey will be a major factor.
The paper makes suggestions for practical activities that NATO could undertake in
association with political dialogue, although the sourcing of the necessary military assets and
funding are not mentioned. Training and advice on infrastructure protection along with
development of emergency management capabilities are obvious elements. Perhaps more
controversial is the suggestion by SACEUR that NATO could provide security in unstable
areas for key parts of the energy chain, air surveillance and naval protection for gas and oil
routes, and protection of facilities against terrorism or piracy. His opinion that this "is not a
problem we can walk away from much longer" is well supported by the arguments and
reasoning in this paper.
Quite rightly the paper highlights limitations, problems and pitfall areas to NATO
involvement. Not least are the difficulties of Central Asian politics and their inconsistent
policies as well as the well-developed links of some eastern European nations with Russia.
The problems the EU has in achieving support for a coherent policy from its member states
could equally be true for NATO for the same reasons.
The paper provides a good insight into the differences in approach by the US and EU to
Russia that could undermine a unified NATO policy. The US has the freedom to be far more
robust against Russia's attempts to become an 'energy superpower' whereas the EU has to
maintain equable relations with Russia and would rather address energy security as a
market matter and not a military one.
There are many outstanding issues and unanswered questions, some of which are quite
fundamental. If NATO adopts a role in energy security, would it work as an alliance
(presumably the author means as a mutually supporting entity) or as a forum to create ad
hoc coalitions (much as it does now for 'out-of-area' operations)? What priority would energy
security have in NATO's priorities? From a political perspective it would be critical that
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NATO's role is very carefully defined so that its intentions are not misunderstood. Indeed, if
its role is seen as regional and not issue orientated it could undermine European energy
security. Certainly, Russia would be suspicious of any such moves by NATO unless it was
made abundantly clear that NATO was not attempting to isolate Russia but only to achieve
stated limited energy goals. It is clear from the arguments portrayed in the paper that if all
the concerns are addressed and any role for NATO is well defined and not over-ambitious,
then NATO could perform a useful role in energy security, justified by the valid military
This excellent paper is recommended to the widest possible readership interested in the
UK's future energy security and that of the wider western alliance.