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  Military dimension of energy security

Dr. Arûnas Molis
2010 04 06

The stage of discussions among the experts preparing proposals for the NATO strategic concept has come to an end; the stage of consultations in the capitals of the Alliance states has commenced. Afterward they will have to identify the most relevant future threats, NATO‘s tasks in combating these threats and the ways for increasing the Alliance’s effectiveness etc. The decisions made will also affect the development of our national security system; therefore the ongoing discussions are instrumental for Lithuania.

Currently there are no major disagreements within NATO on traditional operational spheres of the Alliance. All the countries are interested in the pursuit of NATO’s collective security commitments and an effective structure of crisis response planning and managing international operations. However, some states suggest the extension of the Alliance‘s collective defense commitments to energy, cyber security and „soft“ security spheres. According to other countries (including Lithuania) the Alliance should discuss problems related to energy security in the NATO-Russian Council, whereas skeptics (Germany, France) are of the opinion that energy has nothing to do with the military alliance. In view of this, it is worth while analyzing the relationship between the energy and military conflicts.

Today the factor of fuel supply could hardly determine finalization of military conflicts: for instance, the U.S. Defense Department can do with less than 2 percent of the U.S.consumed oil. But this doesn‘t mean that in geopolitics the role of energy resources has diminished. The Arab and Israeli conflicts in 1948, 1967 and 1973, invasions to Iraq in 1991 and 2003 demonstrated the role of oil in the Near East. These conflicts were not predetermined only by economic motives, but nobody could deny that many policy-makers expected more favorable oil supply conditions after the war.

According to American analysts, the oil price exceeding 100 USD/barrel has negative impact on the economy of importing countries.  The businesses of these countries looked for a possibility to reduce import prices, whereas politicians of oil and gas exporting countries started increasing the state control in this sector, as well as the costs for procurement of weapons on the grounds of „oil money“. This gives the rise to possible military conflicts.

Besides the traditional fights for resources, it is worth while mentioning a new trend of the beginning of 21st century: not only the authoritarian regimes use the oil’s impact on global economy, but also their supported terror groups and sea pirates. The most popular target of terrorists is tankers and other transportation, warehousing and processing infrastructure of energy resources. From 2003 to 2006 the number of attacks directed against these objects has increased 5-6 times (from 50 to 300 attacks per year only against oil tankers and pipelines); during the period of 2004-2005 they sent to death about 600 people.

In principle, this is not surprising, since most of oil reaches the importing states by maritime routes which actually are unprotected. In the future this tendency would only increase, since consumers have started to search for import of liquid natural gas transported by tankers. The question arises: what has to be done in order to protect energy transportation systems and roads, and who should take responsibility for that?

Most of the imported oil and gas is consumed by the Western world, therefore it‘s logical that the West shall be responsible for the security in the Indian Ocean, straits of Hormuz and Malacca and the Gulf of Aden. The West is the NATO and the EU, including us. By the way, the Alliance started bothering about the energy security during the times of the Cold War, including the establishment of the NATO pipeline system to supply fuel to aviation headquarters of the Member States.  According to the provisions of NATO‘s strategic concept of 1999, security of the Alliance might be affected by global non-traditional threats, preventing from the supply of vitally important resources. Therefore the Alliance‘s forces are asked to be prepared „for the protection of infrastructure from terror attacks“.

In 2004 the Alliance approved the Programme of Defense against Terrorism; pursuant to the Declaration of the Riga Summit in 2006, members of the Alliance shall evaluate the threats to energy infrastructure. According to the Declaration of the Bucharest Summit in 2008, the NATO’s role in the sphere of energy security would include the exchange of information and the intelligence data, promotion of trans-national and regional cooperation and protection of energy infrastructure objects.

It would be natural to expect that a new NATO‘s strategic concept would give due regard to the assurance of energy security. We must not be surprised if Member States wouldn’t confine to the exchange of information, protection of energy infrastructure and tanker escort operations.

While convincing the skeptical Alliance‘s partners, our diplomats shall take all their efforts in order to reach the above goal.

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