NATO Energy Security Strategy Crucial to Checking Russian Aggression
Russian gas supplies are dividing Europe on sanctions. Recognition of the security implications of climate change are becoming widely recognized. NATO can and should play a key role in driving positive on both by building energy security for its members. Including specific, targeted mandates to enable mutual energy security in NATO's mission moving forward would be to both recognize the key challenges of our time and bolster longstanding alliance precepts.
In their efforts to build a cohesive response to Russian military incursions in Ukraine, and aggression in Eastern Europe, NATO member states have faced a variety of frustrations and divisions. Like any regime of coordinated action, the set of economic sanctions and political restrictions imposed on Russia is not without pain for those doing the imposing. The hope is that, in pursuing multilateral action through coordinating bodies, this pain can be lessened and the directed effects to the targets of these measured enhanced. Unfortunately, recent months have suggested that despite scant progress towards peace in Ukraine, and (alongside) decreasing aggression on the part of the Russian government and its regional proxies, certain NATO member states are now signaling that they will move away from sanctions renewal.
Some of these are tied to unique political, economic and cultural factors in each nation. In Hungary for example a much-scrutinized nuclear reactor deal with Russia, along with other economic sweeteners, is undoubtedly playing a role in its eagerness to roll sanctions back. Similarly, counter-sanctions imposed on Western goods by Russia have hit agricultural exports in nations such as Greece particularly hard. Coupled with ongoing internal economic difficulties in these countries, the resulting trade decline has undermined public support for the existing sanctions. Russia has begun to actively exploit these tensions, offering selective exemptions from its trade barriers and other incentives as a price for voting against new sanctions or extending the existing ones. In order for NATO's mission of mutual security to be accomplished – particularly in relation to the ongoing situation in Eastern Europe – it needs to better position itself as responsive to these overtures and listening to public opinion in skeptical nations. If Russia is offering concrete incentives to go against the sanctions regime, NATO must exercise its influence on similar terms in the direction of maintaining them.
Nowhere is this more critical than on the issue of energy security, specifically with regards to fossil fuel use in Europe. According to recent analysis by the European Council on Foreign relations Central and Eastern Europe, in particular Romania, Bulgaria and the Baltic States, remain highly dependent on Russian gas and would be highly vulnerable in the event of a disruption in these supply chains. Even countries such as Germany, which have a more diversified energy supply mix, still include a proportionately large percentage of Russian energy in their imports and would find themselves hard-pressed if active measures were taken by Russian companies (the majority state-controlled) to interrupt current consumption patterns. Memories of the Russia-Ukraine so-called "gas war" of 2006 – 09, which left many in nations like Bulgaria without adequate heating fuel for weeks in the middle of winter, are fresh in the minds of citizens and lawmakers alike; few would seek a return to those days. To its credit, the European Union (EU) has stepped up its proposals to increase cross-state energy capacity sharing for essential services between Union states, and to more thoroughly vet energy contracts with suppliers outside the EU. These proposals nevertheless face an uphill climb in being implemented by national parliaments, and do not necessarily solve the essential supply questions. In order to truly prevent gas supplies being used as a geopolitical weapon, increased energy capacity not tied to hostile states is required, in the variety of forms it may come. It is in this respect that NATO can play a leading role.
The launch of the Energy Security Centre of Excellence in response to recommendations from the 2008 Budapest Summit is a promising development in NATO's institutional awareness of energy infrastructure as a fundamental element of security. However, its mandate at present is rather limited, mostly concerned with increasing energy efficiency within national armed forces and securing physical energy infrastructure. These are undoubtedly important priorities, but a greater impact could be had by enabling the Centre to pursue knowledge transfer with civilian authorities with the explicit mandate of securing energy supplies in an intra-NATO framework. This should be integrated with the increasing recognition on the part of NATO and other security sector representatives of the security implications of climate change and a push for clean energy. As all NATO members are also signatories of the recent COP21 climate change targets, the creation of energy security through the development of less carbon intensive forms of energy supplies will go hand-in-hand with ending the contradictions between energy and security policy many nations are currently stuck in.
To this effect, NATO members not directly affected by potential disruptions in Russian gas supplies should be prepared to aid those that are in transitioning their energy mix. Some of this might come in the form of measures to increase US and Canadian fossil fuel exports to Eastern and Central Europe, but it should mainly be focused on increasing energy efficiency (where these nations continue to perform below average) and facilitating shared green energy grid development. The explosion of wind power in Germany, for example, could be a very potent tool in firming up resolve to uphold sanctions in the nations to its east, but only if the ability to share energy generated across borders is there. At least for essential services, NATO should make a coordinated push on the part of its members to share nationally-generated energy.
The progress made in expansive understandings of "security", going beyond the traditional military realm, has been one of the more impressive developments of NATO's mandate since the end of the Cold War. Energy supplies are rapidly being weaponized by exporting nations in an attempt to undermine core NATO objectives. Including specific, targeted mandates to enable mutual energy security in NATO's mission moving forward would be to both recognize the key challenges of our time and bolster longstanding alliance precepts.
Carter Vance is an MA candidate in political economy at Carleton University and a Junior Research Fellow at the NATO Association of Canada.
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