NATO and energy security

November 3, 2007

Concerns about energy security have made their way to the agenda of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). But to ensure energy security we are now risking global security.

Speaking at the 42nd Munich Conference on Security Policy on 4 February 2006, NATO Secretary General specifically referred to energy security as an issue that NATO should consider discussing. In May 2006 he added that the alliance would consider using force if energy-supply lines were threatened, a major broadening of the group’s mandate. “As far as oil and gas is concerned, I think NATO could play a role to defend the sea lanes,” he told European parliamentarians. [1]

Energy security was included as a new topic in the NATO Riga Summit agenda in November 2006.

On the eve of the Summit, U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, head of the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, has called for Alliance intervention when its energy sources are threatened: “There is little ultimate difference between a member being forced to submit to coercion because of an energy cutoff and a member facing a military blockade or other military demonstration on its borders. An attack using energy as a weapon can devastate a nation’s economy and yield hundreds or even thousands of casualties, the Alliance must avow that defending against such attacks is an Article 5 commitment. [2]”

In fact, he later on made clear that the real reason is energy scarcity: “In the years ahead, the most likely source of armed conflict in the European theater and the surrounding regions will be energy scarcity and manipulation. [3]” The justification of NATO’s such an intervention would be under Mutual Defense Clause, Article 5. (Article 5 of the NATO Charter identified an attack on one member as an attack on all.)

Finally, in Article 45 of the Riga Summit Declaration, NATO confirmed its support for a coordinated, international effort to assess risks to energy infrastructure and to promote energy infrastructure security.

Article 45 of the Riga Summit Declaration, issued by the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Riga on 29 November 2006, he said that: “As underscored in NATO’s Strategic Concept, Alliance security interests can also be affected by the disruption of the flow of vital resources. We support a coordinated, international effort to assess risks to energy infrastructures and to promote energy infrastructure security. With this in mind, we direct the Council in Permanent Session to consult on the most immediate risks in the field of energy security, in order to define those areas where NATO may add value to safeguard the security interests of the Allies and, upon request, assist national and international efforts.”

What is the danger? Energy security may not be possible without guaranteeing the security of the energy infrastructure, from oil and gas fields to transportation, and where they are located and where they pass though. This brings us to focus on three major areas: the Middle East, North and West Africa and Caspian, the areas where peak oil has not bitten but showing its teeth, and hence a resource paradise for IOCs and NOCs. Nevertheless, use of force to secure supplies, and giving that job to NATO will achieve anything but security.

Why do I say so? Well, consider the following questions: What if for example Shanghai Cooperation Organisation wants to do the same? What if China now wants to patrol the Straight of Hormuz, after all it is China that imports more oil from the region, not the U.S. or EU.

No wonder Vladimir Putin argued that “the only mechanism that can make decisions about using military force as a last resort is the Charter of the United Nations…. And we do not need to substitute NATO or the EU for the UN” [4]

This energy security mania is going too far and will not achieve anything rather rivalry and conflict.

Curtis D. Burton, Chairman and CEO Buccaneer Resources, LLC, had an excellent article in World Energy (Vol. 10, No.3, 2007). Referring to the US politicians he said in his article “Our politicians have played politics rather than generating solutions…. There are only two possibilities about why Washington behaves as it does. One explanation is that Washington is peopled by the highest concentration of imbeciles found anywhere on the planet. Another explanation is they are lining their pockets at the expense of the taxpayers and need to keep attention on the important things they do for the citizens while they really serve only themselves.” Well, I guess it would be better to generalize it to all politicians.

We should remember what Isaac Asimov said 25 years ago: “We’ve always lived with risk, and that’s been the great thing about life. The trouble is we’ve now reached the point where risk is risking everything! And you can’t afford to risk everything.” [5]


[1] Bhushan Bahree and Chip Cummins, Power shifts to countries with oil reserves, , The Wall Street Journal, June 14, 2006.

[2] Statement of Richard Lugar, The NATO Riga Summit, Government of Latvia, March 2007.

[3] Richard Lugar, EU and U.S. Must Move Now to Address Energy Vulnerability. Speech at the EU-U.S. Summit in Washington, DC, April 30, 2007.

[4] Vladimir Putin, Speech at the 43rd Conference on Security Policy, Munich, Germany, February 10, 2007.

[5] Isaac Asimov. Lecture on The future of humanity. Newark college of engineering on Nov 8, 1974.

Tags: Fossil Fuels, Geopolitics & Military, Oil