Failure on behalf of the energy exporting states to adequately increase output helped contribute to a record surge in world oil prices Thursday, with crude oil topping $80 a barrel. According to industry analysts, this was due in part to tight supplies in Europe. The issue here rests in the impact that the European energy market has on the North American one, and demonstrates the strategic importance for the U.S. and the European Union to pursue stabilizing energy policies towards key exporting regions, particularly Russia. Russian energy blackmail can be averted, however there needs to be a strategic reorientation in the push towards a common EU energy policy if the EU member states truly want to achieve security of supply.
Over the course of the past 15 years,
Russia has turned itself into an energy exporting behemoth, becoming a crucial supplier of natural gas to a European Union that finds itself with dwindling domestic reserves-one expert has estimated that 80 percent of Hungarian natural gas imports were from the Russian Federation. When this degree of EU reliance is taken in conjunction with Moscow’s majority control of the natural gas company Gazprom, crucial pipelines into Western Europe, and a demonstrated willingness to leverage its energy resources as a political weapon, the negotiating power of the EU-27, not to mention the Ukraine and the Baltic states, appears tenuous at best.
Maintaining a general reluctance to expropriate decision making authority on energy policy to the supranational European Commission, the EU member states have failed to present a unified energy policy front, and thus find themselves in disadvantaged economic, political and strategic negotiating positions. However, while the EU states have not successfully resolved security of supply issues through the channels of the
EC’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, other avenues for crafting a common policy remain accessible, and may ultimately prove more effective.
In particular, at the 2006 NATO summit in Riga, Senator Richard Lugar advocated making energy security an Article V mutual security commitment. Indeed, there are some striking functional similarities between foreign coercion based off of energy manipulation and a more traditional act of aggression such as a naval blockade or border mobilization. Broadening Article V to include energy security does not mean that a military response would be employed. Rather, plans could be put in place among NATO members to effectively share energy in the event of a crisis, as well as to integrate and secure their energy infrastructures. Shifting the issue of European energy security to NATO would also bring key strategic states such as Turkey into fold, as well as the resource rich NATO partner states in Central Asia. Moreover, tying the soft-power potential of the United States into the matter of European energy security would be a strong asset in terms of discouraging the use of energy as a political weapon.
Ultimately, the potential manipulation of energy supplies for political ends poses a direct security threat to the EU member states. This necessitates making energy part of an effective security framework that will offer a unified negotiating and policy front. While a few key EU states such as Germany have viewed this plan with some skepticism, it appears to offer a feasible alternative to having a plethora of individual, national policies. Until a European Constitution can be passed that effectively incorporates a common EU energy policy into CFSP as a security concern, such policy must be brought under the collective security structure of NATO.