Editor’s Policy Analysis: A Blueprint For EU Energy Security

Editor's Desk

Mitchell A. Belfer

Editor’s Policy Analysis: A Blueprint For EU Energy Security

Introduction

In the spirit of this special issue of CEJISS – which addresses a variety of issues and geopolitical questions – on energy security, the following analysis intends to provide insight into the EU’s energy vulnerabilities and then suggest some policy options for the EU to consider. This is because if energy security depended on maintaining control over resources, extraction tools, means of transportation and storage – the four main controls inherent in any energy security (ES) strategy – then the EU appears disadvantaged when compared to others. It lags behind the US, Russia and China in controlling vital resources (notably those in Central Asia and the Caspian Sea basin, the Arctic, the Middle East, Africa and the South China Sea); it is more import dependent then any of the other great powers while its fractured energy-boards denotes energy competition between the EU’s members. The EU is at internal loggerheads over whether and how to develop an energy strategy that may diminish its more normative preferences in favour of an enhanced geopolitical approach to defend its material security. As the internal debate wages there is a growing tendency among exogenous actors to view the EU as a disjointed international actor which depends on external security provisions. The results of such perceptions have been twofold: the sustained attempts by EU allies (notably the US) to determine the security architecture of the EU without open dialogue, and an increase in explicit challenges to EU interests in its near and more distant ‘neighbourhoods.’From a geopolitical perspective, there are two broad sets of energy challenges facing the EU: those stemming from its international allies, and its traditional adversaries. Reviewing these with some depth helps clarify the energy situation facing the EU and provide some ways out of the current impasse.

Allied Challenges to EU Energy Security

While the EU boasts a more progressive approach to its, and international, security it is often hampered by the actions of its allies and its adversaries. This is acute in the area of ES where four main allied challenges seem to undermine the EU’s ability to construct and defend its energy related objectives. This is a largely underwritten area of security in general, and ES in particular, as allies loathe identifying each other as challenges for the fear that doing so would cause alliance disintegration. However, the act of identifying an ally as a security challenge should not erode the alliance, rather it should deepen commitments through dialogue and openness as opposed to allowing discord to take root and increase the potential for misunderstandings over the longterm.

The first major energy related allied challenge facing the EU rests on a larger international security challenge: the fear of allied abandonment. This challenge implies that an ally could diminish a state’s ability to achieve its objectives by abandoning it in a time of crisis. In contemporary EU foreign affairs the US is an important vehicle for EU security, and if the US fails to assist the EU achieve its international objectives, the EU’s level of influence would be greatly reduced.

Providing ES is one of the prime objectives of the EU and it seems that the US is poised to abandon it especially since the EU has to deal with a reinvigorated Russia as a prerequisite for securing its energy supplies. As the 2008 Russo-Georgian conflict, the 2009 Russian gas cuts to Ukraine (and 10 EU states), and Russia’s policy regarding the Arctic demonstrate, the US is either unwilling or unable to adequately ensure EU ES. Alarm bells should have been ringing in the halls of EU foreign policy making. Instead, media attention focused on the US’s desire to incorporate Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and not on the energy vulnerabilities facing the EU and ways the US could assist in reducing them. Despite the multitude of areas in which the EU and US continue to cooperate, the idea of US neutrality in energy related disputes should be a cause for concern. In the event that the US adopts a policy of neutrality over energy supplies to the EU, it is tantamount to security abandonment, and therefore must be treated as an allied challenge. If allies discriminately select the issues vital to each other they wish to support, collective action is ‘neutralised’ and the EU will have to look elsewhere for its security provisions.

Second, challenges may arise from the actions of certain allied states which, when attempting to achieve their own interests may reduce the ability of the EU to fulfil its energy objectives. Although dated, the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and subsequent 1974 oil embargo should act as a stark reminder of what may occur when an ally is embroiled in a military or political confrontation with key energy states. While EU states learned valuable lessons from the 1974 oil crisis, and have taken precautionary actions to limit the influence of OPEC and diversify their supply base, many of their allies may still, inadvertently damage EU relations to energy producing states. For instance, the post-Cold War relationship between Georgia, Ukraine and the EU, although not set as a formalised alliance, has severely undermined Russian-EU relations in the area of energy.

It is wrong to assume that Russia’s blockade of gas supplies to 10 gas-dependent EU states in early 2009 was detached from the EU’s open support for Ukrainian and Georgian attempts to join NATO and possibly the EU. While the EU should not be deterred from formulating and pursuing an independent set of foreign policy objectives, it should tread cautiously and ensure that its allies do not unnecessarily – through irresponsible policies – trigger disruptions in energy imports. Balancing between EU ES and its alliance commitments is difficult and risks alienating the EU from genuine allies, of losing EU consensus on deepening alliances, and of exposing additional points of vulnerabilities to the EU project of democratisation. However, it is in the best interest of the EU to ensure that its allies maintain ethical and (internationally) legal approaches to their foreign affairs to avoid, in the first case, unnecessary conflicts and secondly, so that if the EU were to suffer because of the ethically acceptable and legitimate actions of its allies, EU publics would stand behind EU alliance choices instead of seeking to scapegoat.

Third and finally, continued competition between EU members, and between the EU and its international allies, for energy supplies, while unfolding on the economic level, also undermines EU ES. This problem is, in part, due to the nature of the EU and in part due to the nature of producing states attempting to ‘divide and conquer’ for political and economic leverage. Russia’s relationship to Italy and Germany are testament to the policy of favouritism Russia has used to undermine a comprehensive EU energy strategy. But this is not Russia’s fault. After all, Russia does not compel Italy and Germany to accept special energy treatment, and it is up to EU members to think about other EU states when they embark on energy supply programmes.

Adversarial Challenges to EU Energy Security

In addition to energy challenges emanating from EU allies, those posed by its actual and potential adversaries have begun to set the EU up to act as other great powers, in defence of material interests, or find itself at a tremendous socio-economic, political and military disadvantage. The main consequence of the former is the diminishment of normative approaches to EU foreign affairs and the heightened potential of armed conflict on European soil, and the latter is likely to result in a steep decline in EU productivity and an increase in its geopolitical and military vulnerabilities. Both options are negative and while the EU must not alter its international behaviour because of hydrocarbon manipulation, it needs to find a middle-ground between normative and realist approaches to its international engagements. There are two broad adversarial challenges currently facing the EU: the hostile economic challenge and the geopolitical challenge. Both of these are posed by two main actors – Russia and China – and therefore may be examined through the nexus of Russo-Chinese relations.

The Russo-Chinese Axis

EU ES is determined by the political will of Russia. Yet Russia is not aggressive to, neither does it significantly challenge, the EU since the latter requires hydrocarbons and the former requires their sale. However, the emergence of China as a regional and international political, economic and military superpower has changed Russia’s relationship to the EU; hoisting it to a new, reinvigorated geopolitical position, while plunging the EU into a state of energy dependency. Whether Russia’s political manoeuvres stem from a fear of China or if China is regarded as a vehicle to enhance Russia’s international position, the result is the same: Russian behaviour is inadvertently undermining EU interests while solidifying its relationship to China. At the same time, China’s newfound confidence, its economic, political and military clout, have begun to reshape its priorities and, for the first time since the Sino-Soviet rupture (1956), China is actively seeking to extend its influence through the construction of a stable alliance network and has been eyeing Russia, among other post-Soviet republics, for that purpose. It is possible that Russia and China eventually abandon their cooperation, and return to an openly hostile relationship. China (an emerging superpower with a population of over 1 billion people) is a net resource importer while Russia, the world’s largest geographic entity, with a declining population and vast natural resources is likely to face increased pressure from China. However, the status quo in the Russo-Chinese relationship should have many in Brussels concerned.

Lacking geographic proximity, China does not present a direct physical threat to the EU; however its penetration of the Middle East (re: Iran), Africa (re: Sudan), and Central Asia (re: Kazakhstan) independently and in ‘strategic partnership’ with Russia is manifesting itself as an opposing pole to the EU, one that has the potential of doing more than undermining the EU’s international influence, but also negatively impact on the EU’s economic productivity and political unity by denying the EU access to important energy resources and arming states and sub-state groups that may directly challenge the EU and its interests. Additionally, China’s sudden spike in hydrocarbon consumption, at a time of depleting resources, implies that there are fewer resources to share among more actors.

Since 2005, all outstanding border disputes between Russia and China have been resolved and both states feel confident in their own strengths, and in their partnership, to begin the long process of joint military ventures including: military training exercises; intelligence sharing; hard-ware development; and importantly, strategic orientation including the identification of shared threats and challenges. While Russia and China may begin to look at each other suspiciously in the future, they are currently engaged and deeply committed to constructing an alliance network aimed at consolidating their dominant positions in Central Asia, the Caspian Sea region, and East Asia to gain increased leverage in other, outlining areas such as: the Arctic region (Russia), East Africa (China), South Asia (Russia and China), the Middle East (Russia and China), Latin America (Russia and China), and East and South-East Asia (Russia and China). As the Russo-Chinese relationship gains momentum, the EU remains impotent and is yet to identify either Russia or China as presenting a strategic challenge. Instead, due to deep foreign policy divisions within the EU, it often focuses on ways of advancing strategic partnerships; a toothless appeal to political moderation rather than a partnership in the true sense of the term.

Yet this analysis is not meant to paint a defeatist position. There are many ways for the EU to emerge as a more robust international actor pursuing a wider set of international objectives. Before reviewing some geopolitical advantages the EU retains and discussing how they may be deployed to defend EU energy supplies, among other foreign policy interests, it is useful to present the particular challenges posed by Russia and China.

Russia’s Energy Designs

According to The Summary of the Energy Strategy of Russia for the Period of up to 2020, Russia contains ‘1/3 of the world natural gas reserve, 1/10 of oil reserves, 1/5 of coal reserves, and 14% of uranium reserves.’ With such an array of strategic resources at its disposal, there is little wonder why Russia has prioritised energy as a vehicle for enhancing its political influence. However, Russia’s awareness of its energy position vis-a-vis the energy dependent EU has enticed it towards aggressive behaviour aimed at maximising political, economic and military opportunities; opportunities that a strong, united EU could limit. Russia’s energy designs are therefore aimed at increasing EU dependence on Russian energy resources; increasing its political influence over the EU; reducing the EU’s ability to further integrate (re: Common Foreign and Security Policy); to maintain internal EU competition for hydrocarbons; and reduce or altogether end the EU’s engagement with post-Soviet republics, such as Ukraine and Georgia. In other words, Russia is using its energy leverage to gain political concessions from the EU. If successful, Russia would centrally feature into the EU decision-making cycle and could render the larger EU project a failure since it is likely that without a common energy position, and renewed internal competition for energy resources, EU states would be unable to agree on fundamental aspects of the future of the Union itself.

To that end, Russia has focused on strengthening its energy position by independently enhancing its domestic energy infrastructure, – reducing reliance on foreign investment into its energy sector – constructing large-scale international pipe-line networks which it maintains control over, purchasing key energy refineries and storage facilities, including in the EU, and purchasing European energy companies. Also, Russia has engaged in threatening and bribing some alternative energy produce states and has even deployed force against EU energy interests. In other words, Russia is pursuing a ‘grand energy strategy’ that consists of ‘dividing and conquering’ the EU through a multi-faceted display of power: political, economic and military.

China’s Sea-Lane Security

While Russia consolidates its energy position in western Eurasia and the Arctic and attempts to maintain its power position in Central Asia, China has been steadily acquiring energy partners as a means of assuring continued industrial and economic progress, military capabilities and against unforeseen disruptions in its energy importations from Russia, its main supplier of hydrocarbons. China’s oil consumption has more than doubled since 1994, and it therefore requires an efficient and uninterrupted flow. While Russia and Kazakhstan have constructed, or are in the process of constructing, direct pipe-lines into western China, China prioritises the defence of the sea-lanes on the approaches to its territory.

China presently imports substantial hydrocarbons from four overseas states: Venezuela, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Iran, and recognises that it is vulnerable to energy disruptions because it does not directly control, or has allies capable of controlling, vital sea-lanes. Therefore, China has embarked on an ambitious naval project; to develop a series of overseas naval stations, made possible through the development of an alliance network to protect its energy interests and ensure energy diversification. This is having an adverse impact on EU ES since China is attempting to increase its naval presence in areas seen as vital to EU sea-faring, and could undermine EU influence in important regions while heightening the potential of a naval race and/or an accident.

In practical terms China has developed a ‘string of pearls’ to protect the East Africa-China and Middle East-China sea-lanes. China’s ‘string of pearls’ does not diminish the EU’s regional position. It does however indicate that China is unwilling to rely only on merchant vessels, but rather seeks to extend its military arm into areas that are central to EU hydrocarbon and maritime trade. Also, the states China has aligned with for its ‘string of pearls’ are among the poorest and most strife-ridden in the world, confirming that China’s interests are strictly geopolitical. There are four main stations in China’s ‘string of pearls’ namely: Hambantota (Sri Lanka); Gwadar (Pakistan); Chittagong (Bangladesh) and; Sittwe (Burma), and these states have been given vast amounts of financial and political support, which has only deepened their political stagnation and sharpened domestic political tensions.

Pipeline Politics

Whereas Russia is pursuing a pipe-line strategy, China is constructing a sea-lane strategy that may eventually directly threaten the EU’s energy life-line. This does not suggest that China is not involved in developing large-scale pipe-line projects, it is; however its strategic orientation requires it to seek control over sea-lanes as well. The EU is able to prevent the rise of China as a naval power, though this will risk direct confrontation. Therefore, the EU is stuck in a quagmire over how to respond: whether to encourage the continued construction of pipelines, originating from Russia and heading both east (China) and west (EU); or to attempt and block extensive pipe-line constructions and encourage China to seek increased reliance on sea-faring trade, an area where the EU maintains an advantage. While both options are risky, the EU seems content on the former, encouraging the construction of pipe-lines and therefore reducing the militarisation of the high-seas. This may turn out to be a very prudent approach since pipe-lines are not without their share of vulnerabilities, and the EU could exploit these, while enhancing its naval presence, to maintain its energy position and stave off Chinese naval growth.

The potential of the EU to control the sea-lanes has not been lost on either China or Russia and while Russia seeks to evade the EU’s pressure points, China is attempting to break out of its perceived encirclement. So far, Russia’s strategy is being practised with greater frequency and effect. However, constructing pipe-lines does not solve the fundamental problem of how to ensure uninterrupted energy flows and it seems that Russia’s gambit will eventually be more costly than anticipated. Before detailing some of the drawbacks to a pipe-line centric approach to transporting hydrocarbons, it is necessary to highlight Russia’s pipe-line problem with regards to China.

As noted, on the surface Russia and China are committed to fulfilling important shared interests. However, Russia may be wary of the growing influence of China. If this is accurate, then Russia would not be interested in quickening the pace of China’s assent, but rather allow it to rise slowly and peacefully. At even a cursory glance at the pipe-line networks originating in Russia or from Russian owned oil and gas fields, it is clear that Russian proclamations do not reflect reality; while there is a vast network of pipelines criss-crossing west Eurasia, only a single, operational oil pipe-line connects China to Kazakhstan and Russo-Chinese projects are mostly ‘proposed’ rather than a reality.

Russia’s scramble to construct and control major oil and gas pipelines to the EU and, to a lesser extent, China is short-sighted. There are considerable drawbacks to pipe-line dependence. Security is an issue. Pipe-lines are expansive and extremely vulnerable to a variety of security threats ranging from transnational organised criminal and terrorist groups to organised state violence. It is virtually impossible to adequately defend overland pipe-lines, and the only ‘secure’ option is to construct them underground and underwater, such as the Nord Stream pipe-line from Primorsk (Russia) to Rostock (Germany) and then onto the Netherlands and UK, which is extremely costly. With hydrocarbons in increasingly scarce supply, it is likely that criminal groups will increase efforts to steal them and pipe-lines offer good opportunities since they traverse remote areas and defensive measures are inefficient. Pipe-lines also offer good opportunities to domestic and international terrorist groups to disrupt a state’s well-being and boost their agenda without great risk to their followers. Additionally, since pipe-lines are constructed for the international traffic of hydrocarbons they are often required to transit some states on their route to others. Transit states usually accept a special ‘transit tax’ and tributaries to meet their own energy demands, however transit states may fully disrupt a pipe-line by diverting all the flowing resources or simply destroying the pipe-line if it has the political will to do so.

Perhaps the biggest problem of pipe-lines is their inflexibility in terms of source and destination. Once a pipe-line is constructed and hydrocarbons are flowing to their prescribed destination, it is very difficult to halt their flow as both the sending and receiving state would bear significant financial costs. It is also not in a state’s interest to invest billions of monies into constructing a vast hydrocarbon pipe-line that will continually be disrupted due to political mismanagement or disputes. Pipe-lines are built targeting a single destination and therefore create a high level of mutual dependence. If a producing state seeks to end its energy relations with an importing state, it not only loses the revenues from consumers, but also the ‘sunken costs’ of the initial pipe-line construction and the opportunity to invest those funds into other projects.

Russia’s pipe-line approach is not without logic; it is intended to avoid transporting its hydrocarbons on the high-seas and lock the EU into a dependency cycle in the area of transportation together with its dependence on Russian resources. However, pipe-lines are vulnerable and irreconcilable with aggressive politics since they lock both PE and IC states into a cycle of mutual dependence. Together with its reluctance to construct more pipe-lines directly to China, it seems that Russia will be forced to invest in a wide sea-faring programme which would give it more political flexibility.

But, enter the EU.

The EU’s Potential to Control the Means of Transport

At the dawn of the 20th century, the Royal Navy’s Admiral John Fisher, when speaking of the reach and power of the British Empire, remarked that ‘(f)ive strategic keys lock up the globe.’ For Fisher these were: Gibraltar, Dover, the Cape (of Good Hope), Alexandria and Singapore. While these keys continue to serve as important geopolitical stations for dealing with current international security issues, particularly ES, they have been joined by eight others: Copenhagen, Istanbul, Dubai, Djibouti, Taiwan, the Caribbean Sea and Panama Canal, the GIN (Greenland, Iceland, Norway) Gap, and the St. Lawrence Island south of the Bering Strait.

Despite incredible advances in telecommunications, air transportation services, rail networks, and in the automobile industry – overland shipping – including infrastructure, sea-faring trade continues to account for a significant percentage of international economic exchanges between non-proximate states, and is the preferred means of transporting hydrocarbons. The continued importance of maritime trade elevates the significance of the aforementioned keys as indispensable assets for gaining and maintaining geostrategic advantages in the increasingly acute competition for dwindling hydrocarbons.

Currently, the EU (together with the US) directly or indirectly controls all the above keys though have yet to realise their full potential. Such political lethargy is costly, and the sooner the EU recognises its geopolitical advantages the quicker it will be able to effectively pursue its international relations goals which are not confined to binary conceptions of ES or ‘material security’ but include the entire spectrum of EU priorities including its desire to enhance international democratisation and human rights regimes. In other words, the EU’s ability to identify its geopolitical advantages, provide ES for its citizens and develop efficient mechanisms to limit potential rival’s leverage over the EU will assist it in advancing a more fair and democratic international order. On the other hand, if the EU fails to utilise the geopolitical advantages it currently maintains, international relations are likely to slip back into great power competition which will inevitably heighten tensions and the prospects of global conflict.

A Proposed EU Strategy for Energy Security

Identifying the importance of the aforementioned 13 geopolitical keys only scratches the surface of realising a comprehensive EU grand strategy synonymous with its energy strategy. With two energy crises looming on the political horizon – the crisis over dwindling energy resources and the crisis over political-military competition for such resources – it is essential for the EU to adopt a more pragmatic approach for enhancing its ES or it will face increasing difficulties to maintain: 1) the structure of a favourable political order; 2) the quality of life currently enjoyed by its population; and 3) its international significance. The concluding section of this work proposes a policy blueprint which incorporates the 13 geopolitical keys noted above, and examines some ways the EU could reduce its energy dependence, increase its international esteem and power-base while defending its value system. To this end, five strategic approaches are introduced and developed.

Political Swaggering

All aspects of EU security begin at home, and cooperation through the construction of mutually reinforcing policies among the 27 EU members forms the foundation of EU ES. Such political reinforcement needs to be formally accepted by all EU members, without exception, to send a clear message to the rest of the world that the EU will act as a single entity over its recognised interests. This would assist in preventing a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy by those attempting to foster disharmony amongst EU members. As part of a comprehensive, EU-wide approach, the EU needs to embark on a policy of political swaggering; changing the nature of political interactions to increase its political assertiveness, heighten its deterrence capabilities and its political unity.

The deployment of military means should always be considered a diplomatic tool of last resort and political processes must be allowed to take their course prior to even considering military options. However, political processes aimed at averting military conflict and reconciling divergent material and/or ideological interests require credibility over the potential for escalation. At present, the EU lacks credibility because it has yet to politically demonstrate its collective will on issues and interests vital to all its members. This is irresponsible and could inadvertently sharpen tensions, as the EU’s adversaries may not view its political approaches as credible and are thus unlikely to heed EU warnings or demands. Therefore, the EU should:
1. Prioritise EU foreign policy integration, particularly in ES;
2. Officially and publicly equate ‘energy manipulation’ as tantamount to an act of hostility;
3. Officially and publicly develop an EU-wide policy of reciprocation (horizontal and vertical escalation) for any act of energy manipulation.

Democratic Energy Alliance Networks (DEANs)

Assuming the EU is successful in constructing a comprehensive political approach to dealing with its ES a new international alliance formula is required to underwrite EU credibility to act on any aggressive intentions by its adversaries. The EU has a lot to offer its alliance partners in addition to strong markets for economic investments and political stability. Indeed, the EU is a global leader in high-technology, industrial know-how and management, skills which would assist its allies in constructing sustainable political and economic systems. Also, several EU states are ranked among the world’s top quality arms manufacturers and may be able to provide their allies with important military hardware as a means of enhancing their own military apparatuses and deterrent capabilities. Finally, the EU represents a consortium of democratic states, whose international relations values have, more than anything else, contributed to the development of a peaceful and prosperous EU zone. EU alliance choices should not be made solely on the basis of the strategic importance of its potential partners. Instead, they should be made according to the democratic potential together with the geopolitical and strategic value of their counterpart. It is no longer acceptable for the EU to align itself with states that violate the international relations values the EU seeks to promote. Its alliance choices must reflect both the normative and practical sides of EU security, including ES. In order to construct a democratic and energy alliance network (DEAN), the EU should deepen its engagement to the geopolitical keys and use them as a springboard for a larger and more inclusive alliance networks founded on democratic proliferation together with security provisions.

Sowing Economic and Political Disharmony

In addition to political readjustment and alliance formation, the EU should unambiguously identify those whose interests are conflicting with its own and, deploying political and economic tools endeavour to sow disharmony and therefore retard the ability of exogenous states and alliances to present a concerted challenge to the EU’s ES. This is a very controversial approach and may be seen as irreconcilable with EU values. However, as the ES of the EU is at stake, it is not acceptable to simply wait-and-see what happens and respond in kind. Instead, the EU should devote much of its economic and political energies to identifying and reducing the potency of emerging energy related challenges. This should not depend on military confrontation, but rather on economic and political transactions, with military power left as a residual tool.

For example, at the time of this writing Iran has – with the explicit support of China – been constructing autonomous nuclear power, which could be used to develop nuclear weapons, challenging the international relations non-proliferation norm and up-setting the regional balance of power. A Russia-Iran-China troika represents an ominous danger to the EU since Iran is not governed by the same logic of Westphalian states and is (relatively) proximate to the EU and its regional allies (re: Turkey and Israel). The EU could strategically drive a wedge between Russia and Iran and China and Iran, reducing the ability of the latter to construct unchecked nuclear power. This may be achieved through aggressive diplomacy which balances credible carrots and sticks. Russia would be loathed to lose the EU as a trading partner for the sake of allowing Iran to continue on the nuclear path. Thus, the EU must be willing to threaten severing economic relations and political isolation if Russia would continue to assist Iran realise its nuclear ambitions. Using its economic and political weight and the fact that the EU maintains the ability to control vital sea-lanes suggests that the EU can achieve many of its international relations objectives without resorting to overtly aggressive tactics, but rather by identifying its potential rivals and sowing the seeds of disharmony between them; centring the EU and its lucrative market – but not discounting its ability to fully disrupt sea-faring trade – in the strategic planning of its potential rivals.

Hydrocarbon Hoarding

Once the EU is unified in its energy policy, has developed adequate alliance networks – to increase its international influence, its control of the sea-lanes and its overseas energy interests – and has attempted to sow disharmony among its recognised challengers, it should use its economic clout to purchase as many strategic energy reserves as possible, thereby launching an aggressive hydrocarbon hoarding strategy. This should be undertaken together with massive scientific endowments into researching viable alternative, renewable energy supplies so that the EU would take the lead in producing alternative energy sources for its own consumption and exportation, continue to stockpile its strategic reserves while denying others freer access to hydrocarbons. As the EU is concerned with environmental degradation, such a strategic approach will help reduce the burning of hydrocarbons because the EU would not use its acquired resources but rather maintain them in storage facilities as energy insurance. At the same time, the EU would limit the ability of China and India to rapidly industrialise and, particularly with China, inhibit its ability to supply its growing demand so that it too may consider alternative energy sources.

Aggressively hoarding hydrocarbons would have the added advantage of locking producing states into financial dependency on the EU which would become their largest purchaser. Over the long-term, this would assist in forcing such states to diversify their economies, since energy supplies has reached over ‘peak oil,’ and may promote further democratisation since state purses would be smaller and the governing elites would be unable to purchase political stability with the same effect as previously done.

Advanced Military Tools

In order to achieve any of the above strategic imperatives, the EU must also increase its military credibility. In other words, it needs to develop and maintain suitable naval forces to raise its deterrent capability (to avoid other states’ interference with EU energy supplies), repair its current credibility deficit (to further attract allies and solve the collective action dilemma), and defend its maritime trade while reserving enough naval power to interrupt its adversary’s (through naval embargoes and blockades) if the need should ever arise. In an age of evolving military tools and codes of conduct, the EU should construct a Naval Task Force (NTF) based on: Rapid Deployment, Intelligence, and Potency (RIP), where numbers of main battleships and aircraft carriers are less important than rapid power projection, task-management and sustainability. An EU NTF should be multinational in character, comprising soldiers from among all 27 EU states, and be deployed under strict civilian command to avoid military calculations trumping political considerations. Also, an EU NTF must incorporate all the technological advantages currently available to ensure that any operations it is tasked with are achieved quickly and decisively and with as little damage to civilian infrastructure as possible. The competition for depleting hydrocarbons in the 21st century is raising the prospects of international conflict and the EU needs to maintain adequate contingency plans, of which gaining naval supremacy is required. Just as the UK used its naval power to turn the tides on France during the Napoleonic Wars, so the EU should now be prepared to enforce embargoes and blockades and generally be able to interdict high-sea vessels, quickly and efficiently deploy naval forces to their required ‘theatre’ and safe-guard its maritime interests.

Concluding Remarks

While this analysis explored actual and potential challenges to EU ES, and may be considered both current and predictive, the importance of the presented proposals for the development of an EU energy strategy is rooted in Europe’s past. The EU was founded to restrict and ultimately overcome the historic and enduring rivalry between France and Germany, of which WWII was the most recent and destructive – materially and in human life – bout. Its first and perhaps most important organ was the Coal and Steel Community (1950), which created a common market for coal and steel, governed by a High Authority. In other words, the EU was born out of ES considerations; ensuring, through treaty obligations, that France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, could not independently control the materials needed to construct and maintain modern militaries. It was through this voluntary interconnection of fuel (coal) and steel markets, that France and Germany anchored their economic and political futures in each others’ successes, implying that conflict between the two would be impossible but that joint economic progress would benefit both.

More than 60 years later and the EU is confronted with an increasingly belligerent and competitive world. It continues however to use the logic it had deployed to deal with its own post-WWII conditions, and the enormity of its self-inflicted (intra-European) destruction. The rest of the international community did not, it seems, learn the same lessons or develop similar foreign policy views as EU states have. Indeed, many rising powers have begun to paint the EU into a corner; forcing it to make stark decisions over its security priorities. Yet, the EU is facing foreign policy paralyses, and prefers to engage in open-ended dialogues with its actual and potential adversaries rather than comprehensively confront the challenges which are stacking up against it. This is unacceptable. The EU needs to find a middle ground between its material (including ES) and normative security priorities. More than the promotion of a safer, freer and fairer international system, the EU owes its citizens security and prosperity. Human rights, democratic systems of governance and economic stability must first be protected in EU states before they can be advanced beyond EU frontiers.

Of prime importance for the EU’s long-term sustainability is its ability to secure adequate energy supplies and there is growing parity between the EU’s security in general and it’s ES. While the EU attempt to maintain a normative character to its foreign relations, it should also develop the tools needed to physically defend itself from energy interruptions – for political gain – and those willing to engage in overt threats, bribes or deploy armed force to the determent EU interests. Since most EU members are energy dependent, and such dependence is likely to continue into the foreseeable future, the EU must begin to exploit the advantages it currently retains and construct an appropriate strategic approach to reduce its energy vulnerabilities. This work argued that the EU (and its allies) has the potential to control the sealanes and since most trade (between non-proximate states) continues to be shipped over the high-seas, the EU needs to be more steadfast in utilising this advantage or be ready to live with the geopolitical consequences of exploitation by energy suppliers dissatisfied with the distribution of international influence.


Mitchell A. Belfer Editor in Chief CEJISS

2020 - Volume 14 Issue 2