BY ROSA LIN
The G8 summit resulted in a number of statements about energy security, emphasizing diverse energy sources, especially renewables; safety and sustainability; and energy efficiency. It’s promising that G8 countries held energy with enough regard to address it directly following the statements on global economy, but at the end of the day, energy security is still on the back burner for alliances such as the G8 and NATO. And really, there’s no reason it should be otherwise at this time.
Sure, the price of oil is sky-high compared with a decade ago, and the related issue of climate change serves as a somber backdrop, but energy security simply isn’t square in these alliances’ arena. Let’s look at the G8. For one, none of the G8 countries is experiencing a dire energy-security situation; they all have enough wealth to buy the energy they need, and none of them is completely dependent on one source. There is a lot of sentiment in the media that the U.S. is far too dependent on Middle Eastern oil, which may be true, but the U.S.’s top source of crude oil in 2011 was Canada, followed by Mexico – not exactly antagonistic countries. Compare that to central Eastern European countries that are practically chained to Russia’s oil and natural gas reserves, as a result of proximity and pipelines left over from the Cold War.
“We are an energy island in the E.U. We have, for the moment, limited options in terms of energy sources,” emphasized Audrius Bruzga, director of the Lithuania Energy Security Center. Comparatively, energy security in the G8 countries is far less an issue.
Another reason, sort of the flip side of the coin, why energy security is not hot on the G8′s radar is that even though some of the G8 countries can be net exporters of oil – notably Canada, Russia, and even the U.S. in 2011 (for the first time since 1949) – their economies are diversified. They are not petrostates such as Venezuela (though some find this arguable) and if something drastic happens on the energy front, they have other avenues on which to ride.
“The intent is there” to address energy security, said Kevin Rosner, senior fellow at the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, based in Washington D.C. However, “there’s so many other problems on the front burner.”
NATO plans to increase its role in energy security, and it’s making a sincere effort to do so. It runs workshops and aims at raising visibility of energy efficiency and smart energy, especially in the military. There is a sense that if the “ultra-conservative” military decides energy efficiency and clean energy is the right thing to pursue, it must be a smart, no-frills, no-drippy-feelings move – and the public is more likely to follow along.
“NATO has a legitimate role to play in energy security,” said Michael Rühle, the head of the Energy Security Section at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
But, he added, “energy security is not a military operation issue. NATO should not militarize the subject – it’s a market-centered subject.”
Gal Luft, adviser to the U.S. Energy Security Council, agrees. “I don’t think there are deliverables in NATO.” As he sees it, countries can make all the statements they want, but unless it comes with teeth, nothing gets done. “I think the key issue is what can NATO do to advance energy security – that’s the starting point,” said Luft. “Something you can do – not fluff.”
Ultimately, it’s up to the individual countries to interpret any statements G8 or NATO make. Though the G8 identified energy security as an important issue to tackle, each member country decides on its own how it will deal with the issue. Government programs, budget constraints, and economic outlooks all play into the decisions and actions a country takes. G8 and NATO are doing just about what they can do to address energy security – it’s up to other forces to determine what rest gets done.