Global Energy Security: A Deceptive Respite

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Nikolay Pakhomov

Rethinking Russia expert

Over the past few years the world community is believed to have lost interest in enhancing global energy security. However, today’s political agenda sheds light on Russia’s foreign policy achievements in this realm, its abundant opportunities to satisfy a growing demand for energy, along with the importance of energy factors for international security. It is another matter that nowadays the outcomes of different discussions on delivering global energy security must be considered against a backdrop of recent developments. This will ensure a far better understanding of long-term energy trends, which are pivotal to providing security in the global energy order.

Such an analysis cannot but highlight the three salient characteristics of world energy consumption, which tend to be present whatever the price of oil or other energy resources. Firstly, world energy consumption is soaring. Secondly, it can be mostly accounted for by the boost in Asian economies, particularly China and India.

Thirdly, neither these countries nor major energy-importing developed states are able to meet their current energy needs through national coal, oil and natural gas production. Incidentally, states, which mainly hinge on nuclear power plants (NPP) to strengthen energy security, have to import fuel for their NPPs. The contemporary rules of the game imply that it is highly problematic to seize the necessary energy resources abroad or to be actively involved in confrontation to bring these resources or deposits under control. The costs of potential conflicts are likely to outweigh the benefits of all additional energy supplies. Consequently, ensuring security of energy-importing states presupposes their cooperation with energy-exporting nations and energy-transit ones.

Amid the recent plunge in oil prices, the differences which are related to the maintenance of energy security in certain countries and are able to provoke the most serious international conflicts, have seemingly become less striking. It is exemplified in the relations between China and Japan. The high energy prices drove both countries to go to great lengths to establish sovereignty over the East China Sea, which has huge natural gas and oil reserves. That competition risked degenerating into open warfare with catastrophic geopolitical consequences. Following the oil price slump and the end of a 40-year ban on US crude exports the two governments are far less eager to engage in conflict. With a large amount of cheap oil it is possible to temporarily do without costly offshore production projects usually accompanied by geopolitical rivalries.

Yet the three above mentioned peculiarities of the world energy system have always been present and are unlikely to go. The growing global energy demand can be constrained only if billions of people in developing countries voluntarily abandon the idea of their economic advancement, that is, the desire to have the living standards comparable with the developed world. It is evident that it is unlikely to occur.

In contrast, the growth of oil prices can be expected to resume in the foreseeable future as the current situation has made numerous new extracting projects unprofitable, as well as has decreased the profitability of costly plans to boost energy generation from renewables. Sooner or later, the reduced investment in increasing energy supply against the ever growing demand will drive the prices up.

Against this background, Russia’s position on ensuring global energy security will acquire renewed relevance. It relies on the outcome documents of the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, the resulting Russian policy to maintain global energy security presented in the Energy Strategy, as well as other documents and statements of Russian officials. Moreover, this stance is in line with Russia’s energy policy.

A critical observer might note that Russia’s energy policy revolves around Russia’s narrow and rational economic interests, as its economy is still heavily dependent on oil and gas revenues, rather than abstract humanistic ideals of promoting global energy security and averting conflicts over energy issues. However, both history and theory of international relations suggest that such clear, national interests are nearly the most appropriate foundation for any international cooperation, whose effectiveness reaches its peak when the state have strong internal reasons to collaborate.

From this perspective, Russia is willing to see stable and predictable international cooperation in the energy sector just like the states which consume energy heavily, are interested in Russian energy against the background of the rising global energy demand. What is more, the years of prolific studies of energy security – which have been in decline in recent years – have failed to coherently substantiate the politicized accusations that Russia, just like any other exporting country, has used or may use the “energy weapon”. They have remained unsubstantiated, just empty political rhetoric. Logical reasoning for the possible use of such “weapons” has not been provided, nor have any answers to questions, such as “what can be achieved using this “weapon?” Not what is more, if it were used, what has been achieved?

Thus, despite the declining theoretical interest in the matters of ensuring global energy security, the problems still exist, though for now they are less acute. Unique opportunities and, what is more important, Russia’s strong interest in jointly addressing these problems are still present. Today, we can confidently forecast that the inevitable rise in world oil prices as a result of the rising global energy demand will draw the attention of public figures, businessmen and professionals back to global energy security and Russia’s activities to ensure it, which rely on the recognition of the indivisibility of sustainable global energy security and interdependence of all world energy exchange participants.

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