NATO not a panacea for energy security

TransConflict, in conjunction with Jagello 2000 from the Czech Republic, organized a panel discussion, entitled ‘NATO’s new Strategic Concept – Russia and Energy Security’, to coincide with the recommendations and analysis of the Group of Experts appointed to lay the groundwork for the development of a new Strategic Concept.

By Ian Bancroft

Mirjana Kosic, TransConflict Serbia’s executive director, opened the proceedings by noting that “a significant place [in the Group of Expert’s report] has been given to strengthening the Alliance’s partnership with Russia, which – in the words of Madeleine Albright – ‘will help build a cooperative Euro-Atlantic security order capable to respond to such shared concerns as terrorism, nuclear proliferation, piracy and drug trafficking‘”. Ms. Kosic added that, “when we talk about security-related issues, the role of Russia is customarily mentioned in relation to energy security – an unconventional threat which, in recent years, has demonstrated the vulnerability of countries dependent on only one source of supply. Therefore, it seemed only natural to bring these issues together”. 

Zbynek Pavlacik, the Chairman of Jagello 2000 – Association for Euro-Atlantic Co-operation, then provided a number of insights into the important work of Jagello 2000 in Serbia since 2004, promoting debate about the North Atlantic Alliance and security-related issues. 

Jiri Schneider, program director at the Prague Security Studies Institute (PSSI), spoke extensively about the pivotal role the gas sector plays in Russian foreign policy and the perceived importance of Gazprom and South Stream for Serbia. Mr. Schneider was keen to caution that contrary to expectations that Serbia would secure leverage by becoming a transit country for Russsian natural gas, “it is the suppliers who have their hands on the tap”. Though Gazprom remains key to Serbia due to a lack of alternatives, questions remain about the fulfillment of the promises made, including the building of new gas storage capacity. 

Instead, Serbia – as with other similarly placed countries – must “do everything possible to strengthen internally what matters…[and] what matters has to be done in the region within the framework of the European economic and legal space….there is a role for NATO in that, but its not a major role”, according to Mr. Schneider, whilst emphasizing that “energy policy is a domestic issue…[which] other agencies can offer related services”.

Mr. Schneider insisted that, “solutions to supply issues are often understood as “green concepts”, such as efficiency…[and] the green agenda should be embraced because of security concerns…[as] it helps reduce the vulnerability of the country in question”.

During the Czech Republic’s presidency of the EU, they “managed to convince all member states, even those not affected at all by the crisis, that in principle this requires EU action and EU solidarity, because it can happen not only from Russia – it can happen because of other circumstances. Supply can be cut off at any entry point…and not necessarily because of a political decision”. 

Mr. Schneider went on to underline the importance of “building inter-connections between states and gas storages – regardless of what external suppliers will do”, otherwise countries will suffer as Bulgaria did. Reflecting on the 2009 gas crisis, Mr. Schneider emphasized that “what helped Slovakia, one of the countries hurt most…was that there was a technical capability for river flow from the Czech Republic…offering an alternative source of energy”. 

With respect to NATO’s new Strategic Concept, Mr. Schneider emphasized that the mainstream thinking within NATO views energy security as a “non-conventional, infrastructural threat, similar to cyber-security…[but] that there is more to be done on cyber-security then energy security due to the vulnerability of critical infrastructure”. 

Mr. Schneider stressed that “NATO is not a panacea for energy security…[and] NATO is not the first point of reference”. Instead, countries should work to reduce their vulnerability to energy shocks by taking “national responsibility and then seeking solidarity in regional, international and NATO”. For Mr. Scheider, “what is done at home counts…[with] integration into Western gas markets providing alternatives to Russian gas”.

According to Mr. Schenider, the recent report by the Group of Experts, charged with leading the development of a new Strategic Concept for the Alliance, had defined “a narrow but important role for NATO in energy concerns”. The report describes how, “any substantial or sudden interruption of supplies to an Ally would be of concern, especially if the interruption were caused by the sabotage of energy infrastructure or by unlawful interference with maritime commerce. Such an occurrence, if prolonged, could lead to consultations under Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty and to a determination by the Allies of an appropriate response” (see below for further details). As Mr. Schneider noted, the Group of Experts referred to “cases of sabotage, not disputes about price”.  

Dr. Dusan Janjic, president of the Forum for Ethnic Relations, elaborated upon a number of energy security challenges, including the need for diversification, and the emergence of three main priorities – the security of oil fields, control over natural gas sources and the secure transportation of oil and gas. According to Dr. Janjic, “the US is putting pressure on NATO to take a leading role in energy security”. Whilst NATO accepted at its Bucharest Summit that energy security is a priority, questions remains over its strategic approach. 

With respect to energy security, Russia remains key, with Dr. Janjic stressing that whilst “you can afford to hate Russia in the summer, you must love her once winter comes”. According to Dr. Janjic, “political tools are one of the important elements in Russian energy policy…[and] Russia is investing a lot in its strategy”.

Dr. Janjic criticized the Serbian government for lacking a long-term strategy for energy security, accusing it of following “the instructions and pressures of businessmen and Gazprom”. Noting that “we are witnessing rising prices of gasoline in Serbia…which are now the highest in the region…[and] similar to Belgium”, Dr. Janjic added that “it is possible that Serbia is now paying the price of the government’s economic policy, because it is natural that Russian businessmen want their money back”. Dr. Janjic added that the expectations of the Serbian elites and businessmen regarding Serbia’s role as a regional energy hub are unrealistic.

In closing, Dr. Janjic insisted that “Serbia must remain close to Russia, but it must join NATO if it cares about its own global security…[as] we have a lot of common interests with NATO…[and] it is not a question of choice anymore”. Dr. Janjic stressed that “nothing is forever, but NATO is a reality right now…we are surrounded by NATO members, work with them and we have common interests. Membership in NATO will cost, but it offers many more advantages, especially in the field of energy security”.  

With discussions about the eventual content of NATO’s new Strategic Concept set to intensify in the run-up to November’s NATO summit in Lisbon, TransConflict Serbia – as part of its project, ‘Facilitating Serbia’s contribution to NATO’s new Strategic Concept’ (http://www.transconflict.com/Projects/Facilitating_Serbias_Contribution_to_NATOs_New_Strategic_Concept.php) – will continue to stimulate debate around the key recommendations contained within the report of the group of experts.

For photos from this event, please click here.

For media coverage (in Serbian), please click here

Extract from the Group of Expert’s report: 

Energy security. Access to sufficient supplies of energy is a requirement for any modern state. However, most countries are dependent, to one degree or another, on external energy sources and on the means for delivering needed supplies via pipelines or shipping. Any substantial or sudden interruption of supplies to an Ally would be of concern, especially if the interruption were caused by the sabotage of energy infrastructure or by unlawful interference with maritime commerce. Such an occurrence, if prolonged, could lead to consultations under Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty and to a determination by the Allies of an appropriate response.

As a general matter, energy policy is a domestic issue, with the EU and the International Energy Agency offering services at the multinational level related to potential energy supply disruptions. NATO, however, has an obligation to protect its own energy reserves in order to ensure the capability of its forces. Also, in 2008 the Alliance agreed at the Bucharest Summit to take a number of additional steps pertaining to energy security, including the sharing of intelligence, support for the protection of critical infrastructure, and support for an expanded dialogue with energy supplier countries.

Recommendation:

The potential for major energy supply disruptions should figure prominently in NATO’s strategic assessment and contingency planning activities. Thought should be given in advance to how the Alliance might work with partners in an emergency situation to mitigate harm to its members and to find alternative sources of supply.

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