Ten years ago, at their 2008 Summit in Bucharest, NATO Allies agreed their first report on NATO’s role in energy security. Negotiating this confidential paper, which listed major principles as well as key areas of engagement, was challenging. No one doubted that energy developments could have major security implications for Allies and the Alliance. After all, in particular for some of NATO’s new members that were burdened with serious energy vulnerabilities, energy security was a question of national security.
However, given that NATO was not an energy institution, Allies struggled to define NATO’s role in an area that was largely non-military in nature, featured many institutional players and, above all, remained mostly a national responsibility. Accordingly, the Allies defined a broad political framework, yet without suggesting a concrete energy security agenda for the Alliance.
The most important driver for NATO’s energy agenda has been the evolution of the global energy landscape. Russia has continued to use energy as part of its foreign policy and, in the case of Ukraine, also demonstrated that energy is part of Moscow’s hybrid warfare toolbox. Cyber threats have been growing, with the energy sector a major target. Frequent attacks on NATO fuel convoys in Afghanistan have highlighted the importance of assuring energy supplies to military operations. Also piracy has remained a threat to tankers carrying oil from the Gulf region through the Indian Ocean – a challenge that NATO’s counter-piracy operation Ocean Shield helped to address.
With all these developments bringing home the close link between energy and security, NATO has had its work cut out for it. While the classified Bucharest report remained the overarching guideline for NATO’s role in energy security, the 2010 Strategic Concept, as well as the Progress Reports presented to NATO Heads of State and Government at each NATO Summit, have provided additional guidance and also sketched out a way ahead. This has allowed NATO to develop an unclassified energy security narrative that it could also promote publicly.
To simplify an otherwise complex story, NATO has divided its role into three areas: raising awareness, which includes intelligence-sharing on energy development, supporting the protection of critical energy infrastructures and enhancing energy efficiency in the military. NATO’s evolving role in energy security has attracted the interest of several partner countries, notably energy producers such as Azerbaijan and Algeria and transit countries such as Georgia and Ukraine.
Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its low-level war against Ukraine have added an important new dimension to NATO’s energy agenda: the linkage between energy and hybrid warfare. To destabilize Ukraine, Russia had increased the gas price, supported separatists with energy deliveries and expropriated Ukrainian energy assets in and around Crimea. To support Ukraine, the Energy Security COE and various other players held a major tabletop exercise in Kyiv in October 2017, centered on protecting the country’s electrical grid against cyber-attacks. The years ahead will see an even stronger focus on education and training, notably with partner countries. More energy-related scenarios will be inserted into NATO exercises, and tabletop exercises with Allies and partners are likely to increase in number as well as complexity.
A particular new focus of NATO’s energy-related work will be enhancing the resilience of the Allies. Since resilient energy supplies are vital for collective defense, NATO’s support for its Allies in this area is likely to increase. It is also fair to assume that addressing cyber threats to energy infrastructure will gain in importance. While the protection of energy infrastructure remains a national responsibility, NATO’s education and training establishments offer many opportunities – for Allies and partners alike – to get a firm grasp on these challenges.
Finally, there is a need for more regular consultations among the Allies on energy security developments and their security implications. The Brussels Summit Declaration states: “… it is essential to ensure that the members of the Alliance are not vulnerable to political or coercive manipulation of energy, which constitutes a potential threat”. Given Russia’s use of energy as part of its hybrid threats towards Ukraine, it would seem that NATO Allies, many of which are long-standing customers of Russian gas and oil companies, might have a lot to discuss.
“Energy Security: A Critical Concern for Allies and Partners – Op-Ed by Julijus Grubliauskas and Michael Rühle” – NATO Review.