The Illusive Pursuit Of Energy Security In The Age Of Energy Wars

The Illusive Pursuit Of Energy Security In The Age Of Energy Wars

Authored by Manochehr Dorraj via RealClear Wire,

From February 14, 1945, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt met with the Saudi king, Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, aboard a U.S. destroyer in the Suez Canal to safeguard U.S. access to the massive Saudi energy reserves to last November when President Joe Biden had to walk back his treating Saudi leadership as “the pariah that they are” and go to Riyadh amid a brewing energy crisis, the United States’ dance with Saudi Arabia shows how energy security and national security have been intertwined in the thinking of American policymakers since the Second World War. 

What has been made abundantly clear since the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine is that energy – and threats of withholding it –  is the instrument of new Brinkmanship.  

Energy security is now contingent on uncertain winds of change that can be abrupt, tumultuous and profoundly disrupting. Prior to the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, the global energy landscape was characterized by a number of cooperative initiatives, such as Consumers-Producers dialogue, cooperation on issues surrounding global governance of energy, and cooperation on reduction of emissions, just to name a few. 

But the Russian invasion of Ukraine abruptly halted this process and unleashed new initiatives, marked by a more belligerent use of energy as a political weapon, heralding the dawn of a new era of the energy war. Seventy-eight years later after the landmark meeting between Roosevelt and Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, energy security remains a challenging pursuit, and one the United States still hasn’t quite mastered.

In the past, during times of economic and energy crisis, the U.S. government could count on its erstwhile ally, Saudi Arabia—who by virtue of their massive oil reserve and production capacity carries the mantel of a swing producer—to expand the supply of oil and reduce the pressure on upward trends in oil prices. The Saudi refusal to do so even after President Biden exhorted their leaders to do so last summer revealed the contours of a new dynamic that governs US-Saudi relations. 

The Saudi refusal has Russia’s oil-stained fingerprints all over it, as it was followed by close coordination of their policy with Russia through OPEC +1 that decreased production level to further boost the price of oil. Although oil prices have come down since, the underlying insecurity in the energy markets has loomed in part due to the intended and unintended consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The rates of inflation are still relatively high in Europe and the United States, and the economic recovery is not yet complete. 

The European economies have managed to wean themselves off dependence on Russian oil and gas and build resilience by opting for a two-pronged strategy. First, substitute Russian energy with imports from the United States, Norway, Qatar, Azerbaijan and others. Second, expand their investment in renewable energy, with the long-term goal of reducing their dependence on fossil fuel as the major source of their energy supply in the next two decades. 

This strategy is a long-game play and may have little immediate impact.

Despite the current momentum and investment in the energy transition, all indications are fossil fuel, especially natural gas, is going to provide the lion’s share of energy consumption in many parts of the world in the next three decades. 

History has taught us that control of fossil fuel empowers dictators around the world either to wage war on their neighbors, use their energy assets as a political weapon to extract concessions from their adversaries abroad, or trample on the democratic rights of their people at home. As often is the case, many authoritarian regimes do both. As long as the correlation between autocracies and petro-economies – the resource curse – persists, it serves as another catalyst for energy insecurity.  

The early stages of development of green energy so far indicate that, in so far as renewables provide diverse and multiple sources of energy with a more diffused source of control and much smaller carbon footprint, they are likely to escape the trap of rentier economies and the resource curse. 

That is, a world supplied by renewable energy could chart a path out of the energy wars, but until then, we will all continue to live with the specter of energy insecurity.

Manochehr Dorraj is professor of international affairs and a faculty fellow of the Ralph Lowe Energy Institute at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. 

Tyler Durden
Fri, 03/31/2023 – 21:00

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