NATO takes aim at energy

By Dr. Ar┼źnas Molis

When during the meetings in Strasbourg and Kiel (in April 2009) the leaders of NATO decided to start discussions on a new strategic concept of NATO, nobody expected easy agreements.  Nevertheless all the countries of the Alliance agreed that the key goal of NATO should be the establishment of the secure political environment. To this end the Alliance shall elaborate effective measures for the elimination of threats. However, it was not easy to reach the agreement on the specific threats and measures.  Disputes arouse on whether the Alliance should consider the issues related to the climate change, humanitarian catastrophes and the increase of the number of refugees. Is it necessary to expand NATO‘s collective security commitments to energy, cyber and other „soft“ security areas?  If so, how to communicate with certain neighbors, how to rearrange the process of planning and capacity building in NATO?

In May 2010, the NATO Defense College announced the survey which highlighted three attitudes concerning Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. The Baltic States, Norway and Poland required collective security guarantees (defense plans), although the United States, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Canada and Denmark agitated not to waste efforts for defense plans. The third group – Germany, Italy, France, Belgium, Portugal and Spain – urged to „trust“ NATO‘s solidarity and guarantees provided by the membership.

The opinion of NATO countries also differed concerning the role of the Alliance in the sphere of energy security.  Lithuania plans to establish the Energy Security Center which could seek the status of NATO‘s competence center and could accumulate, analyze and submit information on issues related to energy security. Lithuanian politicians are glad to have made this a key issue in the agenda of NATO and to get support from the EU capitals. However, NATO made clear that it is not going to contribute substantially to the assurance of energy security of the countries.

In principle, NATO‘s involvement in the energy related issues is not a novelty. NATO‘s oil pipeline system established during the Cold War used to supply NATO’s airports with fuel. Threats to energy security were also mentioned in NATO’s strategic concept of 1999. In 2004 the Alliance approved the Program for the Defense against terrorism where security of the energy infrastructure was one of the priorities. Issues related to energy security were also included in the declarations of meetings of NATO leaders in Riga (2006) and Bucharest (2008).

Today several operational trends are suggested for the Alliance in the sphere of energy security. In the first place – the assurance of security of energy infrastructure in the territories of both the countries of the Alliance and in the states outside the block. This could include not only the physical security assurance but also the exchange of the intelligence information, experience and technologies. Another proposal was to make NATO a forum of consultations on the establishment of joint military units protecting the energy infrastructure.

Another possible trend could be the provision of collective support to countries suffering from the energy crisis. Decision on the provision of the above support could be determined by the incidents related to energy security or by the inability of certain allies to ensure stable supply of energy resources. NATO could ensure more smooth cooperation both in the Alliance and with the suppliers and transporters of energy resources.

Another possibility in enhancing the solidarity of the allies in the sphere of energy security could be a joint accumulation and utilization of energy resources.

Although many proposals were submitted during the discussion, a group of twelve experts was very cautious in evaluating the role of the Alliance in eliminating the threats for energy security. Nevertheless, according to experts, the threats related to disorders in the supply of energy resources to the Baltic States should be reflected in the defense plans, whereas a major delay in the supply of resources (especially because of the sabotage against the energy objects) might determine consultations of the allies on a possible response. But countries which were the main supporters of NATO‘s involvement, discerned in the above wording the lack of ambitions: even consultations would be arranged only because of technical disorders.

According to the analysts of the Reform Center in London, once again the Alliance demonstrated its indifference toward the interests of the Central and Eastern European countries, since „only safe countries would invest less to the territorial defense forces and acquire more relevant equipment required for the missions like in Afghanistan“.

We could only hope that the above argument would be heard and that major threats will attract the attention of NATO‘s allies.