After Bucharest: Energy Security and Russia


(Gas pipeline map from The Economist, Jan. 24, 2008)
One of the leads for this week’s Economist emphasizes the role of energy security for Europe, and in particular, pipeline diversification over missile defense. It was the subject of much interest last week at NATO’s summit in Bucharest, so much so, that the parallel Young Atlanticist Summit held a six hour NATO simulation exercise focused exclusively on drafting a NATO position paper on energy security.
As part of the simulation set in 2012, NATO now contains 35 member states including Russia, and has to draft a communique by consensus on energy security. In my second role as a blogger at the conference, I interviewed a Russian delegate before the simulation began about their national position. His glib, tongue and check answer turned out to be, in a way, remarkably accurate:

(In case my low-tech recording is unclear, below is the transcription).

Q: What’s the Russian position on energy security, NATO’s role in energy security?
RUSSIAN DELEGATE: You mean Gazprom?
Q: Sure
RUSSIAN DELEGATE: Just lay back and relax. Do nothing and wait, wait for nothing to happen, because if they don’t reach consensus, then it’s good, good for us…Gazprom.

European energy security through diversification remains a keen interest of the US State Department as well (sometimes, it seems more so than France and Germany). Its goal is to help orchestrate diversified markets to check Gazprom’s chokehold on European energy — implicitly acknowledging that such markets are not natural but constructed to serve geopolitical purposes. The US seeks to do this by serving as the coordination mechanism to get the Nabucco pipeline up and running and scaling up gas production from Azerbaijan to feed Nabucco as well as the only non-Russian pipeline to Europe — the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline.
But if Azerbaijan does not scale up fast enough or its domestic demand rises faster than expected, the US could be caught between a rock and a hard place as the only alternate sources are the trans-Caspian pipeline, which Russia is blocking, or Iranian gas fields, which the US is blocking. And as real coordination problems go, if investors cannot be assured of a certain volume and timeline for gas delivery, the Nabucco project could collapse.
The ultimate political goal is of course to knock back Russia a bit into a more responsible regional actor that doesn’t threaten Europe with pipeline shutoffs but works with Europe and the US for Eurasian stability and security. While it is important for Russia to assume a responsible node of power in the Eurasian subcontinent as well as the Middle East and East Asia, jabs at its energy infrastructure alone will not induce them to work more closely and effectively with us. For that we need a long-term strategy towards Russia that addresses both its democratic rollback and sphere-of-influence ambitions while steering them towards mutual cooperation and responsible regional stewardship.
Few elected officials have been able to able to articulate this better than Sen. Chuck Hagel in his forthcoming book America: The Next Chapter, where he emphasizes the primacy of these broader mutual interests. In the chapter “Optics,” he writes:

Developing more effective bilateral trade with this potentially significant market will ultimately create additional jobs, security; and prosperity for us and for Russia. Its natural resources are immense, and in a global economy where energy is a central factor, those estimated resources include more than sixty billion barrels of oil and natural gas reserves reaching some 1,700 trillion cubic feet. As a whole, EU countries import 25 percent of their energy needs from Russia. It is clearly in our interests to engage Russia as a strategic energy partner and as a stable counterbalance to our continued dependence on oil from the volatile Middle East and other regions. For all these reasons, we have no choice but to deal with Russia constructively. It is my belief that we can exert the kind of influence on Russia that allies respect and respond to, especially if we continue to become vital trading partners.
In building this new relationship with Russia, as with Iran and China, we cannot turn a blind eye to the excesses and abuses of any government. As my friend, Zbigniew Brzezinski, said, “If Russia is to be part of this larger zone of peace it cannot bring into it its imperial baggage. It cannot bring into it a policy of genocide against the Chechens, and cannot kill journalists, and it cannot repress the mass media.”
We have to make clear our disapproval of Moscow’s historical tendency toward concentrating power with leaders who are accountable to no one. But I question if provoking Russia with a missile defense system positioned on its border — as the Bush administration has suggested — that has dubious utility to American security, will do anything but strengthen the hand of the hard-liners and further erode our relationship on more important issues like fighting terrorism and Islamic extremism. Cooperating with Russia in rooting out terrorists and Islamic jihadists all over the world is much more vital to our national interests than fracturing that relationship over a questionable missile defense shield on Russia’s border.
In recent years, we have worked closely with the Russians on two of the most dangerous problems facing both of our countries and the world — North Korea’s nuclear program and the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. Russia and the United States have been close allies in the Party of Six group engaging North Korea on the question of its nuclear capability. We have also worked together as members of the Quartet (along with the European Union and the United Nations) in an attempt to break the cycle of violence between the Israelis and Palestinians and to move the peace efforts toward a two-state solution. These are critically important partnerships for each country’s interest.
Successful as this partnership has been so far, this work is far from done. Russia and the United States must continue to work together on these great global challenges. The “Party of Six” and the “Quartet” can serve as models for the Russian — American partnership for attacking other, as yet unforeseen issues of the twenty-first century. We will continue to have our differences, and they will inevitably strain this vital relationship. But those differences must be wisely managed and framed by our larger common interests.

During the Young Atlanticist Summit in Bucharest, I noticed that delegates from the 35 participating states tended to move in familiar circles, both at a personal level, and at a diplomatic level during the simulation when backroom negotiations were taking place. It was no surprise that the US delegates tended to collaborate a great deal with the British, the French, and the Germans, but also the Russians. I was reminded last night that multilateralism runs deeper amongst Russians than we give them credit. At a Kennedy Center performance of Russian composers, the program noted that it was in fact Dmitri Shostakovich who composed the United Nations anthem.
Overall, the summit confirmed my suspicions that, despite US rhetoric of “New Europe” and NATO expansion, the major powers that command substantial economic and military might will remain our chief interlocutors, and hopefully allies, in the quest for regional security.
— Sameer Lalwani


7 comments on “After Bucharest: Energy Security and Russia

  1. Willy says:

    Let me make a comparison. What would the US think when Russia’s or China’s military would control the flow of natural gas and oil from Canada to the US ? Don’t you think the US would be (more than) a bit “worried”?


  2. JohnH says:

    Uh, Willy, you could share the reason you think we’re missing the point and how you think Europe and NATO’s interests did not align. Just stating your opinion without context and facts does not make for a credible statement–unless you’re a neocon.


  3. Willy says:

    Mr. Lalwani and all the three comments are totally, utterly and completly missing the point. All don’t seem to fail to grasp the real reason NATO was pushing for extending the alliance eastwards with the Ukraine. In this particular case interests of NATO and Europe DID NOT align and so that’s why the Ukraine wasn’t allowed to join NATO.


  4. arthurdecco says:

    “As my friend, Zbigniew Brzezinski, said, “If Russia is to be part of this larger zone of peace it cannot bring into it its imperial baggage. It cannot bring into it a policy of genocide against the Chechens, and cannot kill journalists, and it cannot repress the mass media.”” Sen Chuck Hagel
    No, of course not – only the United States of America is allowed to do those kinds of things. Whoops! I’d forgotten – the US doesn’t have to suppress the mass media – its media already a willing co-conspirator in the wide array of crimes perpetrated by their venal governing class.
    I wonder how long before the pitchforks and flaming torches come out and mobs start marching on the monsters of Washington?
    I can hardly wait.
    btw, Sameer Lalwani, I don’t think I’ve read such a concentrated pile of horseshit in months as the excerpt you chose to use from Hagel’s book. It will be in the remainder bins within days of its release if this is the quality of the thinking represented in the book as a whole. Using the “Quartet” as an example of a successful alignment of American and Russian interests is beyond absurd – it’s delusional.


  5. Mr.Murder says:

    If only Europe would agree to bottleneck the access to energy and thus be able to spike its price artificially.
    See also the United States and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, import caps for foreign oil to force prices upward.
    American domestic energy policy countervails the stance it wants to take on Europe’s behalf, or at least they portray the Western position that way.
    Perhaps the facts are being shaped around the policy? The rest is simply political theater.


  6. JohnH says:

    Moscow hosted the G-8 Summit two years ago, and energy security was at the top of the agenda. But Bush, the US media, and this blog all blew it off at the time. Thanks to Sameer for putting it front and center again. Energy security is one of the great, undiscussed issues of our time, and its ramifications lie unspoken at the heart of many major foreign policy challenges–Iraq, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela to name a few.
    Energy security means two different things depending on whether you are a producer or a consumer. Russia wants a secure revenue stream–the consequences of the disastrous low prices of the 1990’s are still fresh in Russian memory. Consumers are still locked into the “liberalized trading system” that facilitated the buyers’ market, low prices, and uncertain producer revenues of the 1980’s and 1990’s. With tight supplies for the foreseeable future, the West is living in the past but is still in denial about the current reality.
    Engaging energy producers instead of trying to dictate to them reamains a fundamental challenge to the prevailing beltway mindset. Hagel has it right on this issue. If only he would put a brighter spotlight on it, so that it takes its proper place in foreign policy circles and with the American public.
    Unfortunately, the producers are holding all the good cards, the opposite of the situation in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Negoatiations could have been fruitful at the outset of the Bush administration. Now energy consumers will be negotiating from a position of weakness.
    It’s part of the price we pay for the current group-thinking beltway gang, and their refusal to talk openly and honestly about real issues facing the country.


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