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


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