The independent resource on global security

6. Energy and security: regional and global dimensions


I. Introduction

II. A geostrategic approach to the security of energy supply

III. Patterns of energy supply and demand

IV. Energy security concerns as a source of conflict

V. Responses to energy security challenges: consumer and producer policies

VI. Conclusions


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Efforts to secure energy supplies are an important factor shaping states’ foreign policy and foreign relations. Many features of the international environment influence the conceptualization of energy security and thinking about what are the best national, regional and global methods to ensure it.


The recent intensification of debate about energy security has been motivated by the rising global demand for energy, a tight oil market, high oil prices, rising dependency on energy imports, and the prospect of future scarcity of oil and gas. Concerns have also been exacerbated by external events such as terrorist attacks on energy infrastructure, power blackouts in some cities and instability in some energy-producing countries. All these factors have heightened awareness in both energy consumer and producer countries of the many new challenges and threats to their energy security in the near future. In response to these challenges, some countries have adopted a nationalistic approach to energy security, even going as far as being ready to use force—military or economic—to protect their energy interests. Others have shown more understanding of the need for collective, institutional measures.


Energy security concerns shape contemporary international relations in ways that go beyond the direct strategic and geopolitical dimensions of energy security as such. On the one hand, they lead to new strategic alliances and cooperation between states that are major energy market players; on the other, they are sources of international tension, rivalry and conflict, due mainly to the divergent energy interests of:
•  consumer countries and greater competition between them in world energy markets;
•  consumer–producer relations and fears that energy supply will be used as a weapon; and
•  disputes over ownership of energy resources.


Although most states would regard actual armed conflict as an extreme measure, intra-state conflicts with an energy resource dimension are likely to occur, particularly in Africa. Also, the strategic importance of geographical areas with rich oil and gas reserves will certainly rise: not only the Middle East but also Africa, Central Asia, South America and South-East Asia will be areas of potential tension and conflict in the coming decades.


Some aspects of energy security, which has traditionally been regarded as a purely national or internal matter, are clearly best addressed collectively on a multilateral basis. International cooperation with exporters and transit countries, and with other importers, can make an important contribution to the security of energy imports. In a field like energy security, international cooperation can coexist with international competition—but they need to be better balanced.


Kamila Pronińska (Poland) is a PhD Fellow in Political Science at the Institute of International Relations of Warsaw University