What Is Energy Security?

Access to cheap energy has become essential to the functioning of modern economies. However, the uneven distribution of energy supplies among countries and the critical need for energy has led to significant vulnerabilities. Threats to individual person's and national energy security include the political instability of several energy producing countries, the manipulation of energy supplies, the competition over energy sources, attacks on supply infrastructure, as well as accidents and natural disasters. It is also the limited supplies of the most common forms of primary energy, i.e. Oil and Gas that changes perceptions on this topic. Although plenty of coal, up to 155 years worth, is readily available, coal is not the fossil fuel of choice for many more advanced countries because of its highly polluting nature. The potential need to change our primary energy sources in the foreseeable future is the crux of the energy security question, leading to higher prices, more limited access to sources of energy, competitions and political troubles, which in turn make the threat even larger.

Security Threats

One of the leading threats to energy security is the significant increase in energy prices, either on the world markets – as has occurred in a number of energy crises over the years – or by the imposition of price increases by an oligopoly or monopoly supplier, cartel or country. In some cases the threat might come from a single energy superpower – those states able to significantly influence world markets by their action alone. Rather than just manipulating prices, such suppliers might go beyond this by suspending or terminating supplies. This has been done to apply pressure during economic negotiations - such as during the Russia-Belarus energy dispute - or to apply political pressure, for example by OPEC in response to Western support for Israel in the Yom Kippur War. Suspension of supplies may also come about as a result of world-wide international sanctions against a country.

Energy plays an important role in the national security of any given country as a fuel to power the economic engine.[3] Hence, threats to energy security can also result from physical damage to the energy infrastructure either of the supplier, or of the importer as a result of natural events, misfortune, terrorism, or warfare. The political and economic instability caused by war or other factors such as strike action can also prevent the proper functioning of the energy industry in a supplier country.

In recent years, new threats to energy security have emerged in the form of the increased world competition for energy resources due to the increased pace of industrialization in countries such as India and China. Although still a minority concern, the possibility of price rises resulting from the peaking of world oil production is also starting to attract the attention of at least the French government.

Increased competition over energy resources may also lead to the formation of security compacts to enable an equitable distribution of oil and gas between major powers. However, this may happen at the expense of less developed economies. The Group of Five, precursors to the G8, first met in 1975 to coordinate economic and energy policies in the wake of the 1973 Arab oil embargo, a rise in inflation and a global economic slowdown.

Nato leaders meeting in Bucharest in April 2008 may discuss the possibility of using the military alliance "as an instrument of energy security." One of the possibilities include placing troops in the Caucasus region to police oil and gas pipelines.


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