Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 222

In a keynote speech during NATO’s summit in Riga, Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for updating NATO’s basic role to include protection of allied countries’ energy security.

Addressing a summit event sponsored by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, Lugar predicted that energy scarcity and manipulation would become the most likely source of armed conflict in the European theater and surrounding regions. Given these emerging conditions, NATO needs to plan concerted actions to provide for collective energy security, as part of the alliance’s war-prevention role.

Lugar described as mere “hopes” the following propositions: That countries with abundant oil and gas resources will reliably supply these resources in normal market conditions to those who need them; that pipelines, sea lanes, and other means of energy transportation will be safe; that energy cartels will not be formed to limit available supplies and manipulate markets; and that energy-rich countries will not exclude or confiscate productive foreign energy investments.

At NATO’s November 28 Riga summit, many participants felt that Russia’s ongoing moves belie those hopes. Making clear that Russian policies constitute the main source of concern, Lugar cited recent experience as hardly inspiring confidence that market rationality will determine energy policy and transactions. Instead, governments and their national companies by now control the great bulk of world energy reserves, set prices, and some of them are acquiring wide latitude to interrupt the supplies for political reasons.

Moreover, large industrializing nations such as China, India, and others are heavily adding to global demand. Thus, oil and gas may not be abundant and accessible enough to support continued economic growth in both the industrialized West and the large rapidly growing economies. In sum, “In these conditions, energy supplies will become an even stronger magnet for conflict….The use of energy as an overt weapon is not a theoretical threat of the future: It is happening now.”

Citing last January’s cutoff in Russian gas supplies, Lugar noted that the Ukrainian economy could have been crippled without a shot being fired, with significant dangers and losses to several NATO member states. Thus, the classical-type conflict defined by conventional warfare between nations could give way to a new type of conflict in which energy may become the weapon of choice for those who possess it. An attack using energy as a weapon can devastate a nation’s economy and yield hundreds or even thousands of casualties. A gas shutdown to a European country in the middle of winter could cause death and economic losses on the scale of a military attack, he concluded.

Consequently, the potential use of energy as a weapon requires NATO to review what the Alliance’s obligations would be in such cases. Lugar urged NATO to determine what steps it is willing to take if one or more of its member countries are threatened as Ukraine was. The response need not be a military one, but rather one focused on assistance to member countries that are threatened with the use of the energy weapon.

The alliance must reliably protect its member countries against threats stemming from their energy insecurity. Energy insecurity can potentially become the most divisive issue in the Alliance’s history, Lugar warned. In the absence of concerted action, the Alliance runs the risk of fragmentation as vulnerable members seek to placate their energy suppliers.

The NATO Charter’s Article 5 (treating an armed attack on an allied country as an attack against all) is designed to prevent coercion of a member country by a non-member country. That interpretation must apply also to a cutoff of energy supplies and trigger allied measures to supply the threatened country with energy, Lugar urged. For, ultimately, a cutoff in energy supplies is no different from the threat of military attack or a military demonstration against a member country, in that the goal is to force that country to submit to foreign coercion.

Thus, Lugar urged NATO to identify alternatives to existing pipeline routes, with the necessary financial and political support; develop strategies that include the re-supply of a country that is victim of an aggressive energy suspension; establish mechanisms to shift energy supplies and services to a member country under such attack; and ensure that infrastructure is in place to respond to such an attack. A coordinated and well-publicized Alliance response would become a deterrent that could reduce the chances of miscalculation or military conflict. It would also provide a powerful incentive for member countries to remain in the alliance and for prospective members to accelerate reforms necessary to qualify for membership.

While making clear that Russian policies are the main source of such concern, Lugar also advocated establishing regular high-level consultations between Russia and NATO on energy security to deal with Russia’s rising challenge. “Its recent actions to temporarily reduce gas supplies to the West, confiscate some foreign energy investments, and create further barriers to new investments are undermining confidence in Moscow’s reliability.” Consequently, NATO should focus on how it would supply beleaguered member countries with the energy resources needed to withstand geo-strategic blackmail.

Lugar’s initiative reflects the frustration widely felt among European Union and NATO member countries with the EU’s failure to formulate a common energy policy and supply diversification strategy. Given the two organizations’ overlapping membership, NATO could legitimately become a forum for deliberation and decisions on supply assistance to member countries targeted for aggression with the new weapons of energy. Failure by the EU or NATO to devise joint responses to these emergent threats would risk turning the alliance into a hollow shell.

(Keynote address by Senator Richard Lugar to the Riga Conference of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, November 27)