Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 09/2008

Energy Security: NATO’s Limited, Complementary Role

Andrew Monaghan

May 2008

NATO Defense College


NATO cannot avoid discussing energy security. As both the international situation and the alliance evolve, it becomes increasingly important and relevant to do so: clear and direct links exist between the security of NATO member states and the interruption of their energy supply. Indeed, given the range and potential scale of these threats it would be, as stated by the alliance's Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, alarming if NATO did not at least discuss it. NATO could not simply ‘stay on the sidelines' watching such threats emerge. Discussion of energy security can take place under the framework of the alliance's Washington Treaty, as outlined in Article IV. But the role proposed by the alliance is a limited one - and, as Jamie Shea has noted, discussions mean neither automatic agreement that NATO will act, nor that the alliance would necessarily adopt a leading role in any response.

This article has three main aims. First, it seeks to provide a broad history of the evolution of discussions about an energy security role for the alliance - the roots of today's discussion, as it were - in two parts, first, the background discussions, then developments between the Riga and Bucharest Summits. Then it outlines the potential contributions NATO could make. Finally, the article examines some of the complexities and difficulties in establishing a clear agenda.

The key points to emerge are the limited and complementary nature of the proposed role and the unclear nature of the signals being emitted by the alliance - a point complicated by the higher profile of non-NATO proposals which are often taken to represent the alliance's position.