NATO’s role in energy security

  • Last updated: 13 Aug. 2014 16:21

Allies recognise that the disruption of energy supply could affect the security of their societies and have an impact on NATO's military operations. While these issues are primarily the responsibility of national governments, NATO continues to consult on energy security and further develops the capacity to contribute to energy security, concentrating on areas where NATO can add value. To this end, NATO seeks to enhance its strategic awareness of energy developments with security implications; develop its competence in supporting the protection of critical energy infrastructure; and work towards significantly improving the energy efficiency of the military.

The report identified the five following key areas where NATO can provide added value:

  • information and intelligence fusion and sharing; 
  • projecting stability;
  • advancing international and regional cooperation;
  • supporting consequence management; and
  • supporting the protection of critical infrastructure.

Consultations started after the Bucharest Summit regarding the depth and range of NATO’s involvement in this issue. Both within the Alliance and with NATO’s partner countries, a number of practical programmes, such as workshops and research projects, are ongoing.

  • Work in practice

    Enhancing strategic awareness of the security implications of energy developments

    While NATO is not an energy institution, energy developments, such as supply disruptions, affect the international security environment and can have far-reaching security implications for some Allies. As a result, NATO closely follows relevant energy trends and developments and seeks to raise its strategic awareness in this area. This includes consultations on energy security among Allies and partner countries, intelligence-sharing, as well as specific events, such as workshops, table-top exercises, and briefings by external experts. An important event in this regard was the North Atlantic Council’s seminar on global energy developments in January 2014, which underscored the security implications of recent energy trends. NATO also seeks to ensure that its military is well aware of the role energy developments can play in the NATO’s strategic environment, and has started to organise training courses in this regard.

    Supporting the protection of critical energy infrastructure

    All countries are increasingly reliant on vital energy infrastructure, including in the maritime domain, on which energy security and prosperity depend. Energy infrastructure is also one of the most vulnerable assets, especially in areas of conflict. Since infrastructure networks extend beyond borders, attacks on complex energy infrastructure by hostile states, terrorists or hacktivists can have repercussions across regions. For this reason, NATO seeks to increase its competence in supporting the protection of critical energy infrastructure, mainly through training and exercises. Protecting energy infrastructure is, however, primarily a national responsibility. Hence, NATO's contribution focuses on areas where it can add value, notably the exchange of best practices with partner countries, many of which are important energy producers or transit countries, and with other international institutions and the private sector. By protecting important sea lanes, NATO's counter-piracy operations also make an indirect contribution to energy security.

    Enhancing energy efficiency in the military

    Enhancing energy efficiency in the military focuses on reducing the energy consumption of military vehicles and camps, as well as minimising the environmental footprint. Work in this area concentrates on bringing together experts to examine existing national endeavours and proposing multinational projects. It also includes studying the behavioural aspects of saving energy in exercises and operations, as well as developing common energy efficiency standards and procedures. A significant step forward in this area is the adoption of NATO’s “Green Defence” framework in February 2014. It seeks to make NATO more operationally effective through changes in the use of energy, while saving resources and enhancing environmental sustainability. NATO also continues to implement the Smart Energy Team (SENT) project, supported by the NATO Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme, with the goal to find Smart Energy solutions for the military.

  • Evolution

    At the Bucharest Summit in 2008, Allies noted a report on “NATO’s Role in Energy Security”, which identified guiding principles and outlined options and recommendations for further activities. These were reiterated at subsequent summits, while at the same time giving NATO's role clearer focus and direction. The 2010 Strategic Concept, the setting up of an Energy Security Section in the Emerging Security Challenges Division at NATO Headquarters, and the accreditation of the NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence in Lithuania in 2012 were major milestones in this process.

    The decision of NATO Heads of State and Government to “integrate … energy security considerations in NATO’s policies and activities” (2010 Lisbon Summit Declaration) also meant the need for NATO to reflect energy security in its education and training efforts, as well as in its exercise scenarios. Work is under way in this regard.

    In the years to come, NATO will seek to further enhance the strategic dialogue, both among Allies and with partner countries, offer more education and training opportunities, and deepen its ties with other international organisations, (such as the International Energy Agency), academia, and the private sector. With increased awareness of energy risks, enhanced competence to support infrastructure protection, and enhanced energy efficiency in the military, NATO will be better prepared to respond to the emerging security challenges of the 21st century.