Interview - Energy security: A state side view

United States Representative Tom Lantos, the Head of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, tells NATO Review how he sees NATO’s changing role and what NATO and its members can do in the increasingly important field of energy security.

NATO Review: To begin, please describe your general views about the current state of NATO and transatlantic relations more generally. How does your background as someone who was born in Europe and lived through the Second World War shape your beliefs concerning the importance of American and European cooperation?

Tom Lantos, Chairman of the US House of Foreign Affairs Committee (© AP / Reporters )

TOM LANTOS: Throughout the Cold War, the United States and Europe were unified in opposition to the menace of the Soviet Union. The relationship was strengthened by the shared belief that communism represented an existential threat to the very foundations of human freedom. But without that unifying force, the transatlantic alliance has weakened and needs to be reinvigorated.

NATO and its member nations face a stark choice: the alliance could evolve into a reliable military partner of the United States that halts terrorism and rogue regimes that threaten citizens on both side of the Atlantic.

Or it could devolve into a collection of governments that are only rhetorically committed to the common defense while their individual nations may or may not tackle the security challenges of a post-9/11 world.

This relationship can be revitalized in Afghanistan, as a NATO victory there would be a lifeline for the alliance and proof of NATO’s continued relevance in the post-Cold War world.

The United States should also continue to work with the European Union in addressing areas where freedom is suppressed, including the importance of resolving the final status of Kosovo and the increasing challenges created by an energy-fueled Russia.

NR: How big a role, in your view, should NATO play in issues related to energy security?

LANTOS: Each of the member states in NATO has a stake in creating a suitable energy security framework. Energy security can play a significant role in wider security and geopolitical matters for Europe and North America and therefore should be a priority for NATO.

NR: How confident are you about Russia’s reliability as an energy partner?

LANTOS: Russia has taken an increasingly aggressive posture on energy policy, fueled by its energy-based economic boom. I share the concern of many Europeans when Russia utilizes its energy resources to bend its neighbours to its political will, most egregiously by cutting off natural gas supplies in the dead of winter to former Soviet republics.

The question is not whether Afghanistan will fail, but whether the United States will prevent its failure virtually alone or in full concert with all NATO allies

I was a vocal critic of President Putin’s politically motivated efforts to dismantle Yukos and centralize control in the Kremlin, contributing to the rising trend of resource nationalism among energy-rich countries.

And I believe that the Russians will eventually realize that the short term confidence that comes from high energy prices is not in their long term political and security interest and will instead acknowledge that their future lies in respectful and cooperative relations with the United States and Europe.

NR: Is energy conservation a security issue? If so, should NATO be involved in Allied energy conservation through information-sharing and the like?

LANTOS: Energy conservation is most certainly a security issue; cutting back our energy consumption reduces our dependence on resources from other countries, particularly unstable countries, to help us meet our energy needs. Conservation can play a role in providing energy security for many NATO members. It is uncertain, however, whether NATO is the best equipped organization to tackle such issues.

NR: How important is funding and developing alternative technologies such as solar, wind, hydrogen-based, and photovoltaic energy?

LANTOS: Funding and developing alternative technologies such as these are important in providing for our national energy security. The energy bill HR 3221, which recently passed the House and had a significant foreign affairs title that I cosponsored, provided for such measures.

NR: Do you believe that NATO should play a greater role in the Middle East, given that region’s importance in issues related to energy security?

LANTOS: NATO’s efforts in Afghanistan since 2001 demonstrate that Americans and Europeans are willing to conduct tough combat operations outside Europe. Indeed, the most significant challenge facing NATO at present – as well as the greatest opportunity for meaningful and effective action – is the mission in Afghanistan.

The question is not whether Afghanistan, which is NATO’s most ambitious mission since its founding in 1949, will fail but whether the United States will prevent its failure virtually alone or in full concert with all NATO allies.

I believe that the Russians will eventually realize that the short term confidence that comes from high energy prices is not in their long term political and security interest

While people from many NATO countries are fighting and dying in Afghanistan, many more countries are placing caveats on the operations of their troops or failing to engage actively in a country whose stability and success affects both Europe and the United States.

Although Dutch, British, Danish, and Canadian troops have actively engaged in dangerous combat, the mission requires more support from German and French and other European troops.

NR: What role, if any, do you believe that NATO should play in confronting Iran over its nuclear programme?

LANTOS: It is increasingly important for NATO and its member nations to define what role the alliance is able, or willing, to perform in military conflicts outside of the relatively peaceful confines of Europe. They must understand the expanding definition of the term “invaded,” whereby terror groups can invade a country without a standing army.

They must also accept the expanding geographic reach of dangerous countries developing weapons of mass destruction or making nuclear weapons technology available to others.

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