NATO workshop focuses on energy and environmental risks facing the Alliance

  • 17 Sep. 2012 -
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  • Last updated: 09 Oct. 2012 16:17

Food scarcity, natural disasters, the management and distribution of scarce water resources, and the interruption of vital energy supplies are examples of seemingly unrelated factors that can have an effect on security. On 17 September, a NATO workshop was held to look at how such factors and vulnerabilities interact, how they could affect NATO member states and ways in which the Alliance could respond to these security risks.


In an interconnected world, NATO must be prepared to react to security challenges caused by limited resources and environmental factors. Ensuring a steady supply of energy, for example, is more than just a resource concern, it is also interwoven with international security.

“I believe energy is increasingly becoming an issue for international relations, including international security relations,” says Michael Rühle, Head of the Energy Security Section at NATO.

Countries can no longer assume that the energy resources they currently depend on will endure. “We have built our energy infrastructure assuming that what is there won’t change – and it is changing quite dramatically, we can see this all over the world,” underlines Cleo Paskal, an Associate Fellow at Chatham House.

The workshop, which took place in Brussels, Belgium, brought together climate and energy experts, representatives from think tanks, and civilian and military officers from NATO to tackle these challenges in a simulation exercise. It was an opportunity for them to create and discuss real-world scenarios dealing with the critical security implications of energy and environmental issues.

“What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic,” points out Dr Chad Briggs from the Air University Minerva Initiative on Energy and Environmental Security.

The workshop was not about predicting future crises but instead focused on better understanding the various factors that may lead to instability. By understanding these factors, participants hoped to expand their strategic horizon.

“One of the goals of this workshop is to think the unthinkable, expect the unexpected,” says Farshad Mohammad-Avvali, a consultant in the Energy Security Section of NATO’s Emerging Security Challenges Division, which organised the workshop.

Dr Chad Briggs and Dr Tracy Walstrom Briggs – both experts from the Air University Minerva Initiative on Energy and Environmental Security at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, the United States – developed the scenario-building approach. Funded by the Office of the US Secretary of Defense, their team translates complex scientific and geographical data into military planning tools.

Future workshops will help the Alliance identify key security vulnerabilities that may arise from these issues, allowing their incorporation into NATO’s advance planning process.