NATO’s role in energy security
The disruption of energy supply could affect the security of societies of Allies and partners, and have an impact on NATO's military operations. While these issues are primarily the responsibility of national governments, NATO Allies continue to consult on energy security and further develop NATO’s capacity to contribute to energy security, concentrating on areas where it can add value. 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 supply for the military.
- NATO’s role in energy security was first defined in 2008 at the Bucharest Summit and has since been strengthened.
- Energy security is a vital element of resilience and has become more important in the past years due to the new security context.
- Energy efficiency is important not only for logistics and cost-saving in theatres of operation, but also for the environment.
Enhancing strategic awareness of the security implications of energy developments
While NATO is not an energy institution, energy developments affect the international security environment and can have far-reaching security implications for some Allies. A stable and reliable energy supply, the diversification of routes, suppliers and energy resources, and the interconnectivity of energy networks are of critical importance and increase resilience.
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, enhancing intelligence-sharing and assessments, and expanding links with relevant international organisations, such as the International Energy Agency and the European Union. NATO also organises specific events, such as workshops, table-top exercises and briefings by external experts. Of particular importance in this regard are the North Atlantic Council’s bi-annual seminars on regional and global energy developments, as well as the annual Energy Security Strategic Awareness Course at the NATO School in Oberammergau.
Supporting the protection of critical energy infrastructure
All countries are reliant on energy infrastructure, including in the maritime domain, on which their 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 primarily a national responsibility. However, since NATO forces are dependent on civilian energy infrastructure, it is important that Allies strengthen their infrastructure to take account of NATO’s requirements. Moreover, NATO organises exercises and exchanges 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 have also made an indirect contribution to energy security. Moreover, NATO is also supporting national authorities in enhancing their resilience against energy supply disruptions that could affect national and collective defence.
Enhancing energy supply for the military
The high fuel demand of combat forces can diminish their performance, increase their vulnerability, and may require the diverting of combat forces to protect supply lines. Hence, increased energy efficiency could offer benefits in terms of combat power and agility. A significant step forward in this area was 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’s own work in this regard focuses on reducing the consumption of fossil fuel in deployed force infrastructure (i.e. camps), resulting in more autonomy, a lesser logistical burden and a smaller environmental footprint. Allies are also reviewing the fuel supply chain for NATO forces in a more demanding security environment.
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 that same year, and the accreditation of the NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence in Lithuania in 2012 were major milestones in this process.
The decision of Allies 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. Since then, several exercises have included energy-related developments, and several training courses have been stood up, both nationally and at the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany.
At the Brussels Summit in July 2018, Allies underlined the important role energy security plays in their common security and that it is essential to ensure that the members of the Alliance are not vulnerable to political or economic manipulation. In November 2019, Allies agreed a set of recommendations on consolidating NATO’s role in energy security, which included in particular a stronger focus on how to ensure a viable fuel supply to the military. In the years to come, NATO Allies will continue to seek diversification in energy supplies, further enhance the strategic dialogue both among Allies and with partner countries, offer more education and training opportunities, and deepen ties with other international organisations, academia and the private sector.
Work on enhancing the resilience of energy infrastructure, notably in hybrid scenarios, will also be given greater attention. With increased awareness of energy risks, enhanced competence to support infrastructure protection, and a more energy-efficient military, NATO will be better prepared to respond to the security challenges of the 21st century.