NATO’s role in energy security
Energy security plays an important role in the common security of NATO Allies. The disruption of energy supply could affect security within the societies of NATO member and partner countries, and have an impact on NATO's military operations. While these issues are primarily the responsibility of national governments, NATO Allies regularly consult on energy security to enhance Allied awareness and resilience. NATO seeks to enhance its strategic awareness of energy developments with security implications; develop its capacity to support the protection of critical energy infrastructure; and ensure reliable energy supplies to the military.
- NATO’s role in energy security was first defined in 2008 at the Bucharest Summit and has since been strengthened. The NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence in Vilnius, Lithuania has been supporting NATO’s work on energy security since 2012.
- Energy security is a vital element of resilience and has become more important due to the emerging security challenges, such as cyber and hybrid threats to infrastructure.
- In times of the global energy transition, energy efficiency and innovative energy solutions help the military to become more sustainable, while maintaining operational effectiveness.
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. Given the global energy transition, a stable and reliable energy supply, the diversification of routes, suppliers and energy resources, and the interconnectivity of energy networks remain critically important for increased 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 meetings on regional and global energy developments, NATO’s Annual Roundtable on Energy Security, as well as the annual Energy Security Strategic Awareness Course at the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany.
Supporting the protection of critical energy infrastructure
All countries rely on energy infrastructure, for security. 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. Since electricity is key to the global energy transition, power infrastructure security is becoming the cornerstone of energy security. 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. Since 2018, the NATO-Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI) Regional Centre has been hosting the training course on the protection of critical energy infrastructure.
By protecting important sea lanes, NATO's counter-piracy operations have also made an indirect contribution to energy security. Furthermore, NATO is also supporting national authorities in enhancing their resilience against energy supply disruptions that could affect national and collective defence.
Ensuring energy supply to the military
Energy supplies to the military must be secured at all times. Since the military depends on civilian energy networks, it is important to ensure the security of critical energy infrastructures and supply chains, and develop innovative, resilient, efficient and autonomous energy solutions for the military, such as dedicated micro-grids with hybrid power generation.
In addition, 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. In light of the global energy transition, NATO seeks to enhance energy efficiency and sustainability in the military while maintaining operational effectiveness.
NATO’s “Smart Energy” work in this regard focuses on reducing the consumption of fossil fuels 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, which includes the Central Europe Pipeline System, to ensure reliable energy supplies to NATO forces across the Alliance in a more demanding security environment.
At the Bucharest Summit in 2008, Allies agreed 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 dedicated training courses have been stood up, both nationally and at the NATO School in Oberammergau.
At the Brussels Summit in July 2018, Allies underlined the important role energy security plays in their common security and agreed 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 a stronger focus on how to ensure a viable fuel supply to the military across the Alliance.
In March 2021, the Allies endorsed NATO's Climate Change and Security Agenda and, at the Brussels Summit in June, the Action Plan to implement it. This Agenda and Action Plan will help to boost NATO's efforts to increase military energy efficiency while maintaining operational effectiveness.
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, particularly electricity, infrastructure – including in hybrid scenarios – will also be given greater attention. With increased awareness of energy risks, enhanced capacity 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.