Doha, Qatar

19 Oct. 2008

Keynote speech

by Ambassador Martin Erdmann, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy at the ICI Workshop on "Exchange of Experience on Security Aspects of Energy Infrastructure"


Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour and a pleasure to be here tonight.  Let me, first of all, express my own sincere gratitude, and that of the NATO colleagues who have travelled with me, to the organisers for the splendid hospitality that they have shown us.

Tomorrow we are going to tackle the issue of energy security in greater detail.  This evening I would like to offer you some more general reflections on the subject – and on how NATO is seeking to address it.

You are all aware of the relevant facts and figures, and the current trends on the international energy market.  As for NATO’s two constituent parts, both North America and Europe are becoming more dependent on imported energy.  Production in the West is falling, and global demand is increasing dramatically in the next decades, particularly due to the growing economies of India and China.  

Not surprisingly, all this has led to renewed debate on nuclear energy as well as on alternative energy sources, such as bio-fuels, wind- and solar power.  But most experts agree that these alternative approaches will not be able to alleviate the strong need for fossil energy sources.

And there is more.   A growing number of countries rely on long transport routes, such as pipelines or supertankers.  And these means of transport are complex and vulnerable, as we have seen with the Georgia crisis and several acts of piracy off the coast of Somalia these last few months.

And so, all in all, it is clear to see why energy security has become a legitimate issue of debate in our Alliance – among NATO Allies, but also among Allies and Partner countries.

No doubt, this is a most timely debate.  It is therefore all the more important that we make the most of it, and that we do not talk past each other.  Let me offer you a few reflections that might help set the stage for discussions tomorrow.

Perhaps the first point to make is that we should not look at energy security in isolation.  Energy security is but one challenge of a much broader set of 21st century security challenges.  I am not just referring to the well-known “hard” security challenges such as terrorism, regional conflicts, and nuclear proliferation; but also to “soft” security challenges, such as climate change, food security, and the shortage of water.  Indeed, in some regions on this globe, water has become far more precious than oil.  All this is to say that energy security is but one part of a complex security agenda – an agenda that requires not just military answers, but also political and economic responses.

My second point:  Many of these new threats and challenges are interrelated.  For example, terrorism can be a major challenge to our energy supply, and we have seen terrorist attacks on refineries, ships, and pipelines.  Rising oil prices can lead to rising food prices – again, we have seen several cases where this has led to domestic instability.  And, to mention a further example, Iran’s attractiveness as an energy producer has clearly shielded it from being confronted too hard for its nuclear ambitions.  In other words, the need to prevent nuclear proliferation collides with the need for fossil energy – and it is non-proliferation that ultimately loses out.

My third point: The importance of energy security must not mislead us to look at this topic solely through the prism of assured supply.  In my view, the international debate about energy security is currently driven by concerns, and sometimes outright fears – fears that some key players could make policy choices that are to the detriment of others.  For many discussants, energy security follows a zero-sum logic, where incentives don’t seem to play any role at all.  Yet we must not allow the debate on energy security to become militarised.  George Orwell once said that language can corrupt thought.  I believe that we must be very careful not to have our thoughts corrupted by our choice of terminology.  Energy security is not a call to arms, it is simply a motivation for us to think long-term.

My fourth point:  Thinking about energy security means to think beyond oil and gas.  The Gulf States, as well as other states in this part of the world, are not only blessed with fossil energy.  They are also blessed with weather conditions that make them extremely attractive for converting the sun’s limitless energy into electrical power.  In other words, the interdependence between this region and many NATO nations is going to last well beyond the era of fossil energy.  What does this mean?  It means that we do not just have short-term interests in buying and selling oil and gas.  What it really means is that we share a long-term interest in each other’s security.  Irrespective of whether we are energy producers, transit countries, or energy consumers, we all have a common interest in a secure environment.

Which brings me to my fifth point.  Creating such a secure environment is hard work.  After all, security is not a natural state of affairs.  We need to work for it, and we need to promote it. 

And it is here where NATO comes into play.  For almost sixty years, the alliance between Europe and North America has been a major factor in creating and protecting a peaceful and democratic political order in Europe.  NATO’s origins are therefore uniquely “transatlantic”, and neither NATO’s experience nor its mechanisms can simply be transplanted to other regions.

That said, however, NATO offers something very precious – something that no other organisation can offer: 60 years of security consultation and military cooperation among sovereign nations.  In other words, NATO offers a wealth of experience in multilateral security – an experience that we want to share with our partner countries. 

The Gulf States are natural partners in this regard.  This is not just because, geographically, the scope of NATO’s operations has broadened to your neighbourhood, with our leadership of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and our training mission in Iraq.   We also share an interest in the stability of the Middle East more generally.  And we share the notion that a new era of global challenges calls for a new era of security cooperation.

And this brings me to my final point.  Over the past few years, the emerging relationship between NATO and Qatar has demonstrated that we do not just talk about shared interests, but that we also act accordingly.  Our political consultations have steadily deepened.  And our practical cooperation has intensified as well.  There has been a growing number of expert meetings and Qatari participants in NATO courses and seminars.  Our cooperation now covers areas as varied as military-to-military contacts, non-proliferation and disaster management.  And our meeting today and tomorrow provides us with an opportunity for an in-depth discussion of another vital issue, energy security – which is a common challenge before all our nations.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

In today’s day and age, “interdependence” is not just a fashionable term – it is a fact of life.  That is why dialogue and cooperation between NATO and all countries here in the Gulf region has become both natural and inevitable.  We have a common interest in energy security, whether we are suppliers, transit countries or consumers.  It makes perfect sense for us to engage in regular political dialogue on these and other issues of common interest.  And it makes perfect sense for us to deepen our mutual understanding, to benefit from each other’s specific knowledge and experiences, and to further develop our practical cooperation.

That, in a nutshell, is why we have gathered here in Doha.  I want to thank our hosts once again for their initiative in hosting this meeting, and for the warm hospitality that has been extended to us.  And I wish us all a very interesting and productive meeting tomorrow. 

Thank you.