The Geopolitics of Energy

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In the new millennium, new realities affecting the energy industry are constantly emerging not only because of events in the Middle East but also because of the environmental impacts of energy consumption and concerns about global sustainability. A strong interaction exists among energy, economics, technology, geopolitics and sustainability. The challenge for policy makers is to secure the long-term energy future without destroying the environmental systems that support the human race.

It would be short-sighted of countries to focus only on their own energy security without due regard for the geopolitical and environmental risks and impacts. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was seen by many as an expression of the mindset that oil equals security. According to these theorists, the geopolitical strategy of the United States (US) is based on the perceived need to maintain access to oil reserves not only in the Persian Gulf but also around the world.

It is a common truism that all politics, including that of energy, is local. Yet the source of energy is global. That means that global energy supplies are potentially vulnerable to any disruptive event, anywhere, anytime. Vulnerability is ever present, regardless of the degree of dependence on imported oil. The national security of a country must be viewed as a question, not just of military hardware, but also of economic vulnerability, which is linked to the dependence on energy.

This dependence has been amply demonstrated during the first oil crisis of 1973 when the price of crude oil increased four-fold. By 1973, according to some experts, oil had become the main source of energy of industrial economies around the world. Never before had industrial countries been so dependent on oil exporting countries. Seeing through this dependency, some Arab countries started considering the use of oil as a weapon to achieve their economic and political objectives. When Israel attacked the Golan Heights in 1973, the Arab countries agreed to an oil embargo. The economies of many developing countries were shattered due to supply restrictions and price increases. Unless the energy resources are diversified and used far more efficiently, many of the oil importing countries will remain vulnerable to the tempestuousness of the politics of oil. Access to Middle East oil and gas is likely to remain a major factor of international political relations.

The challenges of energy security and sustainability are daunting and require a paradigm shift to reduce energy consumption levels. This calls for a much bolder approach, involving a combination of policy proposals and technologically feasible ideas, significant public investment in efficient systems, and stronger support for renewable energy resources as well as other alternative sources of energy.

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