Natural Gas as an Instrument of Russian State Power
Authored by Alexander Ghaleb.
This monograph is meant to provide an unbiased examination of: the scarcity of natural gas in the contemporary security environment; the salience of natural gas in Russia’s national security strategies; and, the natural gas pipeline politics in Eastern and Central Europe. While the tendency of most energy security scholars has been to collectively analyze Europe’s dependency on oil and gas, this author analyzes the two energy markets separately, and demonstrates that natural gas is a more potent instrument of coercion in the contemporary security environment than oil was in the traditional security environment. Sufficient evidence is also provided that Russia continues to perceive NATO as a hostile alliance, and that future natural gas disruption by Russia—who holds a monopoly on the supply of natural gas via pipeline to Eastern and Central Europe—will prove deadly to the economies of many NATO member states. The salience of natural gas as an instrument of state power is emphasized in Russia’s negotiations with Ukraine; this monograph credits the 2006 and 2009 gas wars between the two nations as the main causes for the failure of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Ultimately, today, Russia uses the same tools it used in Ukraine—in the context of natural gas negotiations—to bribe Western European nations; to divide the NATO Alliance; and to rule over its traditional sphere of influence in Eastern and Central Europe. Finally, the author emphasizes that with the Russian construction of Nord Stream and South Stream natural gas pipelines, and unless alternatives to Russian natural gas are found, it is only a matter of time until Russia will use natural gas as an instrument of coercion against NATO member states.
While in the 1980s oil was considered “the only commodity whose sudden cutoff would have a drastic effect on national welfare or on economic activity,” the 2030s come with the image of a world in which the sudden cutoff of Russian gas to Europe will have similar disastrous effects on the economies of many European and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member states. This monograph argues that Russian control of the natural gas supplies and of the export infrastructure systems of natural gas to Europe gives tremendous leverage to Russia in imposing its national security policy.
If in the traditional security environment the use of military force was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic’s (USSR) preferred method of political coercion, in the contemporary security environment Russia is struggling with a weaker military that no longer represents a threat to the North Atlantic Alliance. This monograph emphasizes that Russia overcame this major vulnerability by developing the capacity to use unilateral economic sanctions in the form of gas pricing and gas disruptions against many European NATO member states. It agrees with many scholars and politicians alike who fear that Russia will leverage its monopoly of natural gas to gain political concessions; and it supports the viewpoint that “Russia’s energy-centered foreign policy is not limited to the states of the former Soviet Union and is clearly designed to increase its leverage in key geostrategic theaters and over United States allies.” While Russian officials insist that these fears are overblown, skeptics believe that “if there were a serious enough dispute, the Russians might do just that [use its energy security leverage against NATO member states].”
The concerns of these skeptics cannot be dismissed without an unbiased examination of the scarcity of natural gas in the contemporary security environment, of the salience of natural gas in Russia’s national security strategies, and of the natural gas pipeline politics in Eastern and Central Europe. To address these questions, the monograph has been separated into four chapters. Chapter 1 will demonstrate that like oil in the traditional security environment, under certain conditions, natural gas can serve as an effective unilateral instrument of state power in the contemporary security environment, and that its disruption by Russia will prove deadly to the economies of many NATO member states in Eastern and Central Europe (traditionally, Russia’s sphere of influence). Chapter 2 will explain why Russia perceives NATO as a hostile alliance, and how Russia uses natural gas as an instrument of coercion in its sphere of influence. In Chapter 3, a look at Russia’s use of natural gas as a national security instrument of coercion in negotiations with Ukraine will help energy security analysts determine the conditions under which Russia will leverage its energy superpower position in its relations with European Union (EU) and/or NATO member states. Additionally, a look at Russia’s failures in the use of such coercion in Ukraine will assist NATO member states in Eastern and Central Europe to identify ways to reduce the threat of disruption of Russian gas supplies. Finally, Chapter 4 will expose the processes Russia uses in the context of natural gas negotiations to bribe Western European nations—such as Germany, France, and Italy—to divide the NATO Alliance, and to rule over its traditional sphere of influence in Eastern and Central Europe.
To avoid digressing into general theory, this monograph also makes one significant assumption: that unless new alternative energy sources emerge, natural gas will surpass oil by year 2050 and will grow to become the fuel of the future. While there is enough body of evidence to illustrate this, some of which is discussed in Chapter 1, it is not my purpose to enter into ideological arguments on the future global production and demand for natural gas. I will, instead, focus on the energy security implications of the current “global shift to gas,” and on how this move will change the way we look at Russia in the contemporary security environment.
Finally, given time and space constraints, this monograph will not be able to proffer solutions to Russia’s fast ascent to great-power status. However, the conclusion will address several recommendations and implications requiring further research as a starting point for policymakers and national defense officials in their search for comprehensive answers to Europe and NATO’s growing dependency on Russian natural gas.
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