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					                               Energy in Europe and North America:
                                From National to Human Security?

                           A German Marshall Fund of the United States
                          Policy Research Conference on Energy Security

                                           18-19 April 2008

                                      University of Trento, Italy

       It has become fashionable in recent years to portray the United States as driven by a

Hobbesian vision of international relations while Europe is seen as captured by a Kantian spirit of

an innate belief in the power of rules and universal values. While the metaphor of Mars and Venus

is suggestive, a more fruitful question would be to ask whether Europe and North America are

beginning to diverge in their definition of security. On a range of issues, from the environment to

international terrorism, we can ask whether Europe is increasingly using the lens of human security

to define its interests and design its strategies; while the United States remains more firmly tied to

traditional notions of national security. Energy provides an excellent opportunity to explore the

extent to which the two sides of the Atlantic are pursuing truly divergent paths on security; and, if

so, what might be the consequences for the Atlantic alliance and global politics in general.

       The aim of this conference, then, is to examine the ways in which the discussion about

energy now weaves traditional notions of security with its more recent, broader definition that takes

into account both traditional elements of power politics as well as issues related to human security.

It will try to explore whether the transatlantic partners may be parting ways in both their definition

of energy as a security concern and how to deal with the related issues such as the environment,

democratization, social stability and so on. The focus will be not only on policy differences but also

on what might be the policy consequences of the possibly different strategic lens through which

security is understood. The conference will be divided into five distinct but closely related

components that speak to the ways in which energy is being defined by traditional and human

security paradigms. It will bring together a range of scholars, from varying disciplines and different

parts of the world; thus reflecting what is emerging as a truly global politics of energy that will

shape transatlantic relations in the near and distant future.

       Access to energy supplies has always been a factor shaping relations between states, from

competition for coal during the earlier phases of industrialization to the current concern with

dwindling reserves of fossil fuels. There are two features of the current concern with energy

security that distinguish the debate from previous periods in which energy issues dominated

international politics. First, there is a broader range of actors that reflects the emergence of not only

non-state actors and regional bodies, such as the European Union, but also non-governmental

organizations such as environmental groups. Moreover, it also includes industrializing countries not

only as producers but also (probably for the first time) as important consumers of energy and

possible rivals for access to dwindling supplies. Second, whereas access to energy was always seen

as related to traditional definitions of national security as it affected elements of hard power, such as

the economy and military production, it now touches upon a range of issues that are related to a

broadening of the definition of security; something that might be called human security. This

broader definition implies looking not just at the military capacity of states and the traditional

domains of foreign policy, but also at issues such as the environment, human rights,

democratization, terrorism and social development. Energy is not only an issue for industrial and

foreign policy, but it is now inexorably linked to environmental policy and a range of policy

concerns that touch upon the social, political, cultural and economic conditions that affect the daily

lives of individuals.

                                         Conference Themes

1) Energy security and power politics

For the most part, the foreign policy questions for the last half-century have revolved around the

Middle East and surrounding areas. Energy issues during the Cold War were contained within the

boundaries of the spheres of influence of each bloc, with few instances of rivalry for access

becoming a defining issue of power politics. A number of factors have contributed to create a truly

global politics of energy security, and not all of them connected to the end of the Cold War. The

rise of the price of oil has led to a resurgent role for Russia on the world stage, raising questions for

both the United States and Europe. For instance, can the transatlantic partners deal with security

issues within an enlarged NATO without risking gas and oil supplies for a number of European

states? Can the accession members of the EU and the EU 15 member states agree on foreign policy

objectives that will ensure ready supplies of oil and gas? For instance, Lithuania and Poland have

taken decidedly different positions on how to deal with Russia as a result of concern with access to

oil and gas. In addition, China’s economic transformation has led it to assume a more prominent

role in international relations as it seeks to secure both a central role as an emerging power and a

presence in oil rich parts of the world. Some of the consequences have already been felt in disparate

parts of the globe, from Iran to Sudan, as China seeks to guarantee access to energy supplies even at

the expense of not supporting resolutions in the UN Security Council. Does the emergence of new

rivals for resources provide an opportunity for Europe and North America to find common ground

on how to deal with China as a potential countervailing power? Or will they seek different paths as

China (and India) may emerge as not only an economic rival but also an opportunity to develop new

markets and trading partners? The foreign policy dynamics of energy have been rendered more

complex by the emergence of international terrorist networks, many with direct links and political

ambitions in states that are an important source of energy for both Europe and the United States.

Moreover, as the recent al-Qaeda threats against countries such as Venezuela and Canada that

export oil to the United States demonstrate, the weaving of energy politics and terrorism is not

limited to the Middle East.

       The aim of this part of the conference is to explore the ways in which energy considerations,

from oil and gas to nuclear energy and water, are intersecting with traditional and new foreign

policy interests and instruments. It will explore whether the institutions that have forged the

transatlantic community can endure the pressure of competing interests. The topics will include

looking not only at European and American relations with Russia and China, but also how the

changing energy landscape may change foreign policy and power politics in, and with, Latin

America and Africa.

2) Energy security and democratization

       The conventional wisdom is that concern for human rights and democratization during the

period of the Cold War was trumped by the constant search for a balance of power between the two

superpowers. The post-Cold War era has been characterized by an emerging consensus that respect

for human rights and basic democratic principles should play a role in foreign policy decision-

making. There is a growing sense that energy security is becoming the new national security

concern that trumps democratization. However, it seems that perhaps the issue is not as clear cut as

in the Cold War era. On the one hand, there is an approach which ignores human right abuses and

the lack of basic democratic principles and institutions in the pursuit of reliable energy supplies.

This is the case with respect to some central Asian republics and Sudan as well as with many

important Middle East suppliers. On the other hand, there is a growing literature that argues that the

presence of large oil reserves is an obstacle to democratization in some parts of the world. The cases

of Iraq, Iran and Sudan are just three stark examples of how the international community has to

reconcile its demand for energy with a desire to avoid supporting regimes that do not respect the

rule of law or where we find instances of severe abuses of human rights. Russia also might

constitute a case worth observing as the development of its democratic institutions might be

affected by the importance that oil and natural gas play in its economy.

       The aim of this section would be to explore the extent to which the European Union and the

United States have taken different positions on linking the promotion of democracy and the

protection of human rights with choices about energy security. For instance, Europe in its relations

with Russia and the United States in its relations with Venezuela face the challenge of reconciling

energy needs with concerns about democratization. If Europe is truly a Kantian haven, we would

expect that member states of the EU have begun to jettison national consideration in defining their

energy policy and, more importantly, ready to put human rights and democratization ahead of their

interest in gaining reliable access to energy sources. On the other hand, if the United States defines

its national interest in traditional terms, we would expect that it would overlook human rights

abuses in places such as Sudan. This part of the conference would explore the ways in which the

transatlantic partners have sought to find policy solutions to the question of energy and human


3) Energy security, competitiveness and the environment

          One of the distinct features of the current debate about energy security is that it is running in

parallel to the discussion about how to address the problem of climate change. Environmental

security has become one of the central features of human security, as the challenges in the near

future raise the possibility of serious threats to the lives of millions and could lead to instability in

international relations. In so many obvious ways, there is synchronicity between the need to reduce

greenhouse gases and to conserve energy in the face of dwindling supplies of fossil fuels. However,

as the debate over the Kyoto Protocol demonstrates, how to bring together the two objectives does

not always find Europe and North America reading from the same page.

          This section looks to the ways in which Europe and North America have sought to address

the question of climate change and energy security. It will explore the different approaches taken to

the question of greenhouse gases, not only at the national level in the United States but also

initiatives at the state level such as those in California. At stake is not only environmental security

but the future of key industries such as automobiles. Clearly, this is an area where a transatlantic

partnership would seem a fruitful policy option but it also is one characterised by rivalry as the

United States and Europe seek to balance energy needs, environmental protection and current and

future economic competitiveness. At the same time, presenting energy policy through the

environmental prism, by emphasising conservation and alternative fuel sources, intersects human

security concerns with traditional security definitions. The call to cut energy consumption, in the

United States and Europe, is also pitched in terms of reducing dependency on foreign powers.

4) Energy security and regional integration

       Another important feature that distinguishes the current debate about energy security is the

extent to which it is framed increasingly in terms of finding regional solutions. This is clearly the

case with the European Union, where the European Commission has been preparing an energy

policy that touches on a number of parallel policy areas such as the environment, competition and

foreign policy. The regional dimension is no less the case, although there is no comprehensive

energy policy, in North America. A central feature of the North American Free Trade Agreement

(NAFTA) is Chapter 6, which governs energy and petrochemicals. It aims to integrate energy

markets in Canada and the United States (Mexico is largely excluded from these provisions) by

restricting the capacity of governments to price discriminate (through export taxes) and to interrupt

supply. Given that oil reserves in Canadian tar sands have been estimated as second only to those in

Saudi Arabia, Canada could provide an important solution to short and medium term energy needs

for the United States. Moreover, Canadian provinces are also important suppliers of hydroelectricity

for bordering American states. It is no surprise, then, that the Bush administration has made a

central feature of its energy policy decreasing dependency on “foreign” energy sources along with

looking for ways in which to increase cross-border trade in energy.

       This section will explore the extent to which energy policy is increasingly seen in

continental or regional terms in both North America and Europe. A sure sign that we have moved

beyond the classic boundaries of definitions of national security would be the extent to which states

see their energy future, whether it be water or fossil fuels, as part of a regional economy or interest.

This might be more clearly the case in the European Union but broader geo-political considerations

are leading the United States to look to North American (or at least hemispheric solutions) to its

energy needs. Could energy be the basis for a North American Community? Are there lessons from

Europe for North America?

5) Energy security and economic liberalization

       It is not surprising that in an increasingly global economy that the economic governance of

energy supplies can become an issue that shapes relations between states. This is clearly the case in

the European Union, as its energy policy is largely centred on ways in which to create more

competitive markets. The issue of the extent to which market mechanisms can help ensure the

proper functioning of scarce resources is one that has the potential to create tensions but also

opportunities in transatlantic relations. Liberalization implies a redefinition of national interests for

many European states as they have built vertical energy infrastructures to maintain domestic

control. But as access to energy is becoming an important factor in economic competitiveness and

productivity, states have to reconcile different domestic demands.

       This part of the conference will explore whether the strategy of developing national energy

champions in many European states is sustainable or whether it will lead to a transatlantic conflict.

It will explore whether the two partners share the same approach to the economic governance of

energy resources and whether this may be an opportunity to strengthen ties or increase rivalries. The

focus will be clearly on the economics of energy security but it will also have to focus on some of

the social and political aspects as well. For instance, how will the costs of liberalization, as well as

the benefits, be distributed throughout society? How do Europe and the United States treat energy

policy as part of a broader model of economic governance? Can Europe liberalize and still maintain

its much heralded social model?


          A call for papers will go out in May 2007 for a conference to be held in March 2008. There

will be one panel for each section of the conference, with three papers on each panel. Each panel

will have at least one author from North America and from Europe. An effort will be made to have

the third member of the panel represent a different part of the world, providing a different lens not

only on the question of energy security but also the transatlantic relationship. The call will go out to

anyone who has an interest in the policy areas involved in the five themes descrived above: foreign

policy, energy, environment, democratization and human rights, market liberlaization, regional

integration. In addition, the conference will be opened by a roundtable discussion involving key

policy actors – from the public and private sector as well as NGOs – that will be aimed at a broader


                          Activities planned for disseminating project results

There will be four main sources of dissemination of the project activities and results.

   1. Working papers – The papers presented during the conference will be posted on the websites

          of the School of International Studies at the University of Trento as part of its working

          papers series, as well as the sites of other project partners.

   2. Manuscript – The seminar series and conference will produce at least one collection of

          essays on the question of the policy implications of the changing concern with energy from

          an issue of national to human security. It is expected that this will be published by a major

          English-language academic publisher.

   3. Webcast – The conference will be broadcast over the Internet using the facilities at the

          University of Trento.

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