Energy Crisis in Europe and the Role of NATO in Providing Energy Security

Ioanna Georgia Eskiadi

This article aims to analyze the current energy crisis in Europe after the Russian invasion in Ukraine and the role that NATO can have in providing energy security. The winter of 2022-2023 undoubtedly, it’s going to be a hard one, due to the energy crisis that hits Europe and consequently NATO member states. After the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the close of the pipelines by Russia has caused tremendous impact on the energy supply of Europe. More specifically, NATO member states are facing lack of gas and electricity supplies leading to the increase of prices.

As part of the international sanctions during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russia reacted by interrupting the Nord Stream 1 pipeline flow in early September, precipitating an international gas supply crisis which was particularly felt in European gas markets. But at the same time, the increase of prices in gas has led to the increased demand for coal which emits significantly higher amounts of carbon dioxide and air pollutants compared to natural gas.

Gas and electricity prices in Europe have reached unprecedented levels in recent months. The continuous pay rise in energy prices exacerbates energy poverty conditions by increasing the number of people in need and widening inequalities. Already in 2021, the gas price affected by geopolitical tensions and in early 2022, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the increase intensified. This situation is bringing to light the limits of the current European energy supply-chain. The European Union imports 90% of its Natural Gas consumption, and most of this came from Russia. A possible solution, where NATO Allies can have a role, is the expansion of gas infrastructure (new pipelines and regasification plants) representing a long-term investment that contradicts the need for rapid decarbonization of energy systems.

The current energy crisis leads to securitization of energy supply and a change in the perception of energy sources. Securitization assumes framing a political issue as a security issue. If accepted by the target audience, such framing enables the use of extra-ordinary measures to address the problem. The more the public accepts the security framing or becomes horrified by eventual war atrocities, the more receptive it will be to a change in the rules governing the energy system. The issue of security of supply, traditionally understood in a geopolitical sense, has become closely entangled with the question of affordability of energy, with both objectives to be achieved simultaneously through the development of the integrated energy market.

Energy security can only be ensured by the diversification of energy supply. The transition to sustainability, along with the elimination of fossil fuel energy production, requires other transformative steps in areas such as the circular economy, electricity transmission, improving the energy efficiency of buildings, the implementation of nature-based solutions to preserve more carbon dioxide in the soil or taking measures to adapt to changing climatic conditions. So, NATO can have a pivotal role since in issues of energy crisis, no country or government can deal with such a crisis on its own. Rather a common response is needed through a common strategy for energy security.

Given the war in Ukraine, Europe reduced imported natural gas from Russia and needs to achieve “strategic autonomy”. While big industries and strategic infrastructures need a long-term plan to establish a sustainable clean energy supply chain and massive reorientation of investments, there are already some big and small solutions that could help countries meet their emissions targets and eliminate energy imports in short term. The present energy crisis has led to an increased number of interventions in the energy market, but not in the gas market, even if gas prices are the main driver of electricity prices and certainly the selling prices of natural gas are not in line with the real costs. These interventions are aimed at trying to make quick profits on the part of electricity producers.

Communication of NATO and Energy Crisis

Communication both from NATO and member states a lot of times contributes to the creation of a panic and chaos in the public. The truth is that gas prices in Europe especially have reached a three-month low in October, as demand for industry and households declines. Gas determines the final price of electricity, as the most expensive fuel needed to meet all power demands. As gas prices soar, so do electricity bills for households and companies. As it regards the energy crisis and the communication of such issues, the focus should be on building communication systems for the information exchange between critical elements of the infrastructure. Especially those related to the identification and prevention of potential risks, coordination of all facilities in the event of an energy crisis.

NATO could play a pivotal role in the whole process by ensuring that energy prices will be in a balance by providing a way of contact between the member states and cooperation. NATO member states could cooperate in order to support and ensure the energy supply of the countries. The current energy crisis indicates the need to move to renewable sources of energy and the energy independence from Russia. NATO member states through a common agreement can promote and implement a common place of securing energy sources. A balance should be found because the energy crisis as well as economic sanctions against Russia’s petrochemical industry have benefited the US energy economy while Europe suffers. Exports of American LNG to Europe have more than doubled since 2021.

The energy crisis can lead to security crisis meaning that social problems are being developed and people are more concerned about Europe’s security and uncertain future of the Ukraine crisis. Countries can consult each other on energy security, enhance intelligence-sharing and assessments, and expand links with relevant international organizations, such as the International Energy Agency and the European Union.

For NATO, securing energy is important because the disruption of energy supply could affect security within the societies of NATO member and partner countries, and have an impact of NATO’s military operations. NATO Allies can consult on energy security to enhance Allied awareness and resilience. NATO can become a leader to the development of a capacity to support the protection of critical energy infrastructure and ensure reliable and efficient energy supplies to the military. Due to the cyber and hybrid threats to infrastructure, energy security is a vital element of resilience. Also, energy efficiency and innovative energy solutions help the military to become more sustainable, while maintaining operational effectiveness. Energy developments affect the international security environment and can have far-reaching security implications for Allies. 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 against political and economic pressure.

Energy infrastructure being one of the most vulnerable assets, especially in areas of conflict, because infrastructure networks extend beyond borders, attacks on complex energy infrastructure by hostile states can have repercussions across regions. NATO can have a role in increasing the competence in supporting the protection of critical energy infrastructure, mainly through training and exercises. NATO could organize exercises and exchanges of best practices with partner countries, many of which are important energy producers or transit countries, and with other international institutions and the private sector. Also, NATO can facilitate and ensure the energy supplies to the military, 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 and efficient energy solutions for the military.

Finally in the 2022 Madrid Summit where NATO adopted its new Strategic Concept to enhance their energy security and invest in a stable and reliable energy supply, suppliers and sources. Allies aim to identify and mitigate strategic vulnerabilities and dependencies including with respect to their critical infrastructure and supply chains.

NATO can lead the operations of combining technology with energy crisis management by building between the Allies a model of energy management system based on the use of Blockchain technology, so as to decentralize the production and supply of energy based on renewable and traditional sources. More specifically, the technical side of Blockchain technology as software for monitoring, measuring the energy of its transmission with the function of remote data transmission in the “online” mode will reduce financial costs, costs of purchasing/selling energy resources, payments for them. The potential use of Blockchain technology in the energy sector based on artificial intelligence is not only the exchange, storage, processing and analysis of information, but also the formation of a high-tech system based on information that can make effective management decisions.