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USA: Closing the Gap Between Energy and National Security

Bridging a robust national security policy in meeting vulnerabilities associated with power supply (electricity) and fuels (primarily used in transportation) is an emergent 21st century security challenge for all nations. The potential individual single points of failure where fuels and power (hereafter energy) are concerned are compounded for countries which lack adequate domestic resources necessary for one or both of these end uses. Geology being what it is, nations cannot create natural reserves of oil, gas, coal, and water to power their economies and provide for their citizens. What they can do however is to put in place policy frameworks that address energy vulnerabilities for bolstering the state’s national security. These policies include domestic regulatory and investment policies, foreign policy, and national security policy. Policy choices where energy is concerned have traditionally been thought of as primarily a mix of market-based responses to meet a nation’s energy requirements; however market mechanisms alone have shown signs of weakness in correcting for producer nations which have increasingly used their energy resources to attempt to exact political concessions from energy consumers or as producers have either intentionally limited output or unintentionally failed to meet the soaring growth in energy demand particularly from the world’s emerging economies. The reality is that energy has moved far beyond an exclusive resource issue into the realm of new emerging threats and challenges to national security and global stability.

Energy and national security

For military forces, the priority energy concern is to have sufficient energy to support current operations and to support a national security strategy that addresses the country’s national interests. For government writ large, the objective is more broadly defined and of a greater order of magnitude: to have sufficient energy to sustain current operations among them economic activity, the delivery of health and human services, to sustain food, water, and communications networks, and heating and cooling generation and distribution systems which are essential to human development. To be sure military forces’ and government’s interests where energy is concerned should be complimentary and mutually supporting. This has not always been the case. There is on the other hand a sea-change in attitude in some nations for bridging the gap between energy and national security policy, and in the case of the US military, leadership is stepping up to the plate to close this gap. In doing so the US armed forces are helping to pioneer the introduction of new technologies, fuels, programs, research and development and even behaviors that address the multiple dilemmas confronting the armed forces in meeting their operational energy needs and in doing so in bolstering national security.

The primary mission of the state, with the military being only one among other tools within a nation’s arsenal, is to protect state sovereignty and security through the exercise of a range of policy options and mechanisms in this case, where energy is concerned. In short the military-energy nexus can be seen as a sub-set of national security policy. Strangely enough sometimes the efforts of the state itself to bridge the gap between energy and national security do not help but hinder the bolstering of national security and in doing so defeat the priority mission they are responsible for.

The military angle

Operational energy is the key phrase that defines the US Department of Defense’s concept and doctrine towards how the military uses energy in its military operations. These include operations abroad as in Afghanistan and Iraq and at military installations at home and around the world. The DoD’s operational energy strategy states that, “The Department’s top mission priority today is to support current operations, and DoD Components should focus their operational energy investments accordingly. The Department also has a duty to ensure the future security of the Nation, making planning and force development an important operational energy focus, as well. The Department has an interest in long-term national energy security and should take steps to work with other Federal agencies and the private sector to diversify and secure fuel supplies. Finally, operational energy is an important tool for strengthening U.S. Alliances and partnerships with other nations, a key strategic goal for the Nation.” This strategy is rich in both substance and vision and is worthy of some, however brief, elaboration. First, the US Department of Defense is the single largest consumer of oil in the US government consuming over five billion gallons of fuel in US military operations and training in 2010. There is therefore a real cost associated with fueling US armed forces paid for by the taxpayer and borne by the military in heavy military planning, logistics and support operations to get fuel to the soldier. When failure occurs in these operations it is measured at a minimum by the killed and wounded in moving fuel around and into the field. In fiscal year 2007 in Iraq and Afghanistan, a total of more than 3,000 Army personnel and contractors were wounded or killed in action from attacks on fuel and water resupply convoys.

This strategy is to make forces more effective and efficient by lowering risks to warfighters, to be able to shift resources to other warfighting priorities and to save money for American taxpayers as outlined by the Deputy Secretary of Defense in May 2011. The DoD strategy outlines three ways of accomplishing these objectives: by reducing the demand for energy in military operations, by expanding and securing the supply of energy to military operations, and by building energy security in the future force.

Other nations, such as the United Kingdom, are looking at ways to improve their operational use of energy. As Andrew Chutter wrote for Defense News in July of this year, “The combination of rising oil prices, declining defense budgets, poor miles per gallon, reduction of emissions and the longer-term security of supply has the U.K. military starting to think green.” However, ‘going green’ is one thing while bridging the gap between energy and national security is another. While reducing a military force’s carbon footprint may be exemplary doing so should not come at the cost of reducing the warfighter’s effectiveness or in reducing the resiliency and sustainability of base operations supporting the solider.

One program presently being explored by military contractors in the US could conceivably achieve the objectives of making military bases more resilient and also reduce carbon dioxide emissions. This program involves exploring ways of providing off-grid renewable power generation at competitive prices while at the same time ensuring energy reliability in the event of natural disasters or terrorist and cyber –attacks. Army Secretary John McHugh formed the so-called “Energy Initiatives Task Force” as a one-stop shop for the development of cost-effective large-scale Army renewable energy projects. Again the objective being to reduce the military’s energy burden, reduce base operating costs, while increasing the surety of supply by introducing decentralized generation and distribution of power through micro-grids. Proponents of the program argue that excess energy generated beyond meeting military requirements could be sold back to community’s hosting military installations. There are of course hundreds if not thousands of other proposals on the table to address operational energy, including lighter materials in military hardware to smaller and lighter batteries used by soldiers in the field. However, armed forces around the world cannot and should not count on the US military alone for pioneering operational energy research, development, and deployment.

The real prize:NATO

Returning to the DoD’s description of operational energy, it is also “an important tool for strengthening U.S. Alliances and partnerships with other nations, a key strategic goal for the Nation.” Here the Trans-Atlantic Alliance, NATO, needs to be brought into the discussion. First, an assessment needs to be carried out to fully understand and appreciate the role of oil in Alliance operations. Putting into perspective the financial cost of oil use and delivery within an Alliance context, aside from the human cost, would underscore the heavy burden NATO members are paying for this dependency. Secondly, the delivered, let alone the fully burdened cost of fuels, is at best poorly understood if understood at all within an overall Alliance framework. This needs to be addressed. Such a baseline assessment would help gain an appreciation for the real value in achieving more fight with less fuel and in doing so in getting a real handle on understanding the Alliance’s demand for operational energy.

The next step should examine, modeled on the US Operational Energy Strategy, and identify the low hanging fruit where an improvement in the efficiency of military use of energy would be immediately most cost-effective in enhancing military effectiveness. The near term benefits of such an assessment should lead to a reduction in NATO military operational risks and costs. Second, such as assessment would avoid the thorny issues of talking about all energy commodities, particularly natural gas that is a politically charged issue among NATO members particularly where Russia is concerned. Third, given the assessment’s focus on improving the effectiveness of military performance is at the heart of NATO’s role as a collective security organization. Fourth, in improving effectiveness there is a heavy focus on increasing efficiencies in military operations which is politically and fiscally palatable to all nations. Finally, as military organizations look to multiple solutions for fuel and power alternatives they are already examining a broad range of innovative options ranging from testing biofuels in operational aircraft, deploying off-grid renewable energy generation for fixed and mobile operating bases, waste-to-fuel alternatives in naval vessels, and the application of a variety of energy saving technologies for the warfighter on the ground. For some NATO members renewable energy is of particular interest as it reflects a nation’s public consensus in lowering GHG emissions in this case by ‘greening’ the military. This leads to the economies of scale argument whereby instead of 27 NATO member nations pursuing similar, and often duplicative, research and development efforts in improving operational energy a more coordinated and collective response to doing more with less is relevant. In short, a concerted and focused NATO approach towards an operational energy strategy would provide a fundamental basis for future interoperability of selected optimal new technologies that meet the nations’ requirements for the warfighter in the future.

Government responsibility for bridging the energy-national security gap

Power generation, transmission and distribution networks have undergone significant change over the past two decades. Aside from technological advancements and an increase in power generating efficiencies it is the ownership structure of energy assets that has undergone the most fundamental change in many corners of the world. In many countries, ownership of energy assets remains with national governments whereas large scale privatization in power has occurred throughout much of the developed world. It is on this point that there is a disconnect between energy and national security because the regulatory policies governing the provision of power have in large part not kept pace with the privatization process and have lacked a national security perspective. Privately held electricity giants seek profit maximization for their shareholders but in doing so often lag in providing redundancy capacity, spare parts, in some cases necessary maintenance and investment in future power generating, transmission and distribution capacity. The European Union, the largest competitive market for electricity and gas in the world, has sought to correct this by passing significant legislation such as Directive 2005-89-EC with a view to insuring the functioning of the internal energy market through obligations to safeguard security of electricity supply and undertake significant investment in electricity networks. While these steps are laudable and necessary, the security of supply especially for natural gas suffered two major setbacks since 2006 as a result of Russia’s gas disputes with the Ukraine its most important transit state. Further, European gas dependence on Russian exports is increasing with policy implications far beyond energy itself.



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