Running on Empty: Emerging Challenges in Global Energy Security

Article excerpt

The last time energy security dominated the world stage was during the energy crises of the 1970s and early 1980s when events in the Middle East and belligerent Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) policy conspired to drive oil prices to their highest levels ever, and, by some accounts, derailed the economic growth of the industrialized world in the process. Today, six years after the liberation of Kuwait, oil flows unimpeded. A strong US presence in the Persian Gulf, the containment of Iran, Iraq, and Libya, and close ties between oil-consuming nations and oil producers have contributed to the widespread perception that the world's energy supply is, indeed, secure. Oil prices are steady and low, and the issue of energy security has receded from the public arena.

The apparent stability of world energy markets, however, is deceptive. There is growing concern among policymakers and industry analysts that the status quo is unsustainable. Every day, the percentage of proven energy reserves located in the Middle East rises, and world energy demand, especially in Asia, continues to burgeon. OPEC now finds itself in a position similar to the one it held in the 1970s, and the economic gains from inflating prices may prove too great for the cartel to resist. In Asia, energy security considerations are helping to spur a new naval arms race, and the potential for regional conflict over the control of energy sea-lanes or of undersea oil reserves remains very real. The current reliance on fossil fuels poses serious environmental problems as well, problems which will only worsen as developing countries continue to industrialize.

This issue of the Harvard International Review goes beyond traditional definitions of energy security to explore the changing security implications of global consumption and supply patterns. …