The Tragedy of Flight MH17 and the Need for a Sound Transatlantic Energy Strategy
GMF is pleased to announce that Sebastian Schwark received an honorable mention in the GMF Blog Competition on Transatlantic Cooperation. As I write, thousands of Dutch line the streets to express their grief for the victims of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. The crisis in Ukraine reminds us of the very real possibility of war in Europe, and the EU’s energy dependence on Russia has emerged as the greatest stumbling block to a political solution. How can the West appropriately respond to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and continued support for militants in Eastern Ukraine, if, as The Economist reported in April, a quarter of the gas the EU consumes comes from Russia, and some Eastern member states are entirely dependent on Russian gas? Sure enough, in March 2014, Handelsblatt, the voice of German industry, warned that possible sanctions would be an “attack on our prosperity.” Talking heads advise complacency: Russia has never cut off Western gas supplies and sanctions won’t impress Putin anyway, so why disrupt the status quo? My generation has enjoyed the benefits of a peaceful and increasingly united continent, traveling widely, and living without the fears that haunted previous generations. Meanwhile, the Russian gas monopoly hired senior East German bureaucrats and continued delivering gas, establishing itself as the most important supply source for the EU in the 1990’s. We didn’t pay attention, and wouldn’t have cared much anyway. As children of our time, we embraced an eco-conscious vision and saw the geopolitics of energy as a relic of the Cold War. Concern about Europe’s energy dependence on Russia first struck me when I was a GMF APSA Congressional fellow, working in the U.S. Senate 2005-2006. Russia cut off Ukrainian gas supplies on January 1, 2006, but the EU failed fully to grasp the strategic implications. As the EU faltered in its response, I watched America’s policy community weigh the long-term implications. Ironically, American policy makers seemed to care more about the foundations of liberty in Europe than the Europeans. Until now, however, many in the U.S. have viewed the geopolitics of energy as a zero-sum-game and focused narrowly on hydrocarbons replacing Russian gas. Today, a global energy transition is underway. Driven by climate change and the increasing competitiveness of renewables, both sides of the Atlantic are in a process of decarbonization. Still, pointing to the U.S. shale gas revolution, many offer U.S. LNG exports as a solution to European energy security. As a resource poor continent, however, the key to European energy independence lies in the substitution of imported fuels. Renewables can deliver this result, Germany’s Energiewende shows. As a technology leader in renewables, the United States needs to look beyond the short-term gains of shale exports and support a full scale European renewables transition. This will enable us not only to realize the green dream of my generation, but is the surest way to achieve transatlantic energy security. Let the grief and outrage we share with the Dutch at the loss of innocent lives yield one positive result: the end of complacency and a sound transatlantic energy strategy. Sebastian Schwark, a 2005-2006 ASPA Congressional Fellow, is a Vice President at Hill + Knowlton Strategies.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.