For several decades, energy security has been defined and pursued in a multilateral world with relatively open markets and technology transfer, where energy relations have become increasingly commodified. But that world may soon disappear—energy relationships might become more political, open trade might give way to friction, and great powers might leverage energy relations or energy technology to gain an edge over each other.
For decades the United States has promoted a rules-based, multilateral order, supported by shared gains from free trade and deeper economic and political integration within and among countries. Energy security, the ability to secure affordable and reliable supplies of energy, has been widely recognized as common good promoted by this system. As the world’s largest consumer and importer of energy, it was squarely in the United States’ national interest to support this approach through domestic and international energy policy as well as foreign policy.
Today, this multilateral order is being challenged. The world is experiencing a new era of competition for greater geographic and economic power driven by the shifting center of gravity of the global economy, the realignment of relationships between and among countries, and rapid technological change. Energy is poised to play an important role in this upheaval and will be affected by these changes. The United States is no longer the largest consumer or importer of energy. Instead, it is now the largest producer of oil and natural gas and will soon be a net exporter of energy. The energy world also is changing rapidly, with renewable energy resources like solar and wind making up the fastest growing and largest source of new supplies and global imperatives like climate change challenging the role of status quo fuels. These changes have heralded a reexamination of the United States’ national interest regarding energy in this changing global system.
The United States has important decisions to make about its position in this new environment. Can energy play an influential role in achieving U.S. foreign policy objectives in various regions of renewed geopolitical competition? Is any country or group of countries poised to dominate a given energy market or fuel and might that negatively affect U.S. national security interests? How does this changing global dynamic in which countries are vying for greater geographic and economic spheres of influence affect our approach to global energy security? Will the energy sector become fundamentally more mercantilist, and will the United States be competitive if it does? Greater insight about each of these questions is a prerequisite to the formulation of U.S. foreign and energy policy.