Energy, Security and Geopolitics: Could Someone Please Tell Us What We Mean? Co-presented paper (with Jose Marroquin), to the International Association of Energy Economists Asian Regional Conference, Perth, Australia, November 5-7, 2008
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‘Energy Security’ could be the most oft-used term in our current political-economic lexicon, but it could also be the most poorly defined. Frequently appearing in close company with another notorious vagary – geopolitics – energy security has come to mean all things at once, a conceptual pathology that usually leads terms to mean very little at all. This paper seeks to remedy this problem, and makes three main points. First, a reinvention of the term has come about because the traditional, economistic view of energy security has had a less articulate, underdeveloped ‘geopolitical’ view forced upon it. The latter view is less informed because its field of origin – International Relations – has paid surprisingly little attention to the relationship between the energy trade and international politics, and its treatment of this relationship is still in its very early stages. Second, in the absence of a more developed integration of the ecomomistic and the geopolitical treatments of energy security, careless use of the term risks the development of heavy-handed policies that could, at best, impede mutal confidence-building measures and, at worst, undermine those aspects of cooperation long visible in international energy relations. Third, an appeal is made for an effort to develop an agreed-upon definition of energy security. The version advocated here would see a two-tiered approach taken in which national or regional energy ‘recipes’ remain diverse, and in which international concerns are integrated. In other words, energy security is re-cast to acknowledge the particular interests of individual states, but also the general interests of the international community.