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…National security is directly linked to energy security


THIS week, I have decided to revisit once again the topic of Energy Diplomacy. This topic is more often than not under played and often diluted within the broad Economic Diplomacy. Yet, it has emerged as a major stand-alone diplomatic effort within broad international relations. 

If mishandled, it can lead to perilous and embarrassing circumstances. This is because oil and gas including its transnational transportation system is intrinsically rooted in very high-level political and commercial undertones. 

To this end, understanding the primary, secondary and tertiary ecosystems and the forces which shape the energy sector is crucial to sustainable energy security.

Although, the topic of Energy Diplomacy is not known to many people, it has been part and parcel of our existence and gained more prominence in the last 120 years. National security is directly linked to energy security. It is virtually impossible to run a modern economy without energy. 

The best way to appreciate the significance of something is to imagine living life without it. Imagine living life without fuel and without electricity and what could happen. It would be a catastrophe. 

This is why during the Great war, one military general told his political leader that he desperately needed fuel otherwise the war would be lost and indeed, that country lost the war. 

The advent of the 20th century was the early era of Energy Diplomacy, which was mainly shaped by transnational oil companies and industry gladiators. Such diplomacy was dominated by the transnational oil companies which produced and distributed fossil fuel, rather than sovereign governments. 

With advancement of civilisation, energy issues exponentially increased in importance. Oil commodity ignited massive public interest and soon became a hot national security issue. 

Therefore, Governments increased support to their transnational oil companies and sooner than later, oil politics were birthed at national, regional and global pedestal to shape the control of “black gold” as oil is often called. 

From that time, international oil and gas politics have gyrated into massive complexities. Because of this, Energy Diplomacy has gained significant momentum as a tool for managing the space and thus guarantee national energy security. 

The oil shocks in the aftermath of World War II were the ones which tremendously contributed to the growth of security concerns and diplomatic efforts in the energy space. 

The most important developments were the Suez Crisis of 1956-1957 and the OPEC oil embargo of 1973–1974. 

Entire economies were ruined and brought to their knees thereby escalating energy issues as top security issues. Other disturbances which galvanised Energy Diplomacy implications included:


1)​The Iranian revolution of 1979


2)​The Iran-Iraq War of 1980


3)​The first Persian Gulf War in 1990–1991


4)​The 2003 Iraq invasion


5)​ Russian Ukrainian gas dispute in 2009


Because of perilous consequences and sensitivities, oil and gas is intrinsically rooted in very high level political undertones at national, regional and global level and has shaped our world from the time of small scale primitive extraction of oil in the Mesopotamia corridor to modern day extraction. 

With advancement of civilisation over the last 150 years, country specific realisation of the gigantic need to become energy secure has led to promulgation and relentless refinement of local and international relations policies. 

Energy Diplomacy is not just concerned with availability and sufficient access to the commodity itself but covers the transportation systems and corridors such as international oil and gas pipelines all over the world. 

Some of these pipelines are a matter of life and death not just for exporting countries but also for the importing countries to the point that any attempt to shift alliances could lead to unprecedented geopolitical consequences. 

To this end, some markets are so captured that they cannot come out of entrapment because all possible alternative routes have also been captured. 

Energy Diplomacy extends to corridors which are extensively used for transportation of energy. These corridors are servitude because they pass through other countries, international waters and water bodies controlled by other countries.

If the country with arbitrage cuts the relations off and you have no alternative, you are as good as dead – national security is imperiled. 

This is why some projects are developed jointly with other countries to promote joint ownership and thus entrench prospects of harmonious co-existence.

For a country which does not produce its own oil, the stakes for Energy Diplomacy can be very high especially in situations where the country depends on foreign transport systems and foreign corridors (land and water bodies) for energy security requirements. 

You simply cannot do without the support of neighbouring countries. Even in cases, where a country discovered its own oil and gas, it would take serious international relations to get that oil and gas into the global market because of political and commercial interests from a myriad of interested parties. 

There are some countries where massive oil and gas reserves have been discovered but remain unexploited because of complexities which only Energy Diplomacy can solve. 

Oil passages are still a global security concern as 40 percent of all oil transits through four conduits of the straits of Hormuz, Malacca, Rab-el-Mandeb and the Suez Canal. 

The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects that these quantities will rise from 40 percent to 60 percent by 2030. It is believed in security circles that any longer interruption could cause large-scale economic meltdown. 

Perhaps, this is why opening East to West and North to South corridors is a serious diplomatic undertaking as depending on one axis for the delivery of a commodity as crucial as blood is a disturbing imperfection. 

Energy Diplomacy is an integral part of international relations. To guarantee energy security, Energy Diplomacy must be at the fore of international relations.

It is impossible to get the best energy deals in the absence of adequate and well-crafted Energy Diplomacy. 

From the Mesopotamian oil controversies more than a hundred years ago, oil politics have become extremely complex such that it is unfathomable to exist without a strong strategy rooted in Energy Diplomacy. 

Investing in Energy Diplomacy is crucial to the survival of a national economy. National security is directly linked to energy security. To this end, deliberate and well calibrated polices targeted at accentuating energy security can only be birthed and give dividends after adequately investing in Energy Diplomatic discourse. 


*Johnstone Chikwanda is an energy expert and a Fellow of the Engineering Institute of Zambia, a PhD candidate at Johnson University, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA, Email:

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