Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has highlighted how vulnerable an import-dependent fossil fuel economy is to blackmail. Energy supply is not only a question of heating costs and electricity prices, it is also one of national and international security. Energy policy is security policy – and security policy is energy policy.
It is important that lessons are learned from this war. As a result of it, Germany is having to fundamentally restructure its energy policy. This restructuring is taking place in a changed geopolitical and geo-economic reality. The climate crisis plays a central role in this – it is according to NATO the biggest “multiplier of security risks” worldwide – and requires a fundamental change in economic and energy systems. What’s more, the West’s political and economic decoupling from Moscow has pushed Russia and other countries, especially in the Middle East, towards China. This has brought the struggle for spheres of influence between China and the West, which represents a competition between democratic forms of government and authoritarian systems, to the fore.
In this situation, renewable energies are the way forward. We need their expansion as quickly as possible also for reasons of security. Security risks can be managed more easily with renewable energies compared to oil and gas as a despot cannot simply switch off the wind and sun.
The guiding star of future energy policy should be the strategic goal of achieving the greatest possible degree of energy sovereignty. This requires constantly taking an overall view of economic, energy policy and security policy interests. It is already clear that economics and security do not contradict each other when it comes to renewable energies as greater security of supply also means lower costs in the medium term.
An energy policy oriented towards energy sovereignty also makes it possible to navigate the security risks that arise with renewable energies. China is the superpower not only of the old but also of the new energy world. It dominates as the country of origin of many critical materials and technologies that are required along the renewable energy value chain. Germany can proactively strengthen its resilience by pursuing the greatest possible diversification, targeted industrial policy, and smart strategic partnerships with EU and G7 countries, but also with emerging economies and non-members.
In addition to the international framework of action, Germany can also increase its energy sovereignty at the national level of security policy. The German armed forces – a central security actor and an important state energy consumer – plays a key role here.
The images of stalled Russian military convoys in Ukraine this year have made it clear that vulnerabilities in energy supply are also military vulnerabilities. Armed forces rely on civilian energy supply structures that are currently undergoing irreversible changes as part of efforts to meet climate targets. How are the German armed forces to fulfil their defence mission in the future if fossil fuels increasingly become stranded assets in the economy and in civil society? The German armed forces should therefore actively participate in shaping the energy transition. In view of the long procurement and utilisation periods of military systems, they should consider alternative propulsion systems at an early stage in order to avoid future operational disadvantages.
Germany’s energy sovereignty now requires a security policy design to avoid old mistakes and seize new opportunities.
Stefan Bayer is Head of Research and Member of the Extended Board of the German Institute for Defence and Strategic Studies (GIDS).
Guntram Wolff is the Director and CEO of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP).
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.