In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Energy and International Security

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Energy Nationalism
  • Critics of Energy Nationalism
  • Energy Resources and Territorial Conflict
  • Energy and Grand Strategy
  • Energy Streams, Markets, and Conflict
  • Energy, the State, and War
  • Energy Companies and International Conflict
  • Energy Weapons and Statecraft
  • Pipeline Politics
  • Transnational Energy Infrastructure and Non-State Actor Threats
  • Energy Securitization and Conflict

International Relations Energy and International Security
Adam N. Stulberg
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0204


The changing political geography of global energy supply and demand animate contemporary scholarly and policy debates over the sources and consequences of international energy conflict. For some, these developments underscore the centrality of energy as both an instrument and driver of global diplomacy and warfare. For others, shifts and diversification in the global landscape augur well for reduced potency of energy weapons. This foists fundamental questions about the energy-international security nexus to the forefront of geopolitics. Under which conditions, for example, are scarcity of supply, import dependence, competition for unclaimed or contested hydrocarbon resources, or distinctions between state versus private ownership structures likely to provoke resource brinkmanship, pre-emptive diplomacy, and/or regional militarization, if not territorial war, between and among rival supplier and customer states? Why are some oil and gas pipelines more prone to excite cross-border political conflict and to be used as instruments of “hybrid warfare” than others? Alternatively, do price shocks, integrated markets, technological innovation, and/or institutional developments (at both the national and international levels) ease respective strategic vulnerabilities and moderate crisis diplomacy? Does strategic posturing over the above set of energy issues reflect pressures generated by asymmetries of power (market or otherwise). Although these questions are time-honored, systematic inquiry into the causal links between energy and international security remains embryonic. While the term “energy security” is ubiquitous and there is significant attention to unpacking the “resource curse” and other negative consequences of energy politics for national development and civil war, concerted study of the causal connections between energy (specifically oil and natural gas) and cross-border conflict and statecraft remains marred by conventional wisdom, limited datasets, loose definitions, and disciplinary divides. Over the past decade, however, there has been more attention devoted to explicating the variable propensity for a range of energy conflict behavior (e.g., hot wars, coercion, and attacks on infrastructure) waged between and among supplier-, transit-, and consumer-states; and assessing rival explanations from resource nationalism, interdependence, securitization, domestic politics, to social network theory. Scholars of international relations, in particular, offer more nuanced arguments about the energy-related incentives and norms that affect the mixed dynamics of international conflict. Contemporary research focuses on disaggregating causal links to conflict associated with different energy sectors and value-streams within each sector; fine-tuning and linking datasets; as well as integrating market power/dynamics, price, institutions, and technical details associated with respective infrastructures and firm-level behavior into models of strategic interaction. Mirroring the vibrant physical transformation underway across sectors, the study of energy and international security is emerging as an especially rich, rigorous, and policy-relevant subfield of scholarship. This annotated review, therefore, puts aside the conventional meaning of energy security—with focus on issues of energy availability, affordability, reliability, and sustainability—to address this burgeoning literature at the intersection of energy and international conflict.

General Overviews

While there are numerous studies of energy security and international politics, respectively, there have been only a few full-length scholarly texts within the field of international relations devoted to explaining international conflict or foreign policy as either the direct or indirect product of energy considerations. The selections in this section, therefore, represent recent books that explicitly address the nexus of energy and international conflict. This survey literature generally divides into two camps. First, there are books that trace the history of oil, politics, and diplomacy from its early uses in the 19th century to contemporary episodes of geopolitics (Yergin 2008 and Yergin 2012, Singer 2008, Cooper 2012). Second, there are edited volumes, such as Luft and Korin 2009, Pascual and Elkind 2010, and Kalicki and Goldwyn 2013, that identify key global issues of energy security, interdependence, and climate change; survey alternative arguments in country case studies linking them to international conflict and cooperation; and highlight respective policy implications. The chapters in Wenger, et al. 2009, for example, interpret such issues through the specific lens of producer-consumer relations.

  • Cooper, Andrew Scott. The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East. Reprint. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012.

    Using previously classified documents, the author uncovers the opaque history of trilateral oil diplomacy and intrigue surrounding the dramatic shift from US producer dominance to import dependency, collusion to break the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and transition from Iran to Saudi Arabia as Washington’s indispensable ally in the Persian Gulf.

  • Kalicki, Jan H., and David L. Goldwyn, eds. Energy and Security: Strategies for a World in Transition. 2d ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.

    Revised edition surveys top national security and foreign policy issues presented by world developments in oil and gas, including climate governance, strategic challenges and opportunities presented by the rise of unconventional and new frontiers for energy production, shifting geography of supply and demand, energy poverty, technological innovation and infrastructure modernization, and renewables.

  • Luft, Gal, and Anne Korin, eds. Energy Challenges for the 21st Century: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Security International, 2009.

    Offers comparative (regional and national) analyses and alternative policy perspectives on the nexus of energy and global security (including threats posed by states, terrorists, and pirates), as well as illuminates diverse approaches and strategic consequences associated with the pursuit of national energy security.

  • Pascual, Carlos, and Jonathan Elkind, eds. Energy Security: Economics, Politics, Strategies, and Implications. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2010.

    Explicates key policy dilemmas and defines debates over the geopolitical implications of energy interdependence and climate change.

  • Singer, Clifford E. Energy and International War: From Babylon to Baghdad. Hackensack, NJ: World Scientific Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1142/6736

    Surveys the different ways that energy has intersected with international conflict since antiquity, positing an evolutionary approach that suggests energy wars are on the decline for industrialized nations.

  • Wenger, Andreas, Robert W. Orttung, and Jeronim Perovic, eds. Energy and the Transformation of International Relations: Toward a New Producer-Consumer Framework. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    Reviews changing patterns of supply and demand among major regional states, and distills strategic implications in a framework for international cooperation.

  • Yergin, Daniel. The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power. New York: Free Press, 2008.

    Reissue edition. Definitive, award-winning history of world oil power politics and personalities from the 19th century through the Gulf War in 1991. Vignettes of statesmen and corporate titans, as well as accompanying videos are ideal for conveying the delicate interplay between politics, economics, culture, and diplomacy to undergraduates and non-specialists.

  • Yergin, Daniel. The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World. New York: Penguin, 2012.

    Sequel to the Prize that updates with inside stories on power politics among emerging suppliers and customers, as well as with discussion of the global debates and frustrations over climate change and renewables.

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