Geography Energy and Geopolitics
Waquar Ahmed, Reed Underwood, Travis Lee
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 June 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 June 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0136


Conventional scholarship on energy and geopolitics focuses on energy supply and energy security. Quantity and location of energy resource, more often than not, are viewed in geologically deterministic terms. A focus on geological limits makes competition for energy resources, particularly oil, a competition for the control of geographies in which it is located or through which it is transported to consumers. While such an approach remains important among experts in the field of geopolitics and policymakers, the political economic approach has gained tremendous currency among academics, particularly geographers. Drawing on a relational perspective, they argue that it is not energy resource geology that produces geopolitical contestations but rather the production of space in the process of competition that is crucial to producing the finiteness of energy resources, and in turn, geopolitical contestations. Thus, the notion of scarcity is related more to technology, markets, and diplomacy. In other words, scarcity or abundance of energy resource are not absolute concepts but rather relational and social constructs. Additionally, concerns about climate change have created another layer of complexity vis-à-vis energy security and has intensely politicized debates around low emission technology, particularly nuclear energy.

General Overviews

Literature on the general context of political contestation surrounding energy resources, particularly oil, has proliferated. This line of scholarship focuses on post–Cold War geopolitical reconfigurations to control the sites and networks that ensure the flow of energy in the global economy. Control of such reconfigurations, sites, and networks corresponds with established power hierarchies among nations. Destabilization of control over energy resources and their corresponding networks of flows have the potential of destabilizing established national hierarchies, which makes contestation among powerful nations over resources particularly fierce. Bradshaw 2009, Brzezinski 2012, Klare 2002, Klare 2008, and Klare 2012 are good places to start as they bring to light the challenges to Western, particularly US, domination in the context of energy politics and the rising power and wealth in the East. Hillebrand and Closson 2015 presents a set of economic and geopolitical scenarios that are of concern to policymakers and geopolitical strategists. Yergin 2008, Yergin 2012, and Bridge and Billon 2013 provide a broad overview of energy and geopolitics while focusing on decision-making processes and competing interests in the oil industry and examining the centrality of oil to geopolitical conflict in the 20th century. Finally, Goldthau 2013 and Kalicki and Goldwin 2013 delve into the realm of possibilities by focusing on policies and possible strategies.

  • Bradshaw, Michael J. “The Geopolitics of Global Energy Security.” Geography Compass 3.5 (2009): 1920–1937.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-8198.2009.00280.x

    Identifies the need to redefine and rethink “energy security” by setting present energy market and geopolitical dynamics in contrast to those of the 1970s.

  • Bridge, Gavin, and Philippe Le Billon. Oil. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2013.

    Focuses on the politicization of resource. It examines the capturing, marketing, and securing of oil resources. It also examines the problem of governance and the conundrum of depending on oil resources for development and concludes by pondering over the future of oil.

  • Brzezinski, Zbigniew. Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power. New York: Basic Books, 2012.

    President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor assesses the geopolitical prospects as Western dominance confronts growing power and wealth in the East; he reaffirms the importance of US policy in spite of domestic and security missteps.

  • Goldthau, Andreas, ed. The Handbook of Global Energy Policy. Handbooks of Global Policy. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.

    A multifaceted global policy perspective on energy. Global in focus with a discussion of regional impacts of international energy policies.

  • Hillebrand, Evan, and Stacy Closson. Energy, Economic Growth, and Geopolitical Futures: Eight Long-Range Scenarios. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2015.

    DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262028899.001.0001

    Imagines eight plausible scenarios around prices, growth, and geopolitics over the next forty years.

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

    A trove of insightful analyses of and cogent recommendations for global and regional energy policies.

  • Klare, Michael T. Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict. New York: Henry Holt, 2002.

    Security-oriented rethinking of the post–Cold War global order in relation to conflicts arising from consumer nations scrambling to secure essential resources, thus reigniting older territorial and religious clashes.

  • Klare, Michael T. Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy. New York: Metropolitan, 2008.

    Critical analysis of increased competition for scarce energy resources with particular emphasis on security ramifications of dependency and bilateral negotiations between developed and emerging powers.

  • Klare, Michael T. The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources. New York: Metropolitan, 2012.

    A continuation of Klare 2008 that examines ever more intense competition among nations to control remaining reserves of energy resources and concludes that changes to consumption patterns will be necessary to mitigating conflict over those resources.

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

    Traces the tumultuous history of the oil industry and the personalities who contributed to its development. Demonstrates through numerous case studies the centrality of oil to geopolitical conflict in the 20th century.

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

    Follows Yergin 2008 in placing energy at the center of geopolitical tensions but shifts the focus to decision-making processes and competing interests as the industry faces growing scrutiny and climate anxiety. Examines the potential for alternate energies and energy independence to reconfigure international relations.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.