Tag Archives: EU

Green is the New Black: Making a Gas Cartel

As the disastrous civil war in Syria stretches into its sixth year, the conflict is beginning to take shape as a struggle for influence between Russia and the United States and their respective proxies. The Russian interest in Syria, initially limited to protecting the naval base in Tartus and keeping Bashar al-Assad in power, is now widely believed to have a regional and global power dynamic. Russia controls 26% of proven global natural gas reserves and has long been frustrated by its inability to export to customers other than the European Union (EU) and NATO member states. Not only does this geographic reality leave Russia dependent upon a single block of customers that has access to other suppliers, but it limits Moscow’s ability to influence politics with its overwhelming market share. In late 2015 however, the Russian military mission in Syria began to present other opportunities to exploit the politics and the pipelines that crisscross that war-torn region, thus giving birth to the prospect of a new natural gas cartel.

The global energy market is changing. Traditional, fossil-based energy supplies like coal and oil are becoming increasingly expensive to find and extract. Political turmoil in the Middle East coupled with popular pressure to address climate change, make natural gas a more attractive option for future energy needs, particularly in Europe. With average global gas consumption likely to increase approximately 1.6% annually until 2040, Europe needs a strategy to secure supplies from beyond the Russian monopoly. This is not a minor concern in Brussels. Moscow’s 2014 closure of gas pipelines into Ukraine highlighted the linkage of Europe’s energy future to Russia’s political ambitions, yet EU sanctions against the Russian oil and gas industry are seen as a delayed and ineffective western response. Europe, like Russia, now has its eye on massive natural gas reserves in the Middle East.

A Layered Strategy

The war in Syria is a catalyst for strategic cooperation between Russia and Iran. By bringing together the combined weight of their massive natural gas reserves, Moscow and Tehran would be able to influence Europe in powerful ways. If they bring Qatar’s reserves into the deal they could create an OPEC-like gas cartel with control of 60% of the world’s reserves; a frightening degree of dominance over the increasingly strategic commodity. However, there are many geographic and political obstacles to this ambition, and it is in these spaces the Russian strategy is taking shape.

Russia Natural Gas
Together, Russia, Iran, and Qatar possess more natural gas reserves than the rest of the world combined. Photo credit: http://www.energybc.ca/naturalgas.html

Distribution of Iranian reserves to Europe depends on the outcome of conflicts in Syria and Iraq and on the political independence of Kurdistan. These countries contain much of the existing regional natural gas pipeline transmission capacity. Stabilization of those conflicts presents an opportunity for positive Russian engagement with Turkey and forms the basis for a recent trilateral accord signed in Kazakhstan between Russia, Turkey, and Iran aimed at ending the Syrian civil war; an agreement made possible by an expansion of the Russian military mission there. Turkey, with an intense interest in the political future of Kurdistan, plays a unique role by controlling access to many of the natural gas pipelines aimed at Europe. More importantly perhaps, Turkey is the southernmost outpost of NATO and hosts the important US military base at Incirlik.

The notable absence of the EU, the US, and the United Nations from the Kazakhstan talks reflects an important aspect of Russia’s strategy: limiting western—particularly US—influence in the region. Though Iran is an enthusiastic and powerful ally in this endeavor, strategy alone is not enough as the US has some very real ties to the region. American bases in Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar form a defensive network that bolsters the political stability of many of Iran’s rivals; not the least of which are Israel and Saudi Arabia. As mentioned, Turkey’s own security is still based largely on NATO, and most of the Gulf Emirates are completely dependent on American hard power for their defense. Given robust and longstanding support for this political-military structure in Washington, it is not surprising that Russia and Iran are exacerbating tensions between all of America’s allies in the region, particularly Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Russia and Iran are the unseen beneficiaries of fractured relations between the two important US allies. Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival, Iran, is hardly an ally of Qatar, though enduring cultural links exist between the two states that can form a basis for renewed affinity. There is evidence Russia is encouraging an economic tie as well through business deals between Rosneft, the integrated oil company controlled by Moscow, and the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA). It is here, where Russian, Iranian, and Qatari interests converge, that the possibility of a joint pipeline project begins to make sense.

Russia Gas Cartel
The eventual route from the Persian Gulf South Pars/North Dome gas field (red region, bottom right) to Turkey is of strategic importance in the Middle East. Photo credit: https://www.loc.gov/resource/g7421h.ct002142/ (pipeline routes added by Chris Golightly)

Overland transport of gas reserves from Qatar’s North Dome gas field will converge at the existing terminal in Ceyhan, Turkey, but could take several different paths. While Russia prefers a pipeline (IGAT-IX, above in black) along the Iran-Iraq border, the US backs a route that transits Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and possibly Israel and Syria. Whatever the eventual route, stability in Syria is vital for security of the entire coastal strip. Achievement of the Russian design depends upon three key elements: politically isolating the United States, fracturing its allies, and stabilizing the Syrian conflict on terms that are favorable to the Kremlin.

Though Russia clearly hopes to position itself as the lynchpin in the arrangement, neither Moscow nor Tehran possess the technology required to construct IGAT-IX or the high-end LNG export facilities required at its terminus. For that they require easing of western sanctions that currently prohibit US or European oil companies such as Exxon-Mobil from sharing technology. The framework for this collaboration already exists. In August 2011, Russian President Putin, and the Executive Chairman of Rosneft, Igor Sechin, met Rex Tillerson in Sochi when he was still CEO of Exxon-Mobil. There, the three signed co-operation agreements for ten joint ventures, including drilling projects in the Russian Arctic, exploration in the Black Sea, a joint Arctic research center, and substantial options for Rosneft to invest in projects in the Gulf of Mexico and Texas. Consequently between 2011 and 2013, Exxon-Mobil became the partner of choice for Rosneft and now puts Russia and Iran high on the priority list for exploration. The reciprocal cooperation and the elevation of Tillerson to Secretary of State increases the expectation that sanctions will eventually be lifted, or at least not increased. Already, the bill for increased sanctions against Russia, which includes prohibitions against certain dealings with its oil and gas industry, is hung up in the House of Representatives due in no small part to efforts by the US oil lobby.

The Cost of Inaction

The prospect of Russia and Iran controlling 60% of the world’s proven natural gas reserves aims right at the heart of European security. Addressing it will require energy-specific strategies that not only reduce demand through the use of renewable sources, but also political solutions that guarantee supply by stabilizing the Middle East. With European unity hamstrung by homegrown nationalist movements, and the United States distracted by an endless series of domestic political dramas, it is difficult for either to formulate such strategies for the long-term. While the West limits its efforts in the Middle East to defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Russia and Iran are playing a much broader game that will ultimately be more effective.

The potential for a tightening of gas supply options is a sober call for Europe to overcome domestic distractions and concentrate on a comprehensive energy security strategy; one that incorporates development and commercialization of a suite of renewable energy technologies. This should include solar and offshore wind, advances in nuclear fusion, offshore methane gas exploration, and clean, dry fracking. Until Europe reduces its reliance on Russian gas and takes measures to ensure political stability in the Middle East, there will be a risk of unwanted influence from Moscow and continued uncertainty.


Chris Golightly is an Independent Consulting Engineer specializing in offshore renewable energy, based in Brussels. Prior to 2010 he worked in the Oil & Gas industry.

Onward and Upward: Looking Back on 2016

Here at The Affiliate Network, wrapping up 2016 means looking back on the year to examine the issues that mattered most to the world, keeping in mind our goal to inform our readers, foster debate about the substance of global issues, and promote the expertise of our Affiliates.

With such a tumultuous year, our Affiliates had plenty to discuss about the year’s events. We published 13 pieces by contributors from around the world, each Affiliate lending their own unique perspective on issues in international policy, security, and diplomacy.

Human Security vs. National Security

The conflicts of 2016 continue to highlight the human cost of war and underscore the increasingly uncomfortable reality that some governments prioritize national security over the safety and wellbeing of their constituents. The fight against Daesh is a good example, leaving a trail of civilian victims in its wake and begging the question how the rest of the world can help the helpless in this terrible conflict. The atrocities in Syria and Iraq – as well as the resultant flight of tens of thousands of refugees to Western Europe – will be increasingly difficult to ignore.

Unfortunately, discussions of immigration in Europe often segue into concerns over terrorism. The year was marked by a rise in terror attacks across the globe, particularly in Europe. The Brussels Airport bombing in particular represented a decision point for the western world in the fight against terror. Stemming from this event and growing questions of interregional border security, Europe grapples with the realities of an increasingly complex security situation. Rein Westra underscores the importance of adapting to this circumstance in Securing Trade and Transportation.

As Navisio Global’s CEO, Lino Miani, highlights in a series of articles on the fight against Daesh, humanitarian concerns and terrorism in Europe are only one aspect of the challenges in the Middle East. In Making Mosul Great Again and The Gate, Lino describes the unfathomable strategic importance of two individual cities in Syria and Iraq as Russia, Turkey, the United States, Iran, and NATO wage what some believe is a proxy struggle for influence in the Middle East.

Nationalism & Populism in 2016

The presidential election in the United States captured attention the world over, but it was not the only political transition in the news. In Let’s Change, Jon Nielsen wrote about the end of the Kirchners and Peronism in Argentina. Though Argentina may be ending its tradition of power transfer from husband to widow, Mugabe’s Heart explores how long-time president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, may be following the same playbook as the Kirchners.

http://uk.businessinsider.com/eu-referendum-poll-brexit-beckons-as-97-of-britons-think-david-cameron-cant-get-a-deal-2015-5
Former British Prime Minister David Cameron stepped down as a result of a failed campaign to keep the United Kingdom in the EU

Elections were not the only political events captivating audiences in 2016. In the United Kingdom, the referendum to leave the European Union, also known as “Brexit”, dominated headlines and may have inspired similar movements throughout Europe. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi resigned after Italians rejected a constitutional change to the legislative balance of power, resulting in increased instability within the broader Eurozone. Elsewhere, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey narrowly avoided falling victim to his country’s latest military coup and has since consolidated power through purges and repression. President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil was impeached on corruption charges and President Nicholas Maduro of Venezuela is leading the resource-rich Bolivarian state into poverty and despair as he clings to power.

A Fractured Future?

The coming year will put to work the lofty campaign promises of those who won elections in the past year and focus our attention on additional ones the world over. France, Germany, Chile, South Korea and India will all hold presidential elections in 2017. Many of our readers are alarmed that trends of nationalism and populism will shape the character of the EU and the western world for the next several years but some of our Affiliates offer voices of calm in the storm. Portuguese diplomat and former United Nations Secretary General’s Special Representative, Victor Angelo, offers a contrarian perspective into the implications of the historic Brexit referendum in The Sky is not Falling on the European Union. Victor Perez-Sañudo makes a similar case from a law enforcement perspective in With or Without the EU. Nick Avila then follows up with an intelligent debrief into what Brexit truly means for the European Union and the European identity in The Spark to Redefine “Europe”.

Brexit aside, multilateral institutions continue to play an important role in international relations and security. Jon Nielsen identified important implications to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in A New Weapon in the South Atlantic. On the Pacific side of the world, overlapping claims to the South China Sea caused intermittent escalation of tensions. Lino Miani examines the complex dynamic between ASEAN and China using lessons from the conflict in Ukraine in Beyond Crimea.

The concept of international cooperation is reliant on a level of shared values and understanding within the international system but fear and distrust seem to be on the rise and misunderstandings abound. The east-west cultural divide rests at the foundation of many security issues that predominate. In Tangled Conflict, Caleb Ling points out there are still many misconceptions about unrest and conflict in the Kingdom and Mike Kendall highlights the often dangerous rhetoric used to describe China’s rise to power in Social Media’s Chinese Boogeyman.

The Affiliate Network would like to wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday, and we look forward to providing you the same quality of analysis in 2017 that we did in 2016. To our readers: a sincere “thank you” for all of your likes, shares and comments. The Affiliate Network team hope that like us, your holiday will be rich with constructive policy discussion at the family dinner table.


Patrick Parrish

Patrick Parrish is the Blogmaster of The Affiliate Network.  He is a U.S. Air Force Officer and Olmsted Scholar currently serving in Santiago, Chile.

The Spark to Redefine “Europe”

The results of today’s referendum in the United Kingdom present an unprecedented situation for a strained European Union. For the first time in its history, a member state voted to leave the Union. In an organization that grew exponentially, the exit of a powerful contributor will force remaining nations to make some tough choices. The UK will also need to make some hard decisions about how to move forward outside of “Europe”. Needless to say, the Brexit will not be an easy process for anyone.

The UK has historically played balancing role on the continent, but this referendum represents a decisive departure from Britain’s neighbors and a vote of no-confidence in the European Union. Eurosceptic voters of the UK have many reasons to want to sever ties with Brussels: the aftermath of the economic dysfunction made manifest by the near-miss of the Grexit, the inconsistent and frantic response to the refugee crisis, and the resurgence of a bold and unpredictable Russia. British voters, however narrowly, ultimately lost faith with the European Project.

In choosing to leave the union, the UK has lost its privileged position as one of the leaders of a modern, unified Europe. Great Britain had a unique position in the Union as one of the only states with a balance of political, economic, and military might – a position it built over the decades through active diplomatic and economic engagement in continental affairs. It was arguably the most independent of EU members, enjoying many of the benefits of Union membership without the risks of the Euro, or the borderless society of the Schengen Agreement. Britain’s options for influencing the continent are now weakened, and the benefits of Union membership lost –a unilateral disarmament of what was once a formidable diplomatic and economic arsenal.

Centrifugal Force

Europe had a lot to lose from a British exit. Strong and independent Britain played a stabilizing role: ensuring no single country –namely France or Germany– could push a unilateral direction upon the EU. It was a role only the UK could play. Italy and Spain are prone to economic and political instability; the Low Countries and Scandinavia, though economically formidable, do not have the clout or muscle needed to balance their larger neighbors; and the Višegrad economies of Eastern Europe are too new, many with elected governments more interested in moving away from Europe than towards it. Germany is the de facto leader of the EU, which is a source of great discord among the smaller, more economically-vulnerable nations that do not appreciate Chancellor Merkel’s heavy-handed style or the historical aftertaste of German leadership.

Though division within the EU is not new, the departure of its great offshore stabilizer starts the political centrifuge spinning. Right-wing leaders in France, and the Netherlands are already demanding independence referendums of their own. Spain’s call for dual-sovereignty of Gibraltar is a sign that some disputes between the UK and other EU member states may reemerge after being held dormant by a spirit of intra-Union cooperation. In the immediate aftermath of the vote, prominent leaders in many of the EU’s major nations called for their nations to follow Britain’s lead.

Not surprisingly, independent-minded regions within European nation-states will also ride the winds of change to clamor more loudly for their independence. In a bizarre twist, Scotland may have voted to remain in the EU, but may not want to stay in a non-EU Britain. No doubt Basques and Catalans in Spain will watch closely if a second independence referendum takes place in Scotland, and aspiring EU members in the Balkans are unlikely to tolerate a long and painful application process while the more developed countries are voting to leave.

The Brexit may well be the spark that brings about the dissolution of the European Union. Its erosion and potential breakup would deprive its member states of a useful venue for cooperation to solve common problems; an international political situation closer to 1914 than 2016. At a time when transnational issues are more relevant than national ones, it is not at all clear why European leaders are divesting themselves of international tools to deal with them. Europe should take a moment to reflect on its fractured past.

Opportunity in Discord

As noted European diplomat, Victor Angelo recently predicted: Europe will survive Brexit. What is not clear is whether the EU or the UK will survive their divorce intact. Perhaps the Union grew too quickly, haphazardly attempting to unify the continent in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, pushing “Europe’s” borders ever outward. In this manner, Brussels hardwired weaknesses into the future unity of the European Union.

But, as I’ve said before, there is opportunity in crisis. Challenges can break a weak union or strengthen a strong one. Perhaps this is the kind of shock Europe needs to wake up and implement further democratization and a unified fiscal policy towards a federal union. Any other course could doom the entire project to failure, and erase all the good Europeans have built, together.

Nick Avila Associate Blogmaster, Navisio Global. Brexit.LT Nick Avila is a U.S. Naval Officer and Olmsted Scholar in Belgrade, Serbia. He received his B.A. in History with a focus on American Diplomacy from Amherst College in 2008. He is an MH-60S helicopter pilot by trade and has military experience from two deployments in the western Pacific to include operations in Guam, Japan, and Australia. The views expressed here are his own and not those of the US Navy or the George and Carol Olmsted Foundation.