In the early 2000s, the European Union commissioned a war game from my political risk firm to look at whether its then-current distribution of energy imports made strategic sense. The “Big Three” for European natural gas production were then Russia, Algeria and Norway, in decreasing order of political risk.
Unsurprisingly, the outcome of the game led to the conclusion that overreliance on Moscow for oil and natural gas imports was strategically fraught with peril, since dependence on the Kremlin for energy would bleed into geostrategic considerations. Simply put, it is hard to be cross with people who are heating your homes. Instead, the game’s outcome led to recommendations for Europe to import more liquified natural gas (LNG) from the United States and Qatar, two countries from whom Europe was unlikely to receive any calamitous geostrategic surprises, as opposed to Russian piped gas. Obviously, the recommendations were ignored and Europe sleepwalked into its present calamitous situation.
Worse, during the sleepy end-days of Angela Merkel’s premiership in Germany, Berlin actually advocated strongly for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would have left the most important economy in Europe utterly dependent on Russian natural gas. To his detriment, President Biden was perfectly prepared to go along with this daft policy in order to avoid a fuss — that is, until Russia declared war on Ukraine.
Amid all the noise of the 24-hour news cycle about the war, it is vitally important to take a longer view of what is going on in terms of energy geopolitics. Recently, I had such a mountaintop view while reading Alexander Mirchev’s “The Prologue: The Alternative Energy Megatrend in the Age of Great Power Competition.” Do not let his sometimes-verbose writing get in the way; Mirchev paints a panoramic picture of the coming “brave new world” in which energy, defense and economics will be integrated more than ever.
As Henry Kissinger put it in assessing Mirchev’s work, the book offers a “sweeping exploration of the changing energy landscape that looks far into the future.” This is what is needed as Europe scrambles to wean itself from Russian energy after decades of dependence. Mirchev puts the energy question in larger terms, accepting that the race to develop alternative energy supplies is so advanced that it will amount to a megatrend in our new era, and this new disruption — much as happened with the internet — will impact energy independence issues, environmental security and defense and geopolitical considerations.
Rather than look at all these aspects in the usual fruit-fly manner, dutifully listing them as if a laundry list, Mirchev instead uses this coming megatrend as a guide to assess the geopolitical landscape. He points out that almost every area of public policy will be securitized, because of their interconnections and the West’s increasingly fierce competition with the emerging Sino-Russia axis.
Germany’s example is merely a glaring case in point, as a decades-old energy policy that was unconcerned with security of supply has come back to bite Berlin, and hard. It is simply impossible in this case — as should have been clear — to separate energy policy from foreign policy. Only now, with Germany’s green energy minister, Robert Habeck, at the helm, has Mirchev’s salient point been taken to heart.
In my experience, this holistic analytical approach is typically lacking among many decision-makers, who are seemingly unaware that energy, macro-economic, technological and strategic factors are all merely dots in the pointillist painting. Only by taking a step back and connecting the dots can we make sense of the whole, with understanding and good policy to follow.
My only real criticism of Mirchev’s work is also, perhaps, its strength: In laying out a roadmap for the world ahead, this book sometimes leaves one hungry for specifics, for more compass points to fill in our map. But in a foreign policy world where there is far too little ambition, this criticism amounts to a sort of back-handed compliment.
I wish the Germans had had a chance to read Mirchev’s work years ago. A good deal of the present crisis in European energy and strategic policy could have been averted. However, it is never too late to learn and Mirchev has given the Europeans, and the rest of us, much food for thought.