Antonia Colibășanu: How the Energy World of Tomorrow Reshapes Geopolitics

How the Energy World of Tomorrow Reshapes Geopolitics

by Antonia Colibășanu

To understand geopolitics we need to understand power, which in turn derives from the perception of national wealth. The way nation-states use their wealth to defend their interests helps to shape our perception of their place and their role in the world. Soil resources are among the most important elements of wealth. But it is the human being who evaluates those elements — as such, the human resource is superior to them. (…)

After the end of the Cold War, optimism for a better world grew. Free trade grew into something more than just a symbol that won the war — it became the preferred system to increase national wealth. It was facilitated by digitalization, which was supported, in turn, by consumers’ desire to transcend borders, looking for diminishing cultural differences. We all had the feeling, in the 1990s, that things could only get better. This feeling held despite the difficulties Russia and other states formerly in the Soviet orbit had in transitioning toward the new system. The transformative process was animated by faith. (…)

The world is changing again. If in 2001 business realized that the United States does not control the world anymore, since 2007 it has been apparent that American society has begun to change. The same thing has happened in Europe. European society has slowly started responding to the negative effects of globalization, similar to the Americans. Differing geographical and social contexts mean that these responses have differing influences on the energy sector. (…)

The Energy Union started as a solution to Europe’s energy dependence on Russia — and more generally, as a response to the effects of long-term socio-economic problems. The project is currently suspended somewhere between the economic mathematics and political discussions. Energy infrastructure projects are not necessarily the result of political will at the EU level, but serve the national interests of member states. The classic example, in this sense, is the Nord Stream II project. Socio-political problems of different member states supported by different economic realities have resulted in the formation at the EU level of regional interest groups: the states of Eastern Europe vs those of Western Europe, founding states vs newcomer states, so-called core states vs peripheral states, and so on. (…)

In order to establish effective strategies in the new global context, we must understand the new attributes of the population. That’s what defines the market. So who is the population? And what does it look like? Demographics must be taken into account in order to understand consumption patterns. One behaves in a certain way at 20 years old, otherwise at 40 and differently at 70. If the majority of a state’s population is old, we can make a general geopolitical comment on the ways in which it can develop and on its specific security needs, which derive from the national interest but also depend on the demographic context. With an eye on these variables among others, we can anticipate how a state will position itself in the market of consumer goods, services, and energy. (…)

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2019 announced a world without the United States as “global policeman” — but Washington will continue to be the greatest global power. Geography has become more fluid. The energy map no longer simply includes hydrocarbon producers and consumers. Innovation has modified pretty much everything relating to the energy supply chain, from the extraction process to the build-up of infrastructure and consumption. Through innovation, the human resource has become more valuable than any of the world’s natural resources — human intelligence and creativity determine the development of new models for the energy sector.

However, ideological divisions and geographical differences persist and will deepen. Sovereignty, supported by nationalism, is increasing, not decreasing. Over the long term, the nation-state will likely evolve, reshaped by social perceptions of politics and by the rise of individualism. It is likely that new states will take shape and others will expand their area of control.

Physical borders will continue to be diluted by digitalization, while infrastructure, by connecting emerging social networks, will become part of physical geography. However, connectivity also creates claustrophobia and new fears, determined by the new challenges of society. As such, discussions about how human communities can reduce their dependencies will continue. And this will influence the way the energy sector in the world of tomorrow will develop, and the new types of geopolitical players that will emerge.


A version of this article was first published, in Romanian, in Energia, a policy book by Club Romania.

Antonia Colibasanu is a senior geopolitical analyst and the Chief Operating Officer of Geopolitical Futures. She serves as an associate professor at the Regional Department of Defense Resources Management Studies located in Brasov, Romania, and has served as Honorary Adviser to Romania’s energy minister.

The views expressed are the author’s own.

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