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The Energy Factor of Modern Geopolitics: an attempt at a cognitive Approach

Starkin Sergey Valer'evich

Doctor of Politics

Professor, the department of Political Science, Institute of International Relations and World History of Lobachevsky State University of Nizhny Novgorod; Leading Scientific Associate, International Interdisciplinary Laboratory "Study of Global and Regional Socio-Political Processes", N. A. Dobrolyubov State Linguistic University of Nizhny Novgorod

603000, Russia, g. Nizhnii Novgorod, ul. Ul'yanova, 1, kab. 307

starkinserge@mail.ru
Другие публикации этого автора
 

 
Pripisnova Elena Sergeevna

PhD in Politics

Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Lobachevsky Nizhny Novgorod State University

603000, Russia, Nizhegorordskaya oblast', g. Nizhnii Novgorod, ul. Ul'yanova, 2, of. 312

poskr011@mail.ru
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Krivov Sergei Valer'evich

PhD in History

Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Lobachevsky Nizhny Novgorod State University Senior Researcher of the International Interdisciplinary Laboratory "Study of World and Regional Socio-Political Processes" of the Nizhny Novgorod State Linguistic University named after N.A. Dobrolyubov

603000, Russia, Nizhegorodskaya oblast', g. Nizhnii Novgorod, ul. Gagarina, 23, of. 307

skrivov@rambler.ru
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DOI:

10.25136/2409-8671.2022.3.37119

EDN:

NEAMWQ

Review date:

16-12-2021


Publish date:

07-10-2022


Abstract: Energy resources are becoming an increasingly politicized commodity, which at the same time retains special technical and economic characteristics, which complicates the work of the foreign policy leadership. Using a cognitive approach to foreign policy analysis, the authors conduct a study of the relationship between energy and foreign policy through the prism of different cognitive structures used by subjects to assess the landscape of the world energy. On this conceptual basis, the authors explore the evolution of the relationship between energy and foreign policy: how much energy is a useful tool of foreign policy, and, conversely, how deeply the goals of energy policy are embedded in foreign policy and affect the sphere of energy security. The main results of this study should be considered the conclusion of the authors that in order to distinguish energy as a foreign policy area, it is useful to distinguish between short-term and long-term energy vulnerability. The degree of long–term vulnerability is determined by the availability of real alternatives - the ability to diversify energy routes and sources. Thus, energy security is the dominant, but not the only factor determining energy as an area of foreign policy. The problem of energy sustainability is penetrating deeper into the world foreign policy agenda, since it is related to energy independence. Thus, depending on the influence of environmental beliefs on political, economic and social structures, energy sustainability can affect energy needs, energy imports, and hence energy independence. In addition, discussing the importance of energy sustainability, first of all it is necessary to focus on the problem of security, since energy sustainability is associated with the influence of internal resource consumption on the level of energy independence, and energy security focuses on the influence of external factors on ensuring sufficient energy supplies, and hence on energy independence.


Keywords:

Energy independence, US energy policy, Issue area analysis, Foreign policy analysis, EU energy policy, Energy security, energy factor, foreign policy, international relationships, global security

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.

IntroductionThe modern geopolitical landscape is characterized by complexity and an extremely complex interweaving of various factors.

In this context, global energy policy is increasingly penetrating national and regional borders, since a proper analysis of the supply and demand for hydrocarbons almost always reflects regional or global trends. Finally, energy sustainability is increasingly intertwined with international energy policy and economics, as the fight against climate change becomes more and more relevant on the international agenda.In his review on energy and security issues in the 1980s, one of the patriarchs of the modern theory of international relations, Joseph Nye, focused on the geopolitical aspect of the energy security problem of the 1980s, arguing that "foreign policy decisions based on an ideal market model do not take into account the basic points"[1].

After 30 years, this idea is more relevant than ever. After a short-term pause in the 1990s, political and security considerations gradually returned to the main roles in the energy sector.

It can be argued with good reason that the energy factor occupies a central place in foreign policy. Energy has become an important component of bilateral and multilateral relations, and significant crises, such as the Ukrainian or Syrian, have an important energy dimension. In the first case, it is impossible to ignore the role of Ukraine in the transit of natural gas, as well as the issue of offshore gas fields in the Black Sea (Odessa and Nameless). In the second case, we are not talking about a gas pipeline war, and yet we cannot lose sight of competing plans for the construction of Iran–Iraq–Syria and Qatar–Turkey gas pipelines. Thus, energy is an increasingly politicized sector, which, however, retains its special technical and economic characteristics, which complicates the work of political–forming circles.

The purpose of this work is to consider the "energy factor" in international relations as a multidimensional problem area, including various (energy) resources, sectors of activity and many subjects. Accordingly, the objectives of the study are to identify key aspects of the energy factor — the balance (or imbalance) of forces between producers and consumers of energy resources at the international level, competition in world markets, the functioning of global production, transportation and processing, energy infrastructure and sustainability - in the context of the development of foreign policy and energy security. In a similar vein, the activities of subjects – governments, international organizations, multinational companies and influence groups - are considered.In this paper, a cognitive approach is used to study energy as a problem area of foreign policy, on the basis of which the interaction of material and ideal factors is investigated.

  Accordingly, the authors formulate the research hypothesis as follows: in order to resist the complexity of the international environment, decision makers tend to create their own cognitive structures to understand it. It can be assumed that foreign policy is a sphere of (albeit limited) choice and partly an act of construction, which means that the role of energy in foreign policy is determined by the subjects of this activity themselves.Speaking about the scientific development of the problem, it should be emphasized that extensive literature is devoted to the relationship between energy and foreign policy [2], [3].

However, in most cases, the analysis of the situation is conducted from the point of view of one country. There are not enough comparative studies. As a result, studying the relationship between energy and foreign policy lacks the potential benefits associated with identifying similarities, differences and common patterns. As an exception, we can mention the monograph by D. Denis and S. Stegen "Transatlantic relations in the field of energy" [4]. This work is aimed at filling this gap in some way. The works of domestic authors such as A. Etkind [5], V. Inozemtsev [6], A. Movchan [7] focus on the so-called "resource curse" of hydrocarbons and attach importance to them as factors pulling the global economy down.Using a cognitive approach in the foreign policy process

Political leaders deal with incomplete and often unreliable information, having a wide variety of options for action.

Being ordinary people with limited cognitive abilities, they develop simplifying strategies. The cognitive approach attempts to outline such simplifying cognitive structures and explore how they affect the perception of international events and reasoning about political alternatives. Within the framework of this approach, the subjects of foreign policy are considered as a "point of theoretical intersection" of material and ideal factors [8]. Therefore, in order to understand how cognitive structures influence information processing and foreign policy decision-making, it is necessary to investigate the relationship between the ideal and the material and its key role in the construction of cognitive roadmaps.

The conceptualization of the relationship between the material and the ideal until the late 1980s was mainly dominated by the instrumental perception of ideas, which were considered as epiphenomena reflecting the material environment. With this approach, ideas serve as triggers for the material interests of subjects and are used to justify actions driven by these interests. Thus, the relationship between the material and the ideal is unidirectional, because the interests of politicians and/or groups of influence determine the generation and use of ideas that do not exist by themselves.

In the 1990s, this approach was revised. Within the framework of the sociological institutional approach, ideas "are not reduced to complete dependence on a certain set of material circumstances and cannot simply reflect group or individual interests" [9]. The material and the ideal are regulated by dialectical relations, which by definition cannot be unidirectional. Through the prism of constructivism, ideas and material interests are viewed as mutually constituent objects shared for purely analytical purposes.

Since ideas and material interests are intertwined, their separation does not allow us to answer the key question: why did they do it? From a constructivist point of view, there are only constructs of interests that are idealized extrapolations of subjective preferences. Thus, politicians understand their interests and interact with their environment with the help of "cognitive abbreviations", which take the form of more or less traditional representations of the context in which they are located. These interpretations of the environment are constructed by subjects capable of providing the necessary cognitive filters acting as structural constraints for a given period.

Cognitive approach in the study of the energy factorThe cognitive approach to the study of energy as an area of foreign policy goes beyond the rationalistic perception of the relationship between them and shifts the focus of research from material interests to the interaction of material and ideal factors.

This approach excludes the perception of a State or other international entity as a whole. Therefore, it is initially recognized that it is impossible to ignore the presence of different actors with different perceptions of interests and, moreover, the influence of different ideas generating corresponding cognitive roadmaps cannot be separated from policy-making. Against this theoretical background, the analysis moves away from the static binding of energy interests to foreign policy to a more dynamic interpretation of the links between them, defining different ideas about energy interests, on the basis of which different cognitive roadmaps leading to a certain foreign policy behavior are generated.

Based on this premise, two main conceptual approaches to energy as a foreign policy area can be distinguished, where energy resources are considered (a) as an ordinary commodity and (b) as a public good. Recognizing the risk of oversimplification, it should be emphasized that the purpose of this division is not to create some mental boundaries and put the concept of energy there, but to create a framework for the study of energy as an area of foreign policy, which could contribute to the understanding of ways to build cognitive roadmaps in this area.

The idea of energy as an ordinary commodity and the discussion about the possibility of a global energy sector based on a liberal order and allowing the free flow of oil and gas, regulated only by market forces, is certainly not new and is not purely theoretical. On the contrary, the idea of state intervention in the energy sector was challenged in practice in the 1980s and 1990s (at least in the USA and the UK) after a long period of direct and undisguised intervention. Until that time, energy security issues dominated energy policy, and state intervention was considered necessary, then the dominant paradigm shifted towards strengthening the role of the market [10].

This "market depoliticization" is based on the idea that energy resources are a commercially replaceable commodity that is best sold through market mechanisms. At the same time, the role of States can be minimized and limited to ensuring an adequate operational structure that minimizes distortions. Since hydrocarbons are considered as a common commodity, economic considerations prevail over political ones. Thus, "economics, not politics, should determine energy policy." As for the security of energy supply, the market will be able to ensure it more effectively than government intervention.

Such a "market" perception of energy did not arise from scratch. It became popular in the era of increasing energy supply and lowering prices, when energy security considerations and fears of the crisis of the 1970s faded into the background. Energy resources could be considered an ordinary commodity as long as power was transferred from producers to consumers. It is doubtful whether such a perception is sustainable with the transition of power in the opposite direction and the coming to the fore of energy security and sovereignty considerations.

From the point of view of the public good, the perception of hydrocarbons as an ordinary commodity cannot cover the whole picture. If hydrocarbons are a commodity, the role of the market in the world of energy may be significant, but it is only partial. Echoing Nye's words two decades later (quoted in the introduction), American researcher D. Helm spoke quite eloquently about the role of the market in the energy sector, emphasizing that "the idea that governments can simply leave the stage and leave everything to a competitive market is an illusion." He explained that energy is too important for the economy and society and it suffers from multiple failures of the market mechanism [11]. Moreover, the (geo) political-economic relationship is an integral part of energy. Being a commercial commodity (at least to some extent) in an international or regional competitive market, energy resources are also a multidimensional area of foreign policy that affects the construction of national interests, "policy, development, governance, security and stability of the environment" [12].

The idea of building pure competition in the local, regional and international energy market is supported by the governments of several countries in political discourse. And yet, in practice, the energy sector today is far from the traditional competitive market. The international energy landscape is more like a "hybrid of the state energy system of the 1970s and the liberal world of the 1990s" [13]. Being one of the sectors attracting state control, energy is largely associated with state capitalism in several countries (Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela, etc.). In these conditions, the conceptualization of energy as a foreign policy factor is determined by the dual nature of energy – it is both a commodity and a public good. At the same time, governments place (or simply find) themselves somewhere in the middle between the need to liberalize international energy flows, the need for expensive energy infrastructure and the functional needs of different sectors of the economy and society.

In the foreign policy sphere, energy security considerations do not allow us to approach energy resources as an ordinary commodity. Energy is a multidimensional problem area that "periodically reacts to different problems, political regimes, spheres of activity or geographical context," but in foreign policy the emphasis is on common problems - energy security and sovereignty, and not on issues of day-to-day management that other departments deal with. The emphasis on security does not mean ignoring economic aspects (for example, volatility in energy prices or the cost of infrastructure) or underestimating the market approach. On the contrary, such an approach is recognized as useful for ensuring energy security. From this point of view, actions guaranteeing the free flow of oil and gas are justified, based on the need to ensure the security of energy supplies.

Where government intervention in the energy sector is seen not as an inevitable evil, but as a guarantor of the public good, foreign policy plays an active role in creating optimal conditions for ensuring energy security. At the first level of analysis, this means achieving "accessibility", "reasonable price", "efficiency" and "environmental safety" of energy resources. However, some researchers believe that this explanation describes the general purpose of government intervention in the energy sector [14].

ConclusionWe believe that in order to define energy as a foreign policy area, it is necessary to distinguish between short-term and long-term energy vulnerability.

The degree of long–term vulnerability is determined by the availability of real alternatives - the ability to diversify energy routes and sources. When considering energy in the context of the sphere of international relations, the emphasis is placed on it, since foreign policy is focused on building international relations that guarantee or facilitate access to different routes of energy supply. Undoubtedly, short-term and long-term energy security are interrelated, and long-term and short-term energy vulnerability are inseparable. Thus, foreign policy is indirectly involved in the sphere of short-term energy vulnerability due to its involvement in the sphere of long-term vulnerability. Moreover, when the external source of instability comes from the international environment, foreign policy can be directly involved in the problems of short-term energy vulnerability.

Thus, energy security is the dominant, but not the only factor determining energy as an area of foreign policy. The problem of energy sustainability is getting deeper into the global foreign policy agenda, since it is related to energy independence. Thus, depending on the influence of environmental beliefs on political, economic and social structures, energy sustainability can affect energy needs, energy imports, and hence energy independence. In addition, discussing the importance of energy sustainability, first of all it is necessary to focus on the problem of security, since energy sustainability is associated with the influence of internal consumption of resources on the level of energy independence, and energy security focuses on the influence of external factors on the supply of energy resources, and hence on energy independence.

 

 



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