Report: Looking at a Silver Bullet or Seeking Greater Energy Security
All human activity requires energy—and the more energy one has, the more one can do. As a result, energy has been a central element of national power throughout history.
In the distant past, building Egypt’s pyramids, Rome’s vast network of roads, and China’s Great Wall required enormous biological energy—food to support populations that could supply the massive labor force necessary for these early mega-projects. In a sense, the slow emergence of agricultural technologies that underlay these three empires, and many others, was the first energy revolution. The considerable energy that went in to each of these undertakings still captures the imagination; in fact, these impressive expenditures of energy have come to symbolize the civilizations that produced them.
Centuries later, the steam engine and the industrial revolution created the first modern empire— the British Empire—and sustained it across more than a century. While the British Empire still endured, the transition from coal to oil fueled America’s emergence as a global power. Impressive oil and natural gas resources likewise played an essential role in the temporary successes of America’s superpower rival, the Soviet Union, which fell apart when its domestic economic policies and the subsidy-driven Soviet bloc proved unsustainable in the face of collapsing energy prices.
Today, new oil and gas extraction technologies are reshaping global markets and may well alter both realities and perceptions of international power. Reduced U.S. natural gas imports have already affected Europe’s energy markets and forced Russia’s Gazprom to issue substantial refunds to its European customers. More changes could lie ahead for both the United States and Europe, creating new opportunities but also posing new challenges and dilemmas in transatlantic relations. It is thus a timely moment to assess the relationship between power and energy and to consider the implications of these new developments for the United States and its closest partners.