Analytically, ‘energy security’ is difficult to quantify. President Jimmy Carter defined energy security in a 1977 speech as “independence of economic and political action” in international affairs. The United States should be able to define its interests overseas independently from how it uses energy domestically.
Importantly, ‘energy security’ does not mean ‘energy independence’ in the sense that all of the energy used in the United States comes from within its borders without international trade. This is neither obtainable nor desirable in a globalized world. In addition, energy security does not depend on the percentage of supply that is imported. In a world of globally traded commodities, it is no longer possible to be truly energy independent: even domestically produced energy sources are subject to fluctuations in global commodity markets.
Since the oil price crises of the 1970s, the risk of absolute supply shortages has been reduced significantly. The creation of the International Energy Agency (IEA) and its requirement that all member countries hold oil stocks capable of replacing 90 days’ worth of imports acts as a buffer against disruptions in oil supplies. The U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve can substitute for, on average, 75 days’ worth of oil imports as of June 2011, and privately held reserves account for the additional days of imports.
Although speculators are sometimes blamed for inflating prices, the deepening of international futures trading markets allows price signals to give warnings of impending supply and demand imbalances. Today, then, for the United States, energy security concerns are no longer about physical disruptions in supply. These concerns stem from the possibility that actions in foreign policy will lead to price increases causing undue harm to economic growth.
Keeping this is mind, ASP defines energy security as the ability for a country to act in its foreign policy independently of how it uses energy domestically.
Obtaining energy security actually does not come from increased domestic production alone: it comes from flexibility, competition, and redundancy. If a source of energy supply is easily replaced by either a different fuel type or a different source, then a country is insulated from supply shocks. U.S. foreign policy should be determined by its interests, not by how it generates its energy.
Energy has two security implications. One, reliance on the harvesting and transportation of fossil fuels creates national vulnerabilities and thus is a direct security challenge. Two, burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change which has its own security implications.
Energy, climate change, and security, as a consequence, create a powerful nexus that must be addressed and resolved together.