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Energy Security

Energy Security by Roland Dannreuther. Polity Press, 2017, 220 pp.


Every modern society relies on digital devices, and those devices correspondingly rely on electrical power to deliver a function. International relations studies define power as when one makes someone do something they did not originally intend. In Energy Security, Dr. Roland Dannreuther approaches power from the most elemental form as he discusses how states secure fundamental energy sources through a variety of means. Security, when paired with energy, offers a complementary definition. Securing resource control or distribution prevents others from implementing power via energy sources. The book examines different power sources—philosophical and electrical—as well as how power influences the incorporating state. Dannreuther examines energy security by providing historical background, delving into production and distribution, and finally wrapping the elements together to consider environmental and resource sustainability questions. The work establishes several clear cases for the reader that cover international relations, domestic security, energy markets, and sustainability. Energy Security delivers well-articulated research from many sources, incorporates a wide variety of graphs illustrating comparative differences and should be a must-read for anyone who regularly studies power dynamics between modern states. From an energy security perspective, the text explains how various energy applications affect political power distribution and justice concepts.

Dannreuther highlights several theoretical dimensions through a common lens, including availability, reliability, affordability, and sustainability. This lens allows one to conduct an energy security analysis through political aspects, as applied to varied energy sources and distinguishes between supplying energy resources versus delivering energy services. The vast scope of energy security issues makes assigning any one spectrum covering thesis difficult. However, the author excels at drawing together the wide range of energy security into a manageable perspective and excellently provides a single-source narrative articulating those ideas.

Analytically, Energy Security breaks several difficult subjects into smaller elements to allow easier digestion. The first case discusses how energy distribution affects interaction with foreign state powers in the Middle East, China, and Russia. Although regional politics primarily consider oil companies and their production, the Russian section also investigates the impact of their natural gas distribution to Europe. The text also suggests frequent Middle East conflicts as a root cause of driving oil prices that had a corresponding influence on the increasing internal production for China and Russia. Additionally, dropping oil prices since 2014—from a high of $100 a barrel to under $30 a barrel at one point—also appears as a significant influence on many states. Dannreuther then demonstrates the disastrous consequences price fluctuations had for countries like Venezuela who failed to invest oil gains in sustainable infrastructure.

Infrastructure topics lead to a natural second step during the text’s analysis. If the first energy security step discussed external relations, the following presents how energy changes internal politics, and Dannreuther again meets that challenge. The text addresses the resource curse thesis that states: resource-abundant countries fail to develop as effectively as resource-poor ones, resource-rich countries tend to remain authoritarian, and these resource-rich countries also are likely either to fracture from internal strife or export their radicalism. However, when one side explores bountiful resources as a curse, it naturally follows that the other analytical approach considers them a blessing. Specific regional examples are highlighted for both categories throughout the chapter. There does not appear to be any depth beyond one to two pages, but all are sufficient to advance the core philosophies for how energy policies drive domestic politics.

The last two cases address markets and sustainability. The “Markets” chapter is the longest with considerable details presented for each different power source. Dannreuther addresses how each fuel type was first used on the world stage and the major factors involved in generation and distribution. On a limited basis, the text examines how and why one type of fuel might be substituted for another type such as nuclear energy for oil. Naturally, the “Environmental Risks and Threats Posed by Uncertain Sustainability” chapter follows the market discussion. Two sustainability threats are discussed: first, whether there are physical limits to fossil fuels; and second, if growing greenhouse gas emissions could potentially result in anthropogenic global warming. The first topic appears from a Malthusianism perspective and the second in a discussion of the various international greenhouse gas limiting protocols. Overall, these two chapters complement each other extremely well.

Energy Security was extremely well-written, incorporating a wide scope of detailed considerations for an area driving many of today’s pressing political discussions. Consolidating all the material into a single volume was highly valuable and made following the data relatively easy. One missing element was a central unifying theme between the four presented cases. The conclusion attempts to reconcile themes based on resource physicality, the importance of historical context to energy security, and power application. The author meets his first goal to present energy security topics under a combined cover but fails in linking them through any aspect other than the commonality of being energy topics. In his own words, energy security possesses a “complex, multidimensional nature,” and while all the dimensions are adequately captured, like a multiperspective picture, the overall image failed to appear.

Overall, I found Energy Security superb. I recommend the text for anyone who deals with energy politics, international relations, or sustainability issues. The lack of a common analytical thread causes some challenges but the excellent content in the work far exceeds that simple difficulty. Each chapter and case present well-researched detail, with different examples, and carefully placed charts and graphs. Dannreuther introduces underlying theories for each case from international accords to marketability to step new and experienced readers through a well-documented energy security presentation. Furthermore, the text is relatively short while offering a high knowledge value. I would consider this work a must for anyone regularly dealing with the varied political and environmental effects our modern world faces from the sources we pursue to obtain energy and some small measure of associated security.


Lt Col Mark Peters, USAF



The views expressed in the book review are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense.
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