Pipelines and Fault lines:  The Geopolitics of Energy Security in Asia

(21-23 October 2003)



The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and recent developments in Central Asia and the Russian Far East have stimulated a great deal of attention on energy issues, including the various competing pipeline projects in a region where there also exist serious geopolitical and religious fault lines. On October 21-23, 2003, the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS) held a conference on “PIPELINES & FAULT LINES: THE GEOPOLITICS OF ENERGY SECURITY IN ASIA” to examine the prospects for energy competition and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region.


This conference brought together senior diplomats (e.g., former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Robert Finn), practitioners, energy specialists and leading scholars from 9 countries to analyze major trends in energy supply and demand, the energy strategies of great powers, and to examine the feasibility of the various pipeline projects in Northeast Asia, Central Asia, South Asia and the Caucasus.


Nearly all presentations drew attention to the various geopolitical and religious fault lines in Asia. These fault lines mean that various proposals for pipelines would remain pipe dreams unless and until multilateral cooperative measures are taken. A related concern expressed was that socio-political turmoil in the major oil-exporting countries could result in the disruption of global oil flows, thereby producing worldwide energy shortages and triggering a global economic slowdown. Key judgments and major conclusions are summarized below:


·        The rapid growth of Asian economies will have a major impact on global oil supplies. The total demand for oil from Asia is projected to grow by 80% between 2001 and 2025, from 21.2 to 38.1 million barrels per day (mbd). Pipelines are an important potential aspect of energy security in Asia.  However:



·        Energy security in Asia may be characterized as “geopolitics lite”. That is, it is more energy politics rather than energy geo-politics. The former encompasses the use of diplomacy, deals (legal and illegal), profit motives, and considerations of efficiencies.  The latter would encompass energy security concerns as a driver of security and foreign policy (as opposed to an element of it) and a shaper of military structures, deployments and modernizations.



·        Energy security is an issue of growing weight in key bilateral relationships in the Asia-Pacific (U.S.-Russia, U.S.-China, Russia-China, Russia-Japan, China-Japan, China-India, U.S.-India). As the dependence of booming Asian economies on external energy sources increases, the future of security cooperation in general and major powers relationships in particular may well be influenced by the degree of energy cooperation or the lack of it. In this context, China-Japan competition for Russian energy pipelines in Siberia evoked a great deal of discussion. The U.S., China, Japan and India are currently seen as pursuing “energy diversification” strategy to varying degrees of success.


·        There was a consensus that energy security and national security today are inextricably linked. However, energy security also has implications for human security and regime security—not to mention environmental security. At times, the search for security in one area may be incompatible with another.


·        Some constructive proposals for multilateral cooperation were also made by participants, most notably,