The West Has to Get Serious About Energy Security

The West Has to Get Serious About Energy Security

Over the last few decades, the decision to deepen reliance on Russian gas has put Europe in a dangerous position.

The conclusions from last month’s Munich Security Conference were depressingly familiar but nonetheless worth repeating. My American interlocutors returned from Europe with a gloomy picture of world affairs: the bloodshed in Israel and Gaza, the threat of a wider Middle Eastern conflict, the dangers to trade and shipping from terrorist activity, and most importantly, the ongoing war of aggression against Ukraine and the ever-looming threat of Russia attacking European and NATO countries. The latter was made all the more stark by recent failures to provide Ukraine with the money and weapons it needs to defend itself. To add to that, news about Navalny’s murder proved what we all should be aware of: Putin’s natural instinct is to escalate any crises for the collective West. In the Kremlin, we do not have a partner but a former KGB operative whose goal is to rebuild a Russian empire not through development and reform but through conquest and bloodshed.

Money and weapons are essential elements for Ukraine to win this war—and, by extension—for a Europe that wishes to be serious about deterring and defeating Russian aggression. But they are not the whole story. In the same breath, we have to speak about energy, which is too often treated as a secondary concern. It is not. Energy from the United States is essential to the entire question of European security.

Over the last few decades, the decision to deepen reliance on Russian gas has now proven to be a grave error—as the late President of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, and I predicted at the time. Instead of cultivating a mutual sense of cooperation, we were met with attacks. The result has been a naïve Europe subsidizing Russian hostility while deepening our exposure to energy blackmail. How to undo those errors and prevent a similar catastrophe depends on two simple factors: supply and demand.

Taking demand first, can European demand for Russian gas be reduced? The EU has spent billions on an energy transition and efforts to support renewable fuels and clean energy. Despite the huge costs, there is no chance that Europe’s demand for gas will abate. Technology, industry, infrastructure, and communities will continue to rely on traditional fuels. There is no demand-side solution to the question of how to reduce our reliance on gas.

The only solution is for Europe to secure a large-scale supply of non-Russian gas. For true energy security, homegrown energy would be best. Europe, though, is not a significant producer of homegrown energy. The next-best option is supply from a strong ally. Fortunately, a solution is, in fact, already sailing across the Atlantic.

In the first six months of 2023 alone, the United States exported more liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe than it ever has done before. Almost two-thirds of all U.S. LNG exports now flow to Europe, allowing us to wean off Russian gas while continuing to guarantee the security of supply. Russian gas has fallen from a 41 percent share in Europe in 2021 to 8 percent in 2023, which is a huge success. U.S. LNG is also less polluting than Russian gas, and its supply could be substantially expanded as the United States builds more LNG-dedicated terminals. Europe would have security and predictability of energy supply for decades to come, just as the United States would gain huge new energy revenues and a jobs boom in its southern states, where the LNG terminals are based.

Manufacturing energy insecurity was always central to Putin’s neo-imperial game to divide Europe, regain influence, and blackmail those who dared oppose his rule. Energy security should be at the core of the unity of the collective West and, if done properly, could cement our transatlantic bond. The infrastructure is largely in place, and the political will is growing, especially in the many areas of Europe where sunshine and wind velocity are low. The economic and political gains are abundant, yet our collective resilience would be the biggest benefactor. Our commitment to the provisions of the Washington Treaty, particularly to economic cooperation and energy, is on trial, and if we overcome our own divisions, the transatlantic bond can continue to serve as the principal framework for collective prosperity.

My U.S. partners heard positive signals coming from Europe. Despite this, we were surprised by the announcement of an effective halt to permits for new U.S. terminals that ship LNG to European and Asian allies. The implications for Europe are worrying. Future U.S. LNG supplies are critical to avoiding the spiraling energy and food prices we witnessed in 2022 after the invasion of Ukraine. Those future supplies may not materialize. The Commission does not seem to have grasped the significance of the U.S. decision. European Commission Executive Vice President Maros Sefcovic has commented that Europe’s supply will not be affected for “2 to 3 years.” Energy security cannot possibly be measured by such short periods. Energy plans should be focused on a timespan of two to three decades, not two to three years. 

Europe must get serious about long-term energy security and be more effective in presenting its views. The Commission lacks a democratic mandate, is largely unaccountable to voters, and does not pay any price for its mistakes. Europeans pay higher bills, their companies cannot make long-term plans and investments, and politicians must explain mistaken policies. What, for Sefcovic, has no negative consequences, for Andrea Di Giuseppe, President of the Committee on International Trade of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, “will have major consequences for the energy security of the EU” and “undermines the energy security of its European allies.”

Once more, we witness the same scheme: a European body with no democratic mandate imposing policies with consequences to be dealt with by politicians and societies on the national level. The enormous protests of European farmers across the entire continent, uniting societies in rejecting the Green Deal being forced on them by the EU, are the perfect example. The countless cases across Western Europe of citizens unable to afford their energy bills are another. Simply put, we cannot allow failed energy policies to destabilize our economies and deepen poverty in our societies.

Business leaders in Europe also realize this. The Secretary-General of Eurogas said the U.S. pause “could cause a loss of confidence in the United States as a strategic partner for energy security in Europe” and “Failing to have enough U.S. LNG in the market in 2026, 2027 and 2028 could result in increasing risk and prolonging the global supply imbalance.” Companies that have committed to U.S. LNG to wean off Russian energy are turning to a trusted partner and sending worrying signals.

We are so close to a watershed moment: a new era of safe, reliable, and secure energy suppliers from our closest geopolitical ally. Reliance on Russian dictators must be consigned to the past. To achieve that, Europeans must engage in frank discussions about deepening our transatlantic bond by strategic energy cooperation. That course of action would benefit not only U.S. industry and workers but also Europe’s security, economy, and moral authority. European leaders need to get off the fence and fight for that outcome. We shouldn’t transfer wealth, security, and leverage to untrusted partners. We cannot transition from one risk to another—it would be Putin’s victory.

The Honorable Anna Fotyga is a Member of the European Parliament and former Foreign Minister of Poland.