A Missing Element In The National Security Strategy

By Dinesh D. Dodamgoda

The Secretary of Defence, delivering a lecture on National Security Strategy at the Kotelawala Defence University, listed seven major national security concerns. They are, the possible re-emergence of terrorism, the emergence of other extremist groups, the creation of ethnic divisions and communal violence, the challenges of maritime security and border control, the growth of organized crime, foreign interference in domestic affairs, and Non-traditional threats through technology driven new media, including social media.

The Ceylon Petroleum Corperation is still suffering from the LTTE attacks on Orugodawaththa Oil Storage facility

However, a key element went missing from the list: Energy Security. The term Energy Security refers to the association between national security and the availability of resources for energy consumption.

The availability of energy, including petroleum, oil, gas, and electricity, for consumption became a national security concern due to modern world’s dependency on energy for transportation to communication, to security and other socio-economic activities. Therefore, any threats to availability of energy could even hamper a country’s socio-economic and political stability, hence, energy security is considered as one of the most important aspects of a national security strategy to guarantee a secure and reliable energy supply for consumption.

The modern world’s growing energy demands even shape up the global strategic map. For example, the Chinese strategy of ‘String of Pearls’, which aims at ensuring an uninterrupted flow of energy supplies to China, especially oil from Africa and the Middle East via sea, made the Obama administration to shift USA’s main strategic focus from terrorism in the Afghan region to energy security in Asia, naming the strategy as ‘Pivot to Asia’. As predicted, China’s oil consumption is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 5.8 per cent in the next 10 years, thus, securing the Sea Line of Communication (SLOC) from the Middle East and Africa, to China, across the Indian Ocean and South China Sea has become China’s top strategic priority.

As one can note, securing the energy supply route has become China’s top strategic priority due to uneven distribution of natural energy resources among countries. Some countries are rich in oil and other natural energy resources but many countries have to depend on resource rich countries for energy needs.

Hence, energy resource scarcity made most of the countries in the world vulnerable as any obstruction to continuous energy supply can risk socio-economic and political stability of those countries. This reality is applicable even to Sri Lanka as the country is not rich in natural resources of energy and highly depends on imported energy resources.

For example, Sri Lanka’s commercial energy demand for imported petroleum in 2012 is 85% and it is expected to grow at an annual rate of 6.5%. The imported petroleum is used 50% for transport, 28% power (electricity) generation, 14% for Commerce and Household, and 8% for Industries. Furthermore, the country’s transport sector is dependant 100% on imported petroleum and 70% – 80% of power (electricity) is generated from imported fuels, oil and coal.

As a matter of fact, the country almost depends on imported petroleum, oil and coal, and undoubtedly, any obstruction to the continued importation can even paralyse the whole country. For instance, when the USA imposed an embargo on Iranian oil exports, our Petroleum Ministry was in a muddle, closing the Sapugaskanda oil refinery for weeks. Thus, a strategy in predicting threats and finding solutions to guarantee a secure and reliable energy supply and achieving energy independency should also be included as a prioritised item in the national security agenda.

Threats to country’s energy security come not only from energy dependency; threats can even come from manipulation of energy supplies, attacks on refineries and storage facilities (for example, Ceylon Petroleum Corperation is still suffering from the LTTE attacks on Orugodawaththa Oil Storage facility, a few years ago), natural disasters, accidents and even geo-political strategic issues (Gulf War, Iranian Embargo, etc.).

However, it is true that Sri Lanka has an Authority for Sustainable Energy that was established in 2007 “to guide the nation in all its efforts to develop indigenous energy resources and conserve resources…paving the way for Sri Lanka to gain energy security…”.

Despite the existence of an Authority, Sri Lankan energy sector seriously suffers from major setbacks, including huge losses incurred in electricity generation and importation of oil, gas and coal, resulting major price hikes and power cuts, and delayed or sub-standard importation of fuel. The situation shows that the country lacks a serious strategic approach to guarantee a secure and reliable energy supply for consumption.

Hence, it is a pity that the element of Energy Security was missed out from the National Security Agenda, despite the existence of ample evidence that shows the importance of the issue in terms of National Security.


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