India begins to address energy security

India begins to address energy security

How India chooses to address its energy security concerns will offer clues towards Modi’s foreign policy plans and the kind of power India will be in the next century.

Loosely phrased, energy security is the recognition that the availability of natural resources for energy consumption constitutes a national security concern. Often times, as nations develop and grow economically, their energy needs and energy security concerns grow in tandem. As a result, India’s energy security is likely to continue to be of growing importance to the South Asian nation.

India has one of the fastest growing energy needs in the world, with a population of 1.27 billion people, nearly half of whom are under 25, and a growing middle class. Exacerbating these growing energy needs is India’s reliance on imported energy; India stands as world’s fourth largest importer of crude oil.

These factors work to make energy security in India a particularly acute problem that will increasingly factor into India’s national security strategies, as its energy capabilities struggle to keep pace with the country’s growth and development. Here are two key things to know about energy security in India:

1. India’s energy security affects its foreign relations

In July, shortly after taking office, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with President Vladimir Putin of Russia. That it occurred so shortly after his swearing in should surprise no one, as India will be looking to Russia for much of its oil and gas needs.

Modi’s comments about strengthening historic Indian-Russian ties further hint at an expansion of this relationship. Projects discussed under Modi’s predecessor, such as a Russian pipeline running through the Altai region into northwest China and then through northern India, will likely continue to be explored.

But Russia is not the only neighbor India will have to deal with. Australia and Indonesia will likely figure greater into India’s energy security equations thanks to India’s Indian reliance on coal.

For natural gas, India could look not only to Russia but also the Middle East, Africa, and by decade’s end, the United States. Additionally, emerging energy powerhouses such as Canada and Kazakhstan may also factor more into India’s strategic thinking. In many of these dealings, India will be competing against China to secure access to resources to meet its energy needs.

All of these considerations will likely mean two important things for India’s strategic thinking and foreign policy.

First, India will continue its long held and traditional foreign policy of non-alignment. This reluctance to engage in alliances was borne of pragmatism during the Cold War and carried India through its first half century.

Given the diversity of actors which India must engage with to meet its growing energy needs and ensure their security, many in India will likely argue that the tradition of non-alignment may be the best one for the still developing nation.

Second, India can no longer afford to be as inward looking as it had been. India will find itself having to be more concerned with global affairs, whether that is tension in the South China Seas or a greater security component to its efforts in oil rich African nations.

And India could find itself as a more active and assertive global player. It should come as no surprise that this will at times conflict with non-alignment. Eventually, and to varying degrees, India will likely find itself reluctantly involved.

2. India faces domestic threats to its energy security

Separatist groups, as exist in Assam, Manipur, and elsewhere, pose a threat to India’s energy security. New Delhi is sensitive to the threats posed by such groups.

Recently, the decision by Modi’s government to cancel talks with a Pakistani envoy after the top Pakistani diplomat in New Delhi met with Kashmiri separatists illustrates these worries. Given that previous governments in Delhi have at times grudgingly tolerated such meetings, this signals that the Modi government is perhaps more keen on sovereignty questions and well aware of threats posed by separatists. This is often with good reason, as experts estimate more than 2,750 people across India died in terrorism-related violence in 2006 alone.

Some of these groups operate in areas which are key routes, near infrastructure. As attacks in New Delhi and elsewhere have illustrated, some organizations are also mobile and well equipped. While many of these groups remain splintered and of varying capabilities, experts have for years noted the growth of the Indian mujahedeen and Maoist insurgents.

With a growing deficit, India’s energy sources and routes could become a target. Attacks on important infrastructure that is essential in securing India’s energy security could be particularly damaging. How India chooses to address its energy security concerns will offer clues to how the country will be able to deal with challenges in this next century.

About Author

Sean Durns

Sean Durns worked as a research assistant to a former high ranking Pentagon official and the Director of National Security Strategies at a DC based think tank. His analysis has been referenced by a variety of media outlets including The Wall Street Journal, Roubini's EconoMonitor, OilPrice, and many more. He holds a M.Sc. in History of International Relations from the London School of Economics where he focused on US foreign policy, security studies, and energy security.