ESI Goals (2010)

About the Energy and Security Initiative

In January 2010 the Triangle Institute for Security Studies launched an initiative on Energy and National/International Security.  We are working in collaboration with a variety of Schools and Colleges at North Carolina State University – The School of Public and International Affairs, The College of Humanities and Social Sciences, The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the College of Engineering.  We decided to root this program at North Carolina State University because of the university’s tradition of excellence in technology and because of the interesting energy research that is being done on campus. We hope that the program will come to serve as an anchor for TISS at NC State in much the same way that Curriculum in Peace, War, and Defense (PWAD) has long done at UNC, and American Grand Strategy (AGS) is beginning to do at Duke.   At the same time, we want to involve faculty and students from all our constituent universities and plan to take advantage of the many organizations in the Triangle area that are working on solutions to our energy problems.

This initiative is driven by the conviction that one of the major challenges facing the modern world is how to meet our energy needs in a complex political environment. The demand for energy is a driving force on the international arena, influencing the policies of states, providing political leverage for those who control energy supplies, and causing conflict and even war.  Conflict and war, in their turn, have a profound impact on our ability to get access to energy.

Because energy security is so vital to our national interests, the United States has been making a concerted effort to diversify. However, every choice we make when it comes to energy – be it oil, gas, bio-fuels, nuclear, or alternative – has security implications. We need to be alert to possible outcomes: Will efforts to free ourselves from dependence on foreign oil destabilize the Middle East?  If we resist the temptation to drill for gas at home, will we put revenues in the hands of governments that control gas reserves – governments that are for the most part less than democratic (and thus arguably less peaceful)? Will a nuclear renaissance solve one set of security concerns – those generated by climate change and environmental degradation but create others – proliferation of nuclear weapons? Will development of bio-fuels trigger soaring prices, world hunger, and conflict? Or, on a more positive note, can the sharing of new energy technologies be a tool for peace-building?

These complex linkages between energy and security are not as yet well understood. The TISS/NCSU initiative will help ensure that young people preparing for careers in the energy field will see more clearly how their work will affect the well-being of the world community. It will also promote greater public understanding of how domestic energy needs affect and are affected by broader concerns. This will create a constituency for more effective energy policies.  And it will promote dialogue and foster collaborative research between technical and policy experts. This kind of exchange is essential if we are to find creative answers to our energy challenges.

Over the course of the coming year, we plan to build a network of interested scholars, refine our strategy, and seek funding for our initiative. We will explore the feasibility of designing energy-related courses (and eventually, perhaps, certificate programs) at North Carolina State University. We will also look into the feasibility of organizing annual summer short-courses in the Triangle. We will work to find creative ways to encourage public interest in the subject – most likely by a combination of public forums (if possible aired on radio or television) and by developing a web portal at NCSU on Energy and Security. Here we would post information about new technologies and invite discussion about their security implications.  Finally, we will explore avenues for energy-related research that focuses on bringing together scholars from both the technical and the policy communities.