The U.S. and West Germany once shared similar energy profiles and similar global energy challenges. Through the 1960s and in the beginning of the 1970s, with largely comparable energy mixes, they both saw themselves as vulnerable to oil shocks and in 1974, were both founding members of the International Energy Agency. At that point, however, the varying political realities in the two countries, especially Germany’s energy security risk assessment, led to increasingly significant divergence in their energy security policy choices. From Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik to the Red-Green nuclear phase out in 2000, to the more recent “energy transition,” Germany has constantly sought to actively hedge risk in its energy and energy security policy, while the U.S. has made limited, primarily technological attempts to respond to what even former oilman George W. Bush called America’s “addiction to oil” as late as 2006. Even recent technological advances in oil and gas extraction, which have redefined the American energy landscape, only threaten to postpone any policy measures that will divert the U.S. from a long-term energy independent, climate friendly future. One could say that Germany’s energy security policy is more holistic, proactive, and responsive to new realities. U.S. policy, on the other hand, puts its hope in technological advances and resists major policy measures to address outright an addiction to oil and other fossil fuels.
The German Case
Whether it be oil shocks, climate change, or nuclear disaster, Germany has proved active and adept at meeting its energy security challenges with a strategy of diversification in the types of energy and their sources. With Germany’s Wirtschaftswunder in the 1950s and 1960s, its need for oil grew along with the economy. During the Yom Kippur War and subsequent oil embargo, this dependency was exposed as a risk and a weakness. The crisis corresponded with a political shift in Germany that happened a few years before, when Willy Brandt was elected chancellor in 1969. Brandt’s new Ostpolitik (eastern policy) meant engagement with East Germany and the Soviet bloc in a number of policy issues, notably imports of Russian gas. Oil’s share in the German energy mix peaked in 1973 at 47 percent and Germany’s opening to the east meant that by 1980, Russian gas exports to Western Europe had increased 764 percent (3.4 billion cubic meters to 26 bcm) over the previous ten years.
The expansion and development of gas imports to Germany, specifically from Russia, have continued ever since. Vulnerabilities such as gas supply disruptions from the Ukraine and other Eastern European transit states have been more recently addressed through the development of the Nordstream pipeline, offering a direct gas transit supply route under the Baltic Sea. Nordstream AG, the consortium established to develop and operate the pipeline, has a high-profile board of directors, with former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder as chairman. Gas started flowing in late 2011. The project insulates Germany from disputes between Russia and its Eastern European neighbors but leaves Germany directly dependent on Russia as a supplier. It is claimed that the pipeline developed a mutual dependency, Germany needing Russian supply, Russia needing German demand; but in the interest of further risk hedging, Germany, the EU, and various other transit states have proposed building the so-called Nabucco pipeline from Turkey to Austria to hedge against this dependency.