Hertie School of Governance
Thomas O’Donnell was a DAAD/AICGS Research Fellow in April and May 2015. He is an academic, analyst, and consultant with expertise in the global energy system and international relations. At AICGS, his focus is “U.S. Expert Perspectives on German Energy Vulnerabilities.” Dr. O’Donnell’s teaching and research have encompassed the EU and Russia, Latin America, the Middle East, China, and the USA. His PhD is in nuclear physics from The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor; for the past 15 years he has primarily taught post-graduate international relations and development with a focus on energy and natural resource issues, including at The University of Michigan, The Ohio State University, at The New School University’s JJ Studley Graduate Program in International Affairs (NYC), and at Freie Universität’s JFK Institute (Berlin). At his blog, the GlobalBarrel.com, he follows issues of energy and international affairs, and he also writes frequently for the IP Journal (Berlin), Americas Quarterly (NYC), and Petroguía (Caracas).
Throughout 2008-09, Dr. O’Donnell was a U.S. Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Professor in Caracas at the Center for the Study of Development (CENDES) of the Central University of Venezuela (UCV). He is a Senior Analyst at Wikistrat and consults with various other geopolitical, business-intelligence, and advisory firms. Before doing his PhD, Dr. O’Donnell spent a decade working in U.S. industry, gaining technical experience in automobile manufacturing, railway operations, large-scale HVAC, and in power generation. He has also worked as a radiation safety and health-physics officer at a research nuclear reactor and in medical and other settings. In experimental nuclear physics, he conducted basic research at several particle-accelerator and national laboratory facilities in the U.S., Japan, and elsewhere; and is author or co-author on about 40 peer-reviewed scientific papers. Since 2012, he has lived in Berlin with his wife and youngest children. He speaks English, Spanish, and functional German.
Since Russia first invaded Ukraine last year, Putin has boasted of his ability to exploit natural gas dependency to undermine European solidarity. Indeed, though the continent as a whole relies on Russia for only 30 percent of its natural gas, roughly six states are completely dependent, a gap Putin has worked hard to widen.
While Europe’s gas vulnerabilities cannot be easily undone, through better gas market integration they already have been reduced. However, there is another way to diminish Moscow’s energy leverage: diversifying away from Gazprom supplies. And indeed, a handful of well-known projects could achieve just that. But most of these projects have languished, victims to precisely the sort of petty national rivalries and isolationism that the EU is supposed to obviate. And for whatever reasons, the EU’s heavy hitters – Berlin and Paris – have not pursued the sort of activist diplomacy required to break these logjams.
The article originally appeared in Berlin Policy Journal on August 10, 2015. Continue reading here.