Tuesday Seminar with Kacper Szulecki
When does energy become security? Explaining mismatches between vulnerabilities and threat perceptions
Abstract: Why are some energy related issues discussed as national security problems, and elsewhere apparent energy sector vulnerabilities are not perceived as threats and not addressed? This paper explores the interpretive process through which energy is (de)securitized in different contexts. Taking the definition of energy security proposed by Cherp and Jewell (2014) - "high vulnerability of vital energy systems", I draw a matrix of puzzles related to mismatches between vulnerability and security talk. The two most curious situations are: the conjuncture of low vulnerabilities with widespread and strong threat perception - dubbed 'scaremongering' - and high vulnerability levels met with little or no securitization - which I refer to as 'denial'. I argue that both these possible situations raise a set of important questions - both analytical (why and how they emerge?) and normative (who gains what from framing energy security in this way?). This paper looks specifically at Poland, asking why natural gas, which plays a relatively minor role in its energy mix, has for years been a major national security concern and a foreign policy driver. Conversely, the country's highly vulnerable electricity system - based on dated coal power plants and an undercapitalized power grid - receives little attention and is rarely discussed in terms of security. The analysis presented is an interpretive process tracing, following the way gas and electricity became (de)securitized in Poland, and identifying important moments of structured indeterminacy, where political decisions activated and actualized particular discursive dispositions. Counterfactual scenarios help identify most important causal factors - including both ideational elements, such as the mechanism of self-fulfilling geopolitics operating in the national security imaginary, and material ones - e.g. the political economy of the energy sector.