Richard Morningstar, the U.S. energy czar to Eurasia, told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that he'd do more than get behind oil and natural gas pipelines from Azerbaijan if confirmed as the next envoy to Baku. Azerbaijan, he said, is in a "tough" neighbourhood were territorial disputes and geopolitical alliances are among the top concerns in the region. Economic freedom and political development extends beyond energy, but if energy security translates to national and economic security, it’s the oil and natural gas pipelines that will underpin the U.S. relationship with Azerbaijan.
Morningstar serves as Washington's point man on oil and natural gas in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. During April talks with Greek lawmakers, he said an interconnected energy market translated to stronger markets in general. Greece could play host to a section of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline planned from the Shah Deniz natural gas field in the Azeri waters of the Caspian Sea. TAP is part of the so-called Southern Corridor of transit networks that would connect Central Asian markets to the eurozone. Morningstar noted none of that natural gas would get to U.S. markets. But just as Europe has "a major interest" in a vibrant U.S. economy, the eurozone is of keen interest to Washington.
Morningstar in the 1990s served as a special adviser to the White House for states that became independent when the Soviet Union collapsed. At the time, U.S. policies were based on strategies left over from the Cold War. George Kennan, deputy chief of mission to the USSR in the 1940s, warned that the Kremlin at the time saw world conflict dominated by capitalist and socialist centers of global power. Apart from bipolarity, he warned, the Kremlin saw that "internal conflicts of capitalism inevitably generate wars." If this is true, then energy policy logically becomes part of national security policy for the West.
Morningstar told U.S. leaders during his confirmation hearing that Washington stands to gain from an Azerbaijan that is peaceful and strategically linked to the West. This statement is telling given that national policy objectives rarely undergo dramatic upheaval. Washington has long been a vocal supporter of Azerbaijan as a key oil and natural gas supplier to Europe. With Baku's help, Europe would rely less on Russia as a gas partner, keeping the Kremlin isolated to its immediate sphere of influence. This is containment, a policy Kennan envisioned more than 60 years ago.
Azerbaijan already supplies oil through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and will at some point in the future be the dominant supplier of natural gas through the Southern Corridor. Those two projects, said Morningstar, "represent powerful symbols of Azerbaijan’s pursuit of closer Euro-Atlantic integration and global commitment to energy security – a key part of our strategy to diversify energy routes and sources for European markets."
Integration with the West, said Morningstar, "must span well beyond pipelines." That span, however, bridges a strategic gap that ties economic policies to national security. It's something that's as true today as it was when Kennan looked to the future of international relations.
By. Daniel Graeber of Oilprice.com