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Energy autonomy and state behaviour: A model of energy and international cooperation and conflict

Samuel R. Schubert
Webster University Vienna
Samuel R. Schubert
Webster University Vienna
Open Panel

Abstract

How, when, where, and why do states’ pursuit of energy autonomy lead to international cooperation and conflict? Arguments emanating from many intellectual corners including resource-war theorists, neo-liberalists, and Neo-Marxists suggest that as resources become scarce, international conflict will be increasingly likely between rich energy consumers. However, evidence from the last forty years suggests otherwise. Energy disruptions, crises, and the pursuit of secure supplies often lead to cooperation rather than conflict. What explains this phenomenon? This paper presents a model describing the relationship between internal energy substitution programs and external state behavior, rooted in the Realist notion that state foreign policy is not driven by energy, but rather by their perspective toward projecting power. The model incorporates two intervening variables: international energy prices and the salience of supply availability for power projection (SAPP), which itself is a product of a state’s inclination to project power externally to either maintain or change the status quo. Based on the assumptions that energy is vital to power projection, that states do not always prioritize power projection, and that initial conditions of energy autonomy and investments into substitutes modify state behavior under different price and resource flow conditions, this paper presents a structured explanation of the role of energy in international cooperation and conflict. Testing them across two cases of low and high prices periods respectively, it finds that low prices always lead to reduced cooperation while high prices only lead to conflict when government’s place a high salience on external power projection.