Courtesy Reuters

Energy and the Exercise of Power

At different periods throughout history, certain specific issues have come to occupy for a time a focal position in the interplay of power between nations, groups or individuals. Such issues have included land, food, religion, treasure, and trade. Over the last 20 years, and at first unnoticed, energy-more specifically oil-has moved into this central role. While energy cannot be expected to hold such a position forever, over the next several years it will remain at the center of interaction of world forces.

It is now some five years since what might be called the energy discontinuity of 1973-74-the abrupt price rise that signaled a massive shift in the power relationships centered on oil. However, the balance of the evidence still indicates that the forces involved are far from completely understood, so that surprises still occur. Consumers and suppliers continue to talk past each other, unable or unwilling to understand each other's positions, let alone to make the necessary accommodations to reduce the tensions of their relationship.

One reason for the lack of understanding is that most of the voluminous discussion and analysis has been concerned with the economics of the situation, as if this were the only major factor involved. To the consumers, who write most, this may be so. For the producers, the politics of energy are vital, and for them the situation is much more complex. Economics is but one of several factors that determine and lie behind the power relationships involved in global energy supply and consumption. What these other factors are and how they affect the exercise of energy-related power are in need of better understanding-which is the objective of this article.

While everyone knows something of power, many find it difficult to define their understanding of such an abstract concept. Bierstedt has compared it to St. Augustine's problem with time: "We all know perfectly well what it is-until someone asks."1 However, Ralf Dahrendorf, in this journal, has provided a practical definition which serves very well: "the

Loading, please wait...

Related Articles

This site uses cookies to improve your user experience. Click here to learn more.