How is Energy Securitized?

This post takes the Copenhagen School’s Securitization theory as a topic for analysis. The first issue to be addressed is the definition of security and the concepts related to it. Following this, the level of analysis and the actors participating on that level will be analyzed. Then, the sectoral approach will be introduced and elaborated upon. The last part of this post will lay out the framework for securitizing the energy sector.

Firstly, security has been defined by the Copenhagen School as “the pursuit of freedom from threat and the ability of states and societies to maintain their independent identity and their functional integrity against forces of change which they see as hostile”[1]. To elaborate further, security is about the survival of a designated referent object which has been presented as existentially threatened[2]. The main action to achieve this is the ‘presentation’ or ‘securitizing move’, which usually takes the form of rhetoric (e.g. a speech, a report, legislation etc.). In this way, a securitizing actor attempts to bring an issue to the level of securitization.

The securitizing move is designed to address an issue which is either outside politics or on the political level, and bring it ‘beyond politics’[3]. These three constitute the ‘levels of securitization’, namely ‘de-securitized’, ‘politicized’, and ‘securitized’[4]. A move from one level to another is either labeled ‘securitizing’ or ‘de-securitizing’[5].

In this framework it is important to consider that an issue moves in both the direction of securitization and de-securitization according to the securitizing actor’s interests. Also, it means that to determine the level of securitization of an issue, one has to consider it at a fixed point in time, otherwise the analysis of the issue will be dynamic and would be examining the securitizing move itself.

Secondly, the level of analysis considered here is that of units, meaning “actors composed of various subgroups, organizations, communities, and many individuals sufficiently cohesive and independent to be differentiated from others” (e.g. states, nations, transnational firms)[7]. In effect, this takes a state-centered approach, although the states to be considered are all part of the EU and are subject to Union legislation. This connection requires a certain amount of consideration for the international level as well.

The link between the EU and its member states is important here because of the distribution of competences in the Union. The member states all participate in the international organization’s institutions and that makes them actors on both the national and international level. On the topic of energy, the Art.4 TFEU specifies the following competences:

Art 4(2) TFEU: “Shared competence between the Union and the Member States applies in the following principal areas:

… (i) Energy”

As explained by the Treaty, this means that:

Art 2 TFEU: “[The] Union and the Member States may legislate and adopt legally binding acts in that area. The Member States shall exercise their competence to the extent that the Union has not exercised its competence. The Member States shall again exercise their competence to the extent that the Union has decided to cease exercising its competence.”

In effect, this means that both the individual states and the EU as a whole can act in energy policy, making both levels important for this investigation. This is also true for transnational firms who can lobby on both the EU and the state level simultaneously. Therefore, an investigation like this should focus on states and national actors (on the unit level) and address the international level where appropriate.

Thirdly, the sectoral approach to security as discussed by the Copenhagen School stems from the analysis of different types of relations between actors[8]. The two sectors relevant here are the economic and environmental ones. Economic security is defined as the “access to the resources, finance and markets necessary to sustain acceptable levels of welfare and state power”[9]. The referent objects in this sector are almost never firms, because in the liberal conception of a market economy they are supposed to feel threatened and fight for their survival[10]. They only become a referent object if they are vital to the national or international economy (e.g large banks, state-owned firms etc.). The securitization of economics is mainly derived from the concept of investment risk and choices which have to be made in this respect[11]. The link with the energy sector from an economic perspective thus derives from three concepts:

  1. “The possibility that economic dependencies within the global market (especially oil) will be exploited for political ends or, more broadly, questions of security of supply”[12].
  2. Energy firms which are national monopolies (most cases) are vital to a state’s economy[13].
  3. A transformation of the energy system (e.g. because of securitization) requires long-term investment[14].

In this way, a definite interconnectedness is recognized to exist between the energy and economic security sectors.

Furthermore, environmental security is defined as “the maintenance of the local and the planetary biosphere as the essential support system on which all other human enterprises depend”[15]. The referent object here is not ‘nature itself’ but rather ‘the human environment’ and the key securitizing concept can be identified as ‘sustainability’ and it has a direct impact on the energy sector[16]. The main securitizing actors here are scientists, who use specialized reports to bring environmental threats to the public and to the political scene[17]. The fact that the energy sector is often identified as one of the main causes of environmental threats has led to the spillover of environmental securitization into securitization of energy. In this way, the environmental and energy sectors have been inseparably linked through the urgent need for action to prevent an existentially threatening environmental disaster.

Lastly, this theory considers that the securitization of energy through the economic and environmental sectors has created a situation where a series of links make the interaction of these sectors undeniable. Yet, the Copenhagen School does not explicitly address the issue of energy security even though it can be applied to address problems in contemporary international relations. The relationship between the three sectors is one of interdependence and environmental goals can be achieved together with greater energy independence, while at the same time creating a less threatened economic market. Therefore, it must be recognized that energy is a sphere connected to economic and environmental security.

There is an essential bond between economic and environmental security which overlap in the issue of energy security. The economic aspects of the issue are clearly applicable to the situation in the EU, since the internal market has created favorable conditions for integration and interdependence, therefore creating favorable conditions for interconnections of national energy markets. On the environmental topic, there is a very high level of integration within the EU, where Community and member state action has been planned and put into gear to preserve the region’s biosphere. This triangle of interconnected security issues plays a central role in the energy security discussion and nuclear power. The framework for analysis to be used is therefore this interplay between economic and environmental actors, the securitizing moves they initiate, and the overlap with the energy sector.


[1] (Buzan, 1991, p. 432)

[2] (Buzan, Waever, & de Wilde, 1998, p. 21)

[3] (Buzan, Waever, & de Wilde, 1998, p. 24)

[4] (Buzan & Hansen, 2009, p. 214)

[5] (Buzan, Waever, & de Wilde, 1998, p. 24)

[6] (Buzan & Hansen, 2009, p. 214)

[7] (Buzan, Waever, & de Wilde, 1998, p. 6)

[8] (Buzan, Waever, & de Wilde, 1998, p. 7)

[9] (Buzan & Hansen, 2009, p. 442)

[10] (Buzan, Waever, & de Wilde, 1998, pp. 98-100)

[11] (Buzan, Waever, & de Wilde, 1998, p. 104)

[12] (Buzan, Waever, & de Wilde, 1998, p. 98)

[13] (Buzan, Waever, & de Wilde, 1998, p. 106)

[14] (Buzan, Waever, & de Wilde, 1998, p. 104)

[15] (Buzan & Hansen, 2009, p. 450); (Buzan, Waever, & de Wilde, 1998, p. 71)

[16] (Bruyninckx, 2006)

[17] (Buzan, Waever, & de Wilde, 1998, pp. 71-72)


Buzan, B. (1991). New Patterns of Global Security in the Twenty-First Century. International Affairs , 67 (3), 431-451.

Buzan, B., Waever, O., & de Wilde, J. (1998). Security: A New Framework for Analysis. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Buzan, B., & Hansen, L. (2009). The Evolution of International Security Studies. Cambridge: University Press.

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