When Interdependence Produces Conflict: EU-Russia Energy Relations as Security Dilemma
The crisis in Ukraine confounds our understanding of the relationship between economic interdependence and conflict. EU-Russian energy interdependence has kept conflict from escalating, as both sides are keenly aware of the costs of disrupting their mutually beneficial relations. Europe has been reluctant to apply economic sanctions for fear of disrupting energy flows from Russia and Russia has curbed its support for separatist rebels in the East, fearful of the damage sanctions could cause its economy. However, growing interdependence in the years leading up to the crisis did not stop Russia and Europe from adopting adversarial policies that are at the root of the current crisis. Both sides’ efforts to include Ukraine in competing regional integration projects destabilized the country and moved it to the brink of civil war. The article explores the relationship between economic interdependence and conflict from the perspective of EU-Russian energy relations. It finds that rather than embracing interdependence, both sides have seen it as a threat to their security and have adopted policies to reduce their exposure. These policies threaten the other side because they can turn the relationship into one of asymmetrical interdependence -- where one side is less dependent on the relationship and therefore gains political leverage over the other. As a result the energy relationship looks like a classic security dilemma - where neither side can improve its own security without threatening the security of the other side. These findings help dispel commonly held notions about the pacific effects of interdependence and show that interdependence can exacerbate tensions and promote conflict -- particularly when it is focused on one area and falls short of complex interdependence. Western policymakers should heed this lesson as they design policies of economic engagement towards "rogue states" such as North Korea or emerging rivals such as China.