Energy and conflict: Security outsourcing in the protection of critical energy infrastructures

AuthorYuliya Zabyelina,Irina Kustova
Publication Date01 December 2015
558640CAC0010.1177/0010836714558640Cooperation and ConflictZabyelina and Kustova
Cooperation and Conflict
2015, Vol. 50(4) 531 –549
Energy and conflict:
© The Author(s) 2014
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Security outsourcing in the
DOI: 10.1177/0010836714558640
protection of critical energy
Yuliya Zabyelina
John Jay College of Criminal Justice, USA
Irina Kustova
University of Trento, Italy
Attacks on oil and gas infrastructures by terrorists and criminals in places like Nigeria, Colombia,
Iraq and Russia have amplified the vulnerability of critical energy infrastructures (CEIs) to deliberate
physical attacks. Being unable or unwilling to protect CEIs, many national governments have
made attempts to alleviate these vulnerabilities through outsourcing of security, i.e. contracting
the responsibility to protect CEIs out to non-state actors. This article advocates the need to
conceptualize security outsourcing in the domain of critical energy infrastructure protection
(CEIP) in order to explain a variety of regulatory choices made by governments in this domain.
Based on a qualitative analysis of four case studies, the article discusses various types of security
outsourcing in the protection of CEIs, including the militarization of national oil companies,
public–private partnerships and the involvement of international organizations and local social
groups. The typology may serve as a tool of describing, classifying and evaluating various forms
of security outsourcing. The findings of the article help to deconstruct the complexity of security
outsourcing and capture some of the major contemporary trends in energy security.
Critical energy infrastructure, oil theft, private military and security companies, public–private
partnership, security outsourcing
On the one hand, naturally vulnerable infrastructures have existed for a long time, and in
that sense the need to protect critical energy infrastructures (CEIs)—facilities and
Corresponding author:
Yuliya Zabyelina, Department of Political Science, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, 524 West 59th
Street, Room 9.65.36 New Building, New York, NY 10019, USA.

Cooperation and Conflict 50(4)
services that are vital to the production, transmission and distribution of energy—is not
a novel task for national governments. On the other hand, the increasing interest in CEIs
in recent years reflects the changing conditions of states with regards to growing interde-
pendencies, threat perceptions and the empowerment of violent non-state actors
(VNSAs), all of which have profoundly challenged national security programs. While
before the 1990s asymmetrical threats, e.g. terrorist and criminal attacks on CEIs, had a
more occasional character, the post-Cold War era has witnessed repeated disruptions of
CEIs by VNSAs in various parts of the world.
Large-scale illegal oil tapping and pipeline sabotage have become an increasingly sali-
ent issue over the last two decades. Terrorists, insurgents, opposing factions in civil wars
and members of organized criminal groups have demonstrated the ability and willingness
to attack CEIs. Although threats to CEIs have a truly global nature, they represent the big-
gest challenge for (post-)conflict regions and weak states (Koknar, 2009). Exploration and
extraction of resources in these states have been a long and hard experience in coping with
challenging security conditions and unstable political environments—the problems that
have often been discussed in the ‘resource course’ literature (Rosser, 2006).
For example, it is estimated that oil production in Nigeria runs at only two-thirds of
its capacity largely because of theft and disruption caused by the civil war (United
Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 2009). According to the BBC report, oil
theft costs Nigeria US$5bn every year (Walker, 2008). The problem related to oil theft
has been aggravated by the involvement of politically-motivated militant groups in the
illicit oil trade, the expansion of which goes back to the tensions between foreign oil
corporations and local ethnic groups (Katsouris and Aaron, 2013). Members of the Niger
Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF) have been fighting for oil resources and seek-
ing foreign oil companies’ withdrawal from Nigerian oil fields. Under the conditions of
constant attacks on their facilities, Eni and Royal Dutch Shell declared force majeure and
shut down their activities in Nigeria in spring 2013 (Faucon, 2014).
Similar problems have been present in the MENA (the Middle East and North Africa)
region and have emerged in connection to the Arab Spring (Salhani, 2013). Libya’s out-
put almost halted in the summer of 2011 as the civil war spread across the country. Syria
and Egypt are two other important cases in point in relation to the impact of the Arab
Spring on energy security. In Syria, for instance, oil and gas fields have been an impor-
tant asset for various rebel factions and government forces to fight over since the begin-
ning of the civil unrest (El-Katiri et al., 2014: 7).
The situation with asymmetrical threats in post-Soviet states has also been uneasy since
the break-up of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). For example, Russia’s oil
pipeline monopoly Transneft has been struggling to combat oil theft in the North Caucasus
since the times of the first military campaign in Chechnya. Oil theft and illicit oil trade have
taken similar forms in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan’s religious extremists seem to be feeding
on oil trafficking, having put pressure on the Kazakh government to take the issue of oil
theft and oil contraband under serious consideration (Tashkinbayev, 2013).
Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and Bolivia are among the most important oil produc-
ers in Latin America. All of these states have encountered critical levels of oil and gas
theft, resulting in billions of dollars of losses. While oil theft has been Colombia’s prob-
lem for several decades, one of the most recent trends is the use of stolen oil for drug

Zabyelina and Kustova
production (Walsh, 2012).1 The situation is similar in Peru, where organized gangs
siphon oil away from the Northern Peruvian Pipeline and process it into kerosene—one
of the must-have substances of cocaine production.
These examples emphasize that CEIs are likely to become even more interdependent
and will require much closer interaction between national governments and private sec-
tor stakeholders. Governments have an array of choices to select from when it comes
down to critical energy infrastructure protection (CEIP). CEIP may range from state
provision through collaborative arrangements between the public and the private sectors
to market provision of CEIP (Assaf, 2008). Either being unable to effectively provide the
security of CEIs, particularly as it relates to threats posed by VNSAs, or seeking cost-
effective arrangements, many national governments, even those that have conventionally
preferred state-run CEIP strategies, have made attempts to alleviate CEI vulnerabilities
through security outsourcing (Dunn-Cavelty and Suter, 2009: 179–187). As the costs of
implementing effective prevention strategies have escalated in the background of on-
going reductions in government spending on public sector security, public-private part-
nerships (PPPs) have been one of the prevalent solutions to CEIP. The importance of
private military and security companies (PMSCs) as providers of CEIP has also risen in
recent years. Finally, energy security has become a priority for various international
organizations, some of which have been actively seeking to acquire some of the key roles
in CEIP. Although research has been produced on PPPs and PMSCs, only a few studies
have focused on how these new security actors participate in CEIP and what kind of
relationship they build with national governments. Also, there seems to be little knowl-
edge generated about the nature and the extent of the involvement of non-state actors in
CEIP. Other questions are to be raised as well. What is security outsourcing? Which ele-
ments of CEIP are outsourced? To whom are these security functions outsourced? What
are the potential consequences of security outsourcing?
This article has the objective of answering some of these questions by offering a
qualitative analysis of security outsourcing in the domain of CEIP. We argue that although
state protection measures remain essential, they are no longer the most preferable or
exclusive parts of CEI security. Non-state actors seem to have been delegated some of
the critical functions in CEIP. However, there is little homogeneity with regards to how
CEIP is approached in various national contexts. The multiplicity of forms of security
outsourcing are presented in a typology that reflects the complexity of security outsourc-
ing as well as captures some of the major contemporary trends in energy security. The
typology is supported by four case studies, all of which were chosen to illustrate how
different types of security outsourcing manifest themselves empirically as well as how
they come into play with political regimes.2 Although security outsourcing strategies
offered in our typology are not always mutually-exclusive, they shed light on the peculi-
arities of security outsourcing in the CEIP...

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