Infrastructure and Integration: How Europe’s Two Largest Oil Pipelines Shaped the Cold War Economy
Grace Ballor, Tom Cinq-Mars

In the late 1950s, the European continent caught in the crosshairs of the Cold War, was further divided by the inauguration of two petroleum pipeline projects. The United States-backed North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) built the Central Europe Pipeline System (CEPS), a gasoline network spanning France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, and West Germany; meanwhile, the Soviet-backed Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) announced plans to assemble the Druzhba Pipeline, a transcontinental artery designed to link oilfields in Russia to refineries in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and East Germany. These two massive pieces of fossil fuel infrastructure reshaped the Cold War economy in the twentieth century. CEPS cut through traditional trade barriers, moving fuel across five host countries unimpeded by tax or customs charges. Druzhba likewise carried “red oil” to the edge of the Iron Curtain, prompting NATO to impose ill-fated embargoes on an array of non-military equipment to the Soviet Bloc. What is more, both pipelines outlasted the conflict for which they were built: today, CEPS supplies jet fuel to some of Europe’s largest civilian airports, while Druzhba serves as the backbone of its thoroughly profit-based East-West oil trade.

Against the backdrop of current debates over Nord Stream 2, a recently completed natural gas pipeline linking Russia and Germany under the Baltic Sea, this paper explores the ways fixed energy pipelines have historically shaped business relations between host and user countries. Drawing on underutilized material from NATO and Russian archives, it argues CEPS and Druzhba both contributed to complex forms of economic integration within their respective blocs, although in ways much different than those their creators had intended. By comparing and contrasting the evolution of two of Europe’s most significant energy projects and their economic effects on either side of the Iron Curtain, this paper offers new perspectives on the economic legacy of the Cold War and on infrastructure as a dynamic factor in shaping global markets.