Christian Bueger

Seabed security: Naval Forum in Spain

The seabed is rapidly becoming a new space of concern in security politics. In Europe, largely triggered by the 2022 sabotage of he Nord Stream pipelines, but also investments by Russia in subsea capabilities, NATO countries are reevaluating their dependency on subsea infrastructures such as pipelines and data and electricity cables.

As part of their EU presidency, the Spanish Navy hosted a Forum focused on the issue on November, 16th at naval headquarters in Madrid. Titled the “Seabed, a new area of interest and dispute”, 150 participants, including high level representatives from all major European navies, discussed the importance of the seabed, and different responses.

The first panel focused on the strategic picture, deep seabed mining and subsea data cables. In the second panels, the navies of Spain, Italy and France provided an overview of the defense and coordination projects they are currently developing. The French representative showed how the navy is implementing its dedicated seabed strategy, while Italy discussed how their response is structured by technological innovation, maritime stakeholder communities, a legal review and the creation of a new coordination center.

In my contribution to panel 1, I firstly argued for the need to think maritime security in dimensional terms. I then demonstrated how substantively our dependency on the seabed has been accelerating in the past two decades, a trend that will continue with the green energy transition is unfolding. Two make that point, I provided a review of how the seabed has been used throughout history. I then investigated the hypothetical landscape of threats based on our recent article on the issue. I ended in an evaluation of current European responses and its challenges.

Source: Critical Maritime Infrastructure Protection: What’s the trouble?, Marine Policy, 155: 105772, 2023 (with Tobias Liebetrau).

The main responses are led by NATO and the EU. NATO has developed a coordination cell in its headquarters which organizes a stakeholder network described as ‘community of trust’. At NATO Maritime Command a center for critical infrastructure protection is being developed which will operate in a similar way as the NATO Shipping Center to enhance information sharing and coordination with industry.

The EU is currently evaluating the vulnerability of subsea infrastructures, and has recently launched its EU Maritime Security Strategy that entails significant plans for infrastructure protection. A key actor driving the agenda is the European Defense Agency.

More efforts will be needed, however, in improving maritime domain awareness and subsea awareness, reliable information sharing and standards for the self-protection by the industry.

Debating the future of maritime security in the Western Indian Ocean

What’s the state of progress and arising challenges for maritime security in the Western Indian Ocean? From 14.-16.11. I had the pleasure to follow large parts of a ministerial conference addressing this issue in Mauritius online. I chaired one session on the first day and provided comments in the concluding sessions.

Below is the write up of my intervention:

Towards holistic maritime security: Finetuning the maritime security system in the Western Indian Ocean

Maritime security solutions in the Western Indian Ocean have made significant progress. A decade after the crisis caused by piracy attacks in the region, a sustainable and well-functioning maritime security structure has been built.

While often referred to as a maritime security ‘architecture’, this term seems no longer appropriate. An architecture is a metaphor that points to a project in planning and construction. Maritime security has progressed in the region to a degree, that it is now better to refer to a ‘system’ – a system that needs to be finetuned and improved, but which has been well established.

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Discussions on maritime security and infrastructures in Geneva

While the global attention for the oceans continues to be unprecedented, maritime security and critical maritime infrastructure protection lack an institutional home within the United Nations system. While different UN agencies deal with aspects of the agenda, the debate is dispersed and lacks a holistic outlook. This includes the International Maritime Organization, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the Food and Agricultural Organization, the UN Environment Programme, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction or the UN Conference on Trade and Development. Maritime security has also been high on the agenda of the UN Security Council. This risks global fragmentation and the question of the relation between regional and global ocean governance continues to be unsettled.

On November 9th I had the pleasure to discuss with UN bodies in Geneva how this situation can be addressed.

Discussing security challenges in the Mediterranean in Athens

The Mediterranean is an increasing volatile region and close attention for the range of security challenges is needed. I had the pleasure to discuss these challenges with colleagues at an event co-organized by the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) and NATO, held in Athens on 3.11.2023.

In my talk I was reviewing the set of maritime security issues in the region, highlighting the need to think beyond the problem of irregular migration at sea.

Visit to Hawai’i

The protection of critical maritime infrastructures is a global concern. During a stay in Hawai’i I participated in a two day workshop on subsea data cables in the Indo-Pacific organized by the Center for Indo-Pacific Affairs, University of Hawai’i. I had also the pleasure to meet the staff of the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies for a discussion of maritime security and capacity building in the region.

Center for Indo-Pacific Affairs
Workshop at the Center for Indo-Pacific Affairs, University of Hawai’i

At the workshop I was drawing on our research on critical maritime infrastructure protection to argue for the need to rethink maritime security in the light of the growing density of maritime infrastructures. While there is increasing awareness for the importance of subsea data cable, it is important to recognize the inter-dependencies between maritime infrastructures, in particular energy and data.

Talk on infrastructure protection in South China Sea

I had the pleasure to give an online talk at the 15th South China Sea International Conference organized by the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam. The conference is one of the most important gatherings of maritime security experts in the region.

In my talk I was outlining the implications of the critical maritime infrastructure protection agenda for the region. Vietnam in particular has substantial potential in offshore energy production, which raises the question of how these installations will be protected in the future.

Talk at forum on Baltic Security

The question of how regional seas, such as the Baltic and North Sea can be secured differently, continues to be a top priority in Europe’s security and defense debate. On October, 11th I had the pleasure to speak at a forum at the British Embassy in Copenhagen.

In my talk I stressed the importance of shifting our thinking about security to account for the new age of infrastructure we are living in. Our growing dependency on maritime infrastructures, notably in the light of the green energy transformation which depends on offshore installations, implies that we have to better integrate policy and operations that address energy security, supply chain security, maritime security and marine safety.

We also need to revisit how to better manage regional inter-dependencies, not only in the framework of NATO and the EU, but also institutions, such as the Bonn Agreement or the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission.

Dealing with threats and emergencies, such as the 2022 Nordstream sabotage, the 2023 Balticconnector leak, but also accidents, such as the Yannis P incident of August 2023, caused by shadow fleets, demand so.

A recording of the event is available here.

New article: Offshore wind energy and maritime security

How are energy security and maritime security intertwined? In a new article forthcoming in Ocean Yearbook, Tim Edmunds and I discuss the threats and risks linked to offshore wind energy platforms. We discuss the different scenarios that arise from marine safety, blue crime, terrorism and greyzone war fare, as well as different mitigation and response options from civil, military and private actors. The article is available as a pre-print here.