Christian Bueger

Training course on impact

Over the last four weeks I had the pleasure to participate in a training course provided by DANIDA. The course focused on engagement, impact and influencing, or in other words how research can be turned into useful expertise. For me it was the second time to attend a course with such a focus, having earlier attended the one provided by the U.S. Bridging the Gap project. It was a brilliant opportunity to reconnect not only to the debate on expertise in practical terms, but to learn more about the tools and tactics employed in particular by non-governmental organizations and development workers to plan for impact and “stakeholder” engagement but also how to record outcomes.

While many of these tools are developed against the “project logic” and ideas of documenting “measurable impact”, they are still productive to reflect on the various ways that academics can act as experts and translate their knowledge, for instance, through capacity building, networking, education, or even providing more policy oriented technical tools. Such tools might be concepts, narratives or policy options and scenarios, and hence go far beyond from the old fashioned ideas, that scientific research primarily develops ‘facts’ or ‘causal’ knowledge claims. Engaging with non-academic audience also does not necessarily imply to work with governments or power elites, but very well mean to prioritize work with NGOs and communities directly.

New Commentary on subsea data cables

Together with Tobias Liebetrau I have just published a new commentary titled Beyond Triple Invisibility: Do Submarine Data Cables Require Better Security?

We investigate the question of whether we pay enough attention to the security of subsea data cables. Cables are the core infrastructure of the digital age, but they often do not feature prominently in security debates on national, regional or international levels. We argue that it’s time to go beyond this invisibility and raise in particular the need to consider this infrastructure in the development and peacebuilding debates, paying attention to vulnerable countries. The commentary draws on an article recently published in Contemporary Security Policy.

Virtual conference of the European International Studies Association (EISA)

This week I am attending the conference of the EISA which is the main association in International Relations (IR) in Europe. After the cancellation of last year’s edition, this year is taking place in a virtual format. The conference program documents the rich variety of current research in IR and particular the various strands of sociology driven forms of analysis. At the conference I am part of five panels.

The first panel is a discussion of the insights from our recently published book titled Concepts at Work, edited by Piki Ish-Shalom. The book makes a case for the importance of concepts as core material of international relations, and raises the need to focus academic inquiries on the entity of concepts. In my contribution to the panel, I revisit the core take away points from my chapter in the book which analyses the concept of ‘blue economy’.

In the chapter, I argue that we should investigate concepts in practice and pay particular attention to the situations in which concepts are used as tools for particular purposes. Blue economy is a remarkable concept since it has restructured the politics of ocean governance substantially and offers an opportunity to think the economic potential and the sustainability of ocean resources conjointly. Yet, there is quite some variety in how the concept is used. I explore how the EU, the small island state of Seychelles and the African Union develops the concept.

The second panel is a roundtable on ‘folk theory’. This follows up on an earlier discussion at the 2021 International Studies Association conference. Folk theory is a notion that invites us to reflect on the concept of theory and in how far the knowledge production of non-academic actors matters in world politics.

In my own commentary I stress that folk theory is an important concept that invites us to open up conventional understandings of ‘theory’ in IR. It is important not to restrict ‘theory’ to a sort of academic upper class of theorizers or to maintain a hierarchy between those doing theory, and those doing empirics. The notion of folk theory brings back agency: who actually theorizes? Addressing this question leads us to consider a broader set of actors that do theorizing. Yet, we shouldn’t extend the groups of theorizers without limitations, as otherwise we risk conflating the concept of ‘theory’ with ‘knowledge’. ‘Theory’ needs to be understood as a particular form of knowledge that has particular characteristics, such as the capacity to travel beyond contexts.

In addition, I am the chair of a panel on knowledge production, expertise, and epistemic practices, and discussant on a panel on spokespersons and on theorizing practice.

IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille

I am back from a short visit to Marseille where I had the pleasure to visit the IUCN World Conservation Congress. It was great to see so much attention for the state of the oceans and to learn about ongoing and planned conservation projects. The support for the moratorium on deep sea bed mining and the call for a reform of the International Seabed Authority was one of the important outcomes.

It was also great to learn about the “Great Blue Wall” Initiative which will be an important experiment in regional integration to follow over the coming years. Most certainly regional integration is part of the answer, but we shouldn’t forget the importance of national capacity and local expertise as these initiatives unfold.

The Congress left me with two thoughts. IUCN is a world of enthusiasm and hope that indeed the oceans can be better protected. What I missed is perhaps a bit more pragmatism. ‘Blue economy’ and ‘blue finance’ – ocean science driven, new planning and innovative finance models – are ambiguous concepts. Some of the initiatives appear to be a continuation of technocratic planning models or liberal market dreams.

It seems that the question of distributive justice, how the costs, risks and revenues are distributed (blue justice!) does get too little attention. While the world most certainly needs blue economy entrepreneurs, some more caution for counter-intuitive consequence and the impact on communities would be welcome.

The congress also showed how far apart the worlds of ocean conservation and maritime security are. Those interested and in charge for maritime security meet at very different sites than the conversation community. There is little crossover or dialogue.

The gap continues to puzzle me. Isn’t it obvious that protected areas require agencies that ‘protect’ and enforce regulations? We will need marine rangers, coast guards and navies to do this job. And isn’t it obvious that the most immediate threats to marine biodiversity come from environmental crimes such as illegal fishing or deliberate pollution, or shipping accidents and oil spills as we could witness in Mauritius and Sri Lanka in the last year?

Better integrating the different ocean agendas – maritime security, blue economy, blue justice – will be one of the key challenges in the year to come. It would be great news if the next IUCN Congress or one of the several upcoming international ocean conferences would send a signal in this regards.

Public debate on African navies and capacity building

This week I had the pleasure to speak at an event organized by the maritime security team at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria. The event was titled “Safe, secure and stable seas: how are African navies contributing?”. The discussion provided an opportunity to review the current state of maritime security in Africa and investigate in particular two issues: firstly, the role of navies in contributing to maritime security, secondly, the capacity building needs of African countries.

In my talk I summarized some of the core insights from our 2020 book “Capacity Building for Maritime Security. The Western Indian Ocean Experience” and ideas derived from the ongoing AMARIS project that studies maritime security in Ghana. In particular I stressed the importance of the diversity of states in terms of their maritime security challenges, the importance of the coordination problem and the lack of attention to sustainability of capacity building initiatives.

A recording of the event is available here.

Term starts in Copenhagen, time to explore concepts again

This week the academic term starts in Copenhagen following up the introduction and orientation days last week. The campus is back to full swing and fully open. This term I am teaching a core course in International Relations at master level. Together with 100 students we will explore the rich universe of international relations concepts, how these structure our thoughts but also are the key building blocks of how practitioners make sense of their worlds.

The course starts out from a discussion of why concepts matter and why they are the more interesting entity than paradigms or theories. We then explore different understandings of concepts and the forms of analysis that follow from that. Broadly we explore epistemological, historical and sociological accounts. We then critically review a range of foundational concepts and their semiotic fields, starting out from the concept of theory, moving to concepts of order, agency, culture, practice and discourse. Next we explore a range of concepts that are particularly important in contemporary debates, including spatiality, materiality, anthropocene and queer.

AMARIS interpretation workshop

The core team of the Anaylizing Maritime Insecurity in Ghana (AMARIS) research project met on the 25th and 26th of August to reflect on initial findings and outcomes. AMARIS is the first project to investigate maritime security in the country of the Global South in-depth. While substantial research has been conducted on regional processes, and global maritime security providers such as the U.S., the European Union, Australia or the UK have been studied in detail, the national level in countries severely affected by maritime insecurities in the Global South have hardly been investigated, with few exceptions.

AMARIS Core Team

AMARIS is a collaboration between Denmark and Ghana based researchers. Together we explore maritime security on three levels: 1) blue crime, 2) maritime security governance, and 3) capacity building. Further information is available on the SafeSeas website.

Commentaries on UN Security Council debate on maritime security

The UN Security Council held its first ever open debate on maritime security on August the 9th. While the Council discussed maritime crimes in earlier debates, and has been pro-active in addressing crimes, such as piracy, the open debate was a high level exchange focusing on the broader strategic picture. The fact that the meeting was held at the level of heads of state and minister, with among others India’s prime minister Mr. Modi, and Russian president Mr. Putin addressing the Council, documents that maritime security is increasingly a top priority.

The Security Council debate is an important yardstick for how the international community thinks about maritime security, what priorities are in the discourse and what responses and institutional developments it is likely to spur. To investigate the key take away points from the debate, I have written a series of comments on the debate.

In the first commentary, published with Maritime Executive on August,12th, I discuss consequences for the shipping industry. I argue that the debate indicates that the center of gravity of the maritime security debate is increasingly shifting away from the International Maritime Organization towards New York. This raises the question if and how the shipping community will want to engage with the UN debates. The commentary was also taken up in a story in Lloyds List.

The second opinion piece asks whether the United Nations require a new institutional set up for maritime security. This was one of the issues raised in the debate. In the comment I investigate different scenarios of how such a structure might look like. It was published with the Global Observatory.

Conference on Maritime Asia

From the 9th to 12th of August I am participating in an exciting inter-disciplinary conference organised by the Centre for Geopolitics, Cambridge and the Institute for East Asian Studies, Berkley. The conference is titled “Maritime Asia: The securitization of the China Seas in the 19th to 21st Centuries.” As the title indicates the conference is an attempt to facilitate a trialogue between international history, international relations and area studies.

At the conference I will be give a presentation drawing on a paper co-authored with Scott Edwards. The paper investigates the rise of maritime Southeast Asia as an ocean region. It draws on and advances the securitizing community of practice framework to investigate the rise of a transnational maritime security community that conceives of maritime Southeast Asia in integrated and holistic terms.

MARISX of the Information Fusion Center, Singapore

From the 27th to the 29th of July I am attending the 7th MARISX exercises of the Information Fusion Center in Singapore. This years edition brings together representatives from 72 navies, coastguards, law enforcement agencies and other maritime stakeholders to discuss maritime insecurity challenges in Southeast Asia and to train how to use the information sharing system of the center the most effectively.

At the exercise I am facilitating three Q&A sessions and give a presentation on regional information sharing and MDA approaches.