Christian Bueger

Small Island State Foreign Policy – talk at Seychelles MFA

What are the opportunities and challenges for small island state foreign policy in the changing world political environment? This was the key question that I explored at a talk at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Seychelles on the 20th of December. The event was hosted by the minister who gave a short welcome address.

In my talk I started in revisiting an article on the Seychelles co-authored with Anders Wivel. In the article we explored how Seychelles has managed to gain a global reputation and status despites its very low capacity. As we argued this can be explained by the ways that the country adopts productively the principles of smart small state foreign policy and by its style of diplomacy of diplomacy driven by pluralism and pragmatism – what we dubbed ‘creole diplomacy’.

On this basis, I discussed current world political master trends that are likely to influence the status and diplomatic action space of Seychelles, emphasizing 1) the return of geopolitics, in particular given the rise of Indo-Pacific thinking, 2) the rise of informal governance and 3) the ocean revolution. Each of these trends creates new challenges and opportunities. The analysis is forthcoming as a short article in the Seychelles Research Journal.

Based on this analysis I made five proposals for how Seychelles can seize opportunities and continue its entrepreneurial style of diplomacy. Firstly, Seychelles should look east and strengthen its bilateral relations to Maldives and Sri Lanka, but also seize opportunities to work closer with Southeast Asia and the islands of the South Pacific.

Second, the government would benefit from issuing a paper in which it outlines its own understanding of the Indo-Pacific, the role of Seychelles therein, and its vision for the future of this regional construct.

Thirdly, the country could benefit from better coordinating its ocean-related diplomacy under the notion of ‘blue diplomacy’. This could entail the creation of the post of an ocean ambassador who coordinates participation in ocean summits, adds a face to Seychelles ocean politics and speaks on behalf of Seychellois marine life.

Fourthly, I argued for the need to continue strong advocacy and campaigning work on core ocean issues. This could particularly focus on three issues: Plastic pollution and the global campaign against plastics; the prevention of and response to shipping accidents, that requires more surveillance of shipping activities but also capacity building on a regional level; and supporting the ban of deep sea mineral mining.

Fifthly, I suggested that Seychelles can draw on its reputation as an innovator in developing the blue economy and maritime security agendas to drive forward the discussion of how synergies between both can be build.

The event continued with a discussion of creole diplomacy, the implications of the Indo-Pacific construct for Seychelles and which issues the foreign policy might want to focus on.

Keynote Address at Conference in Darmstadt

The oceans are becoming increasingly a key theme across disciplines. In what is sometimes called the blue or oceanic turn, scholars ask what is particular about the maritime, how does it differ from land, and what does it imply if we ground our thinking in the sea. The conference titled “Maritime Conflicts and Promises in History and Present” held on the 19th and 20th of November was an interesting contribution to this line of thought. Working and thinking across different disciplines to better understand the oceans.

I had the pleasure to give a keynote address at the conference titled “Global Ocean Politics. A short history of current paradigms.” In my talk I was drawing on recent research on global ocean politics and the paradigms, problematizations and communities of practice driving it.

Launch of the Copenhagen Ocean Hub

Yesterday we celebrated the launch of the Copenhagen Ocean Hub. The Ocean Hub is a cross-faculty initiative of the University of Copenhagen that aims at facilitate the debate among scholars working on the oceans from disciplines such as political science, history, anthropology and law.

The Ocean Hub’s main goal is to provide an intellectual space for the rich community of 30 ocean researchers at the University, to act as an incubator for innovative ocean-related research projects, and to translate our insights to broader Danish and European publics and policy processes.

As one of the co-directors of the initiative I was delighted to open the evening program. Following welcome notes from the Head of the Department of Political Science and the Deans of the Social Science, Humanities and Law faculties we explored the theme: Is the land more important than the sea?

Vincent Gabrielsen, Kristian Soeby Kristensen and Katherine Richardson explored the theme in short inspirational talks from different angles.

Talk on maritime security at the IFSH

Today I had the pleasure to give a talk at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg (IFSH). In my talk titled “Inside the global maritime security assemblage” I drew on the model of pragmatic ordering outlined in recent article to explore how maritime security implies a new problematization of ocean space. I then discussed how maritime security spurs regime complexity and fragmentation drawing on insights from the TOCAS project. I ended in discussing whether and how we might witness a re-ordering process on an institutional level that would eventually lead to a consolidation and settlement process on a global level.

Discussion on Maritime Security in the Indo-Pacific

What are the political and strategic implications of the new world political region, the Indo-Pacific? This continues to be a question that puzzles many think tanks and strategy makers. More and more states and regional organizations develop genuine strategies for this region, and debate if and how they have a role in the region. Since the Indo-Pacific is in the first instance an aquatic region, such debates often directly point to maritime security.

Maritime security, as we have come to conceptualize it, is comprised of three dimensions: 1) Inter-state relations and conflicts emerging from disputes over territorial claims, borders and resources and grey zone activities that can be harmful to international connectivity or the marine environment; 2) extremist violence at sea, comprised of terrorist organizations using or directly targeting maritime activity, or spillover from such activities into the sea; 3) transnational organized crime, or ‘blue crime’ including marine piracy, the smuggling of narcotics and other illicit goods, irregular migration, or illegal fishing and deliberate pollution. In many ways, it is the latter category that forms the conceptual heart of maritime security and it’s relate field of study, not the least since such threats are often transnational and emerging.

In the Indo-Pacific debate, often the opposite is the case. The new regional lenses often imply a focus on great powers and their relations. It is the inter-state dimension that gains most of the attention. Too quickly the discourse turns to what happens in the capitals of Washington, Beijing, London and Paris. The challenges that matter the most to smaller states, such as islands, the livelihood of coastal populations, or to the maritime industry quickly fade into the background: blue crimes, piracy, illegal fishing, climate change mitigation. Such issues are not only important because they directly affect the lives and human security of billions of people. They are also issues that can only be addressed through international cooperation. They are also issues that cannot be addressed by military means in the first place.

Re-centering the understanding of maritime security in the Indo-Pacific in such challenges, is an important reminder that our futures are not by necessity determined by great power rivalry. An action space of cooperation and shared global problem solving persists; an alternative future is possible. Navies will have an important part in that future, but solving the emerging challenges in the Indo-Pacific order implies to think beyond great powers and the military instrument.

These are some reflections that came out of my participation in an event on October 26th organized by the European Council on Foreign Relations Indo-Pacific Strategy Group, titled Comprehensive Maritime Security in the Indo-Pacific.

Dissertation on Mare Nostrum successfully defended

Today I had the pleasure to act as external examiner at the University of St. Andrews in the defense of Maurizio Carmini’s dissertation. In the thesis, which was successfully defended, Carmini investigates the role of the Italian Mare Nostrum operation in the addressing human smuggling in the Mediterranean. Carmini assesses the effects of the mission on the basis of documents and first hand interviews with Italian navy officials. The thesis was supervised by Dr. Peter Lehr.

Webinar on Maritime Security and Fisheries

On October, the 6th I had the pleasure to speak at a webinar titled “Beyond Maritime Security: Protection and Sustainability of Fisheries. The event was organized by the Foundation of the National Interest, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the German Embassy in Manila and is part of an event series on maritime space.

At the event I raised attention for the four ocean paradigms (maritime security, blue economy, ocean health, blue justice) that structure current thinking and policy making. I argued for the importance of better integrating the four approaches and the programmes and projects that come along with them.

Training course on impact

Over the last four weeks I had the pleasure to participate in a training course provided by DANIDA Fellowship Centre. 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.

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.