As part of an ongoing collaboration between the University of Sydney and the University of Copenhagen, I organised together with the Center for Global Criminology an ideaslab on maritime security on the 27th of June. Titled “Insecurity, Crime and Cooperation at Sea”: New Perspectives on Maritime Security” the goal of the day was to explore different ideas from international relations, security studies, and anthropology of how our thinking changes if we initiate inquiry from the sea and not the land.
The day provided an opportunity to exchange views on why and how the maritime is a site and a view point from which to explore the social and political differently. In the background was the observation that the majority of social science disciplines have focused on the land and rather ignored the sea. What has been called “sea blindness”, however, is gradually changing. Increasingly the sea is not taken as an empty void, but understood as a rich space filled with meaning, actions and life. Emerging research challenges the land/sea dichotomy and is interested in connectivity, flows and chokepoints, piracy and other forms of maritime crime, or ports and maritime infrastructures. The six presentations of the day picked up these themes respectively.
The first set of presentations centred around maritime crime and the question of how we produce knowledge about it. Justin Hastings from the University of Sydney explored this issue by asking how we can develop better categories and data about maritime crime, pointing in particular to the need for harmonizing existing data collected by international organisations or maritime domain awareness centres. Sarah Phillips from the University of Sydney emphasised the importance of considering maritime crime from the perspective of coastal communities. Too often insecurity is analysed from a Western or elite perspective with little awareness of how maritime insecurities are experienced in every day life by those living close to the shore or going to sea. As she pointed out, the absence of local experience, might lead to perverse policy responses, which might exacerbate insecurity rather then responding to it.
The second set of presentations investigated the port as a core site of maritime insecurity. Looking at ports, sites where the land and the sea intersect, is an invitation for widening our viewpoint, as often the maritime security discourse is focused on issues of law enforcement or naval action at sea. Yet, the majority of maritime insecurities is connected to ports. Smuggled goods need to be loaded and unloaded, and ransom piracy requires safe harbours and economic infrastructures. Henrik Vigh from the Center for Global Criminology drew attention to the port as a core site that ensures connectivity and the uninterrupted flow of illicit goods. The port emerges as a core space which facilitates maritime crime networks. Morten Koch Anderson from the Center for Global Criminology discussed how corruption in ports is a core factor to enable maritime crime. Discussing corruption as a complex interrelationship between different forms of authorities, people and goods he stressed the need for investigating how corruption unfolds in practice and how corruption in ports differs from other sites.
The last set of presentations zoomed in on a Danish perspective. Uffe Jacobsen from the University of Copenhagen drew attention to the safety dimension of maritime security. Discussing the challenge of providing search and rescue services and responding to maritime disasters in Greenland, he explored how difficult it is for state actors to deal with the vastness and remoteness of the Arctic waters. Anders Puck Nielsen from the Royal Danish Defence College discussed the transformations in Denmark’s naval posture pointing to the substantial recent shift away from counter-piracy to training warfighting skills. His presentation forcefully documented the dilemmas that small navies encounter in performing a growing set of maritime security tasks, while trying to maintain a traditional profile as a defence force.
The concluding discussion returned to the big picture and how blue thinking allows to experience the world differently and enables to advance new narratives about politics and security. Participants highlighted the potential of thinking with connectivity, flows and waves, the need to continue to challenge taken for granted dichotomies, such as the land/sea distinction, and the importance of recognising the multiplicity of the sea, not as one space but as a complex assemblage of various sites.