Christian Bueger

New commentary on Russia’s spying activities in the North Sea

In a new commentary published in The Conversation I reflect on the recent reports of Russian spying activities in the North Sea and Baltic Sea region. While there are not many news in these reports, I argue that it implies to pay more attention to the North Sea as a critical security space, and to go beyond surveillance and invest in repair capacities to reduce the threat to infrastructures. Read the commentary here.

A visit to the International Cable Protection Committee

The global subsea data cable industry meets in different formats, one of which is the International Cable Protection Committee. The ICPC is a key body that provide a forum for information exchange on technical, legal, and environmental aspects of submarine cables and issues recommendations to its members, other stakeholders and governments.

From the 17th to 20th of April, I will attend the annual ICPC meeting in Madrid. This is part of our research in the Ocean Infrastructure Research Group, and our investigation of the politics of submarine cables in particular.

At the event I will be presenting our research on cable politics, with a particular focus on recent surveillance initiatives, known as Maritime Domain Awareness, and the new focus on critical maritime infrastructure protection in the light of the 2022 Nord Stream attacks.

Practice gathering in Germany

What’s the state of the practice debate in international relations, and how does it fit into the broader landscape of the discipline? This is one of the key question that will be discussed at a workshop in Erfurt on 25.-28.3.).

The event organized by Frank Gadinger (Duisburg) and Oliver Kessler (Erfurt), follows up on two books published last year: “Praxis as a Perspective on International Relations”, edited by Gunther Hellmann and Jens Steffek, as well as “Conceptualizing International Practices. New Directions for the Practice Turn in International Relations” edited by Alena Drieschova, Ted Hopf, and I. Both revisit what can be done with practice theoretical thinking.

At the workshop, I am presenting a short essay titled “Making a difference with praxiography”. I am arguing that we need to leave the comfort zone of traditional theory+methods+empirics research and investigate how we can add to, interfere with, or intervene in practices. I propose a way of thinking about this centered on praxiography, the study of problematic situations, the deliberate making of useful epistemic objects, as well as three modes of engaging with practice. Contact me if you want to read the essay (by email or social media).

At the International Studies Association conference

This week I am attending the annual conference of the International Studies Association, which is the largest association bringing together scholars working in International Relations (IR) research. Joining thousands of participants from around the globe, I will be presenting our most recent work.

Together with a range of colleagues we have curated a set of interlinked panels titled “OceanicIR”. Across several panels we are investigating how IR can provide important answers to global ocean politics. In one of these panels, I am presenting a paper together with Tobias Liebetrau on the different ways that the subsea cable is considered as a political problem. I am also participating in two roundtables, discussing the relation of IR and the sea, as well as the question of Arctic sovereignties.

I am also attending a workshop on infrastructures, which precedes the conference. The workshop reflects on how infrastructures impact on global politics. Here I am presenting the overall work of the Copenhagen Ocean Infrastructure Research Group that I am leading since last year.

Next steps for the EU’s maritime security – briefing the European Council

The European Union is in the process of drafting a new Maritime Security Strategy (EUMSS) and critical maritime infrastructures is one of the issues it will address.

While the European Commission and the External Action Service are busy in developing a first draft of the strategy, a Working Party of the European Council is discussing what the strategy must focus on. Under the Swedish presidency of the Council, Member States will review and refine the first draft, which is expected to be issued as a communique in March this year. The final strategy is likely to be expected in autumn.

Briefing in Brussels

On February 15th, I had the pleasure to brief the Working Party at their meeting in Brussels. In my briefing, I first drew attention to the importance of maritime security strategy. Relying on research conducted with Tim Edmunds, I argued that strategies are key to deal with the complexity of maritime security, distribute roles and responsibilities, but also to agree on new challenges.

Three challenges are very important in this context: 1) how to response to geopolitical shifts, including the increasing use of grey zone tactics at sea, lawfare, and other disruptions, 2) how to relate the maritime security agenda to the climate and biodiversity crisis in the ocean, and ensure that maritime security forces contribute and revisit their roles, 3) how to protect critical maritime infrastructures.

Critical Maritime Infrastructure Protection

In the second part I discussed critical maritime infrastructure protection. I revisited the research we have done for the European Parliament in 2022, as well as the consequences and aftermath of the Nordstream attack. Zooming in on subsea data cables, I firstly argued that the cable system is not one, but several problems, and hence complex to deal with. The table below shows that analysis.

Not one, but six problems

I then demonstrated how the EUMSS can make important steps to improve the protection and resilience of critical maritime infrastructures. Firstly, maritime infrastructures, should not be subsumed as a ‘sector’ under the critical infrastructure protection agenda, since the legal and political context is radically different to that on land. Secondly, awareness and education must be improved, to ensure that there is a proper understanding of how maritime infrastructures work.

Thirdly, a coordination body in the EU is required to ensure the exchange of information, best practices, harmonize laws across the EU, and facilitate a productive dialogue with the industry. Fourthly, existing maritime domain awareness and surveillance instruments, such as those of the Common Information Sharing Environment (CISE) must be used more effectively. Fifthly, given the inter-dependencies of the global cable network, the EU must seek strategic dialogue with countries, including the United Kingdom, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco on how to ensure cable protection. Finally, the EU should pursue a ‘deterrence-by-denial’ strategy and improve the capacities available for rapid response and repairing infrastructures.

Research group meeting in Oldenburg

The Ocean Infrastructures Research Group held a two day planning meeting at the Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biology where the co-leader Kim Peters is based. At the meeting we set the agenda for 2023.

The group aims at developing a new vision and understanding of how the oceans are governed today. Our core tool is to think through global ocean politics, drawing on the concept of infrastructures. The oceans host various infrastructures, from cables and pipelines to ports, shipping and installations. In the group we develop the theory of infrastructures, but also explore its practical implications for new ocean policies.

In 2023 we are planning events, including on grey infrastructures and the shipping industry, on infrastructure protection in the Baltic Sea and North Sea, on shipping accidents and oil spills, as well as on justice at sea.

Our first research results will be published in an edited volume that we are currently working on, as well as two articles which are under review.

Pakistan’s journey to the blue economy – conference in Karachi

Pakistan’s journey to the blue economy was the key theme of the 10th International Maritime Conference in Karachi that I had the pleasure to attend and speak at last weekend.

Following the debates in other coastal states, also Pakistan is increasingly trying to seize the opportunities that are presented by blue economy thinking. The conference in Karachi, organized by the National Institute for Maritime Affairs and the Pakistani Navy, had as its main objective to establish what blue economy may mean for the country.

The rich program incorporated the full range of sectors associated with the concept, ranging from traditional economic sectors, including ports, shipping and ship breaking, to value that can be generated through aquaculture and coral reef restoration. A parliamentarian called for a blue economy task force, and the minister for climate change gave a passionate speech on why blue economy needs to focus on environmental protection and climate change adaption, rather than profit. The conference without doubt succeeded to further increase the awareness for the oceans within Pakistan and promote the concept of blue economy.

The discussion in Pakistan is interesting and differs from other countries, as the debate in many ways is let by the #navy which understands itself as the guardian of the sea. As I learned over the conference days, the navy has made a strong commitment to marine conservation. In partnership with the IUCN, navy officers help to plant mangroves. A partnership with the NGO Ocean Quest was announced during the conference which will lead to joint projects in coral reef restoration in the Arabian Sea. This is remarkable, since in other national contexts the cooperation between military and conservation communities are weak. We might see a model case emerging here, how armed forces can engage in conservation. Yet, obviously also the Pakistani navy has to make more effort to evaluate and reduce its environmental footprint and green its operations.

I was also delighted to discuss a cooperation between SafeSeas and the National Institute of Maritime Affairs (NIMA) during my stay. 

New Course in Global Ocean Politics

In the upcoming spring term, I will teach together with Jan Stockbruegger a newly developed course on Global Ocean Politics.

A remarkable political re-evaluation of the oceans has taken place – the ocean has returned to the international political agenda. The oceans are increasingly recognized as a new space of insecurity. Maritime crimes – such as piracy or illicit fishing– and regional inter-state contestations – as in the South China Sea or Arctic – are seen as major security challenges. Discourses on the ‘blue economy’ have drawn new attention to the oceans and present them as new economic frontiers, particularly in the Global South. At the same time, recognition has grown that the marine environment is in deep crisis. The detrimental effects of climate change, waste disposal, pollution, accidents, and ineffective marine resource management fundamentally threaten marine ecosystems and sustainability.

The aim of this course is to explore the key problems that the oceans are contemporarily facing and how global governors, law enforcement agencies and other actors intend to address them. The course is organized in three blocks. In the first part we revisit the contemporary foundations of ocean governance, including international organizations and the law of the sea. We then revisit the key contemporary ocean discourses. In part two we investigate major issues on the ocean agenda, such as shipping, fishing, piracy, smuggling, or deep seabed mining and how international actors aim at addressing them. Following an independent writing period the course concludes with a workshop where case studies are presented. The course is assessed on the basis of participation and the independent project

Towards joint ocean management? The experience of Seychelles and Mauritius

The joint management of maritime zones is often seen as a leading vision for how the oceans can be better governed. The African Integrated Maritime Strategy outlined a vision of shared Exclusive Economic Zones for blue economy goals. Others propagate Marine Peace Parks – jointly managed zones which would allow to overcome border disputes and establish synergies between marine protection and maritime security goals. Also the BBNJ negotiations, highlight that joined management might be the future of ocean governance. Are there model cases, that would allow us to see how joint management might work (or fail)?

In 2012 Seychelles and Mauritius signed a bilateral treaty agreeing on a joined up management for their extended continental shelf. It is today known as the Joined Management Area (JMA). Today I had the pleasure to have a conversation with the project manager, Francesca Adrienne, that has helped to get the JMA running.

The establishment of the JMA is supported by a UNDP led project, funded under the Global Environmental Facility (GEF). This capacity building initiative, as Francesca Adrienne told me, has assisted in the establishment of a governance structure, an ongoing marine spatial planning processes, a joint approach to maritime control and surveillance and a shared IT infrastructure for managing ocean data.

The two countries also benefitted from trainings, in law, data processing and governance. The project, which ends in April this year, also provided the framework for three exploration missions in the zone, collecting oceanographic data , and studying biodiversity and the life of mammals.

I also learned how difficult it is to conduct capacity building, which echoes our earlier studies related to maritime security. A key struggle is how to get everyone together to act concertedly and harmonize laws. It also concerns how to retain staff that has been trained, and how to maintain the infrastructures build in the future.

We also discussed more specific problems in shared marine management. This includes how to align the marine spatial planning process in the JMA with those in the Exclusive Economic Zones of the two countries.

It also concerns how to integrate the JMA within broader ocean governance in the region, including the maritime security architecture build through the Indian Ocean Commission’s MASE project. Since this architecture also deals with some of the main risks to biodiversity in the zone — illegal fishing, and shipping accidents, there is quite some synergies.

The JMA outlines how we might move joined ocean management forward. Many lessons will be drawn from it in the future. Whether and how the JMA will contribute to ocean health and maritime security, needs to be seen. It is after all an arrangement that deals with the seabed only, and it is driven by the goal to exploit resources.

While no oil and gas has yet been found in this remote part of the world, nor are deep seabed minerals in abundance, it is worrying that neither Seychelles nor Mauritius have taken a stance towards deep sea mining, or under what conditions they would exploit any other seabed resources.