Christian Bueger

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.

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. 

Presentation at International Maritime Symposium, Pakistan

On December 21st I had the pleasure to address the audience of the International Maritime Symposium, organized by the National Institute of Maritime Affairs Pakistan. The two day symposium had the objective to revisit the key challenges in the Indian Ocean region and to discuss consequences and policy options for Pakistan.

I was invited to speak at the panel on Maritime Security in the Context of Regional Connectivity, alongside Vice Admiral (Rtd) Iftikhar Ahmed Rao and Prof. Dr. Azhar Ahmad. Vice Admiral (Rtd.) Abdul Aleem acted as chair.

In my online presentation (download the entire script here), I revisited the current maritime security situation in the Western Indian Ocean based on our recent article (with Jan Stockbrueger) and discussed the two mega trends of maritime security – the rise of geopolitics and planetary thinking – that we identify in our forthcoming book Understanding Maritime Security (with Tim Edmunds). I then outlined some of the policy options and strategic choices for Pakistan to become an honest broker and a leading regional maritime security provider.

Maritime Domain Awareness networks – presentations in Rome

Maritime Situational and Domain Awareness (MDA) is one of the key solutions in the maritime security tool box and one of the core themes of my recent research. Since almost 20 years the Italian navy facilitates one of the most important international mechanisms for MDA, known as the Virtual-Regional Maritime Traffic Center and the Trans-Regional Maritime Network. I participated in the annual expert meeting on December 1st, and introduced the key conclusions from SafeSeas research on how to improve MDA.

Twenty two navies were represented at the event, including representatives from Ghana, Kamerun, Brazil Argentina, Singapore and from the Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea. The event offered the opportunity to reflect on the importance of MDA in different settings and how to extend and improve data exchange in the network.

The network relies on the FENIX system hosted by the Italian navy. FENIX is conceived as a “service-oriented infrastructure for maritime traffic tracking”. It provides tools for identifying suspicious behavior at sea, a shared list of Vessels of Interest, as well as a chat function. It hence provides similar functions, as other tools such as the U.S. platform Seavision, or the IORIS platform developed and promoted by the E.U. in the Indo-Pacific region. Such platforms can be important additional decision making instruments for operations at sea. The greatest strength of a platform such as FENIX is the communities that it connects by synchronizing data from different national and regional sources, but also by provide direct channels of communication.

Like other networks also the VRMTC/T-RMN faces the challenge of how to deal with the fact that MDA initiatives have multiplied over the years. The long term experience with the two initiatives might help to better network the networks and make a global community of maritime security practice a reality. It could in particular help to better standardize Vessels of Interest lists, and incident reporting.

Forum on European Maritime Domain Awareness

Maritime Domain Awareness, in short MDA, is one of the most important solutions in the maritime security tool box. It centers on the idea that surveillance, data collection and information sharing can improve the response to maritime security incidents, deter threats, and identify suspicious behavior. The EU operates two related MDA platforms: The Common Information Sharing (CISE) platform focuses on the civil domain and is operated by the European Marine Safety Agency (EMSA); the Maritime Surveillance (MARSUR) platform focuses on military purposes and is developed by the European Defense Agency (EDA).

I had the pleasure to participate in a symposium organized by the EDA on November, 18th in Brussels. The event evaluated the state of MDA in Europe and how MARSUR could be improved. At the event, I introduced my research on MDA and discussed what barriers to information sharing must be overcome.

Participation in SHADE Med

On the 15th and 16th of November, I am participating in the Shared Awareness and Deconfliction in the Mediterranean (SHADE Med) meeting. SHADE Med is an informal naval coordination mechanism that was created in response to the challenges that irregular migration posed in the region. It draws on the role model of a mechanism that was created for the purpose of counter-piracy in the Western Indian Ocean.

The focus of the meeting is on “New challenges to regional security in the Mediterranean”. In addition to operational updates on the operations IRINI (EU), SEA GUARDIAN (NATO) and MEDITERRANEO SICURO (Italy), the are a number of strategic themes that will be discussed. The first day focuses on the implications of the EU’s new Strategic Compass, published in early 2022. On the second day the situation in Libya, new challenges to maritime operations, and the interdependence between food, energy and climate change will be discussed.

I will be contributing to the theme on new challenges, introducing our research on critical maritime infrastructure protection and what the implications for maritime operations in the region are.

Searching for a new vision of ocean politics – lecture at University of Malta

The oceans have gained much world political attention. Yet, ocean debates continue to be structured by three visions – the oceans as closed, free or global commons. In a talk I will be giving at the Department of International Relations, University of Malta, I argue why these visions are limited. We have to ponder about alternatives. I outlines how thinking with ‘infrastructures’ can help us to go beyond territory, freedom, state-centrism and formal law, enables paying attention to technology and economics, and capturing global ocean politics in the age of the anthropocene.

The talk titled Ocean Infrastructures – Searching for a new vision for global ocean politics, takes place on November, 23rd (12.00-13.30), Boardroom 212, Old Humanities Building, Department of International Relations, Faculty of Arts.