Christian Bueger

The EU’s regional seas – event in Brussels

What are the challenges that the European Union’s maritime security policies need to address in different regional seas? This was the overarching question of a one day seminar held at the Royal Higher Institute for Defence and organized as part of the Belgian presidency of the European Council.

The event titled Enhancing Maritime Security at the Edges of Europe focused on four regionals seas: The North Sea, the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, and the Gulf of Guinea.

Panelists at Brussels event. Photo: Chris Trelawny.

In my talk, I firstly introduced a couple of general observations about maritime security from our book Understanding Maritime Security, firstly stressing the importance of maritime security as a connector, and secondly emphasizing the importance of thinking maritime security in 6D.

I then argued that we have to start thinking about regional seas as dense infrastructure spaces which are highly industrialized. In such environments the key problem is not necessarily freedom of navigation or territorial control, but caring for, protecting, and safeguarding critical maritime infrastructures, including shipping lanes, energy platforms, pipelines and cables.

Oceans in focus at International Studies Association conference

In the first week of April the annual conference of the International Studies Association takes place in San Francisco, United States. At this years edition, scholars interested in global ocean politics will gather at the event. Over ten panels focus on the oceans – seven of which are part of the coordinated panel series #OceanicIR – and an informal reception – the Blue Drinks – will allow scholars to network. This continues the tradition established in 2023.

Together with Beth Mendenhall and Bec Strating I am organizing a mini-workshop in which we explore oceanic regions and I am presenting three papers linked to ongoing ocean politics research:

  • Blue Waves – How the Oceans made IR, with Jan Stockbruegger, debunks the myth that IR has been seablind and shows at what moments in time, the oceans were crucial for disciplinary developments.
  • Sneaky Foreign Policy. Small Island Agency in the new age of geopolitical competition, with Anders Wivel, develops a pragmatist-realist framework for the study of small island agency and investigates the case of Solomon Islands.
  • “The ship has reached the shore”: The amalgamation of communities of practice of the high seas, with Maren Hofius, provides an interpretation of the BBNJ negotiations from the perspective of community of practice theory.

Current situation in the Red Sea – media interviews

With intensifying attacks on shipping by the Houthis operating from Yemen, the Red Sea crisis is getting more and more dramatic. One ship has sunk. Before that it’s anchor cut a series of subsea data cables. Now it is expected to lead to an environmental crisis. The first seafarers have died in attacks.

Several naval operations, including task forces led by the United States under the Combined Maritime Forces construct, and the European Union, India and China, have not yet found a way of how the protect shipping and prevent that more ships sink, cables get damaged, and seafarers die.

In the Shadows of the Houthi crisis, also the pirates of Somalia have made a return. A second merchant vessel was taken and is held hostage for ransom.

Speaking to Al Jazeera on attacks in the Red Sea, 12.3.2024

Drawing on decades of studying the region’s maritime security situation and our new book Understanding Maritime Security written with Tim Edmunds (Oxford University Press), I have written a series of commentaries, and also spoke to Der Spiegel (on cables), to Al Jazeera (on Houthi attacks), to Monocle Radio (on EU mission). Find links to the stories and interviews here.

Small islands states in the Indo-Pacific. Visit to Seychelles

During my recent visit to Seychelles, I participated in an event jointly organized by the University of Seychelles and Khalifa University (UAE). The symposium focused on the strategic consequences of Indo-Pacific thinking and geostrategic rivalries for small island states.

Drawing on my earlier research on small states in the Indo-Pacific, how islands face a militarization dilemma, and how they are able to expand their action space through creole foreign policy, I argued during my talk that Seychelles needs to highly alert to geopolitical dynamics and the new vulnerabilities it causes, and indeed needs to rethink its repertoire of foreign policy tools.

Panelists of the Symposium on the Indo Pacific, University of Seychelles, 7.3.2024

As a champion of the blue economy, and its high profile in counter-piracy, Seychelles has navigated such troubled waters extremely well in the past. However, it is now also time for new ideas.

What such new ideas might be, and how Seychelles could utilize its presidency of the Indian Ocean Commission to shape the global agenda, was one of the core issues of my discussion with representatives from the ministry of foreign affairs. Global ocean politics clearly can benefit from leadership of small states, such as Seychelles.

Public talks on the Western Indian Ocean

In the last week of February I had the pleasure to give two public talks on global ocean politics and the security dynamics in the Western Indian Ocean.

The first talk was generously hosted by the University of Mauritius Faculty of Social Science. In the talk I investigated the rise of global ocean politics and the role of the Western Indian Ocean within it. Showing the politics behind different regional dynamics, I ended with a discussion on the consequence for small island states and the need to develop smart foreign policies. Holding larger states accountable to ensure they engage in stewardship, prioritizing regional integration, and exercising globally visible leadership were some of the strategies I highlighted.

Talk at the University of Mauritius, 28.2.2024

It was followed by comments by Pooja Awotar (Indian Ocean Commission and PhD Candidate at the Centre d’Etudes Diplomatiques et Stratégiques, Paris, France). The discussion focused on what smartness might mean in the current regional environment and how states can escape the militarization dilemma.

The second talk was hosted by the Honorary Consul of Germany to Mauritius. In the talk I provided a short history of the Western Indian Ocean and investigated the different positions of actors in more depth, ending on current challenges such as the crisis in the Red Sea. The discussion centered on the long term consequences of these developments and implications for sustainable development.

Talk at German Business Club, Mokka, Mauritius, 1.3.2024

Global ocean politics and naval cooperation – new video

The recording of my recent talk at the MILAN exercises of the Indian Navy is now available on Youtube. In the presentation I revisit the shifts in global ocean politics that navies will have to address in their strategy, and show how critical maritime infrastructure protection is an important point of strategic convergence and global naval cooperation.

India’s new sea power. Reflections from Milan 2024

India’s role in global politics is evolving, and the country is increasingly emerging as an international leader. This also applies to global ocean politics and naval affairs. India is a major sea power, and its navy increasingly acts as the guardian for the Indian Ocean, protecting trade and supporting its neighbors.   

Experiencing Sea Power in Practice

In February, I had the opportunity to experience India’s new sea power in practice. The Indian navy invited me to give the opening talk at their bi-annual multinational naval exercise, called Milan. Milan is a Hindu word that can be roughly translated into English as referring to ‘meeting’, ‘gathering’ or ‘union’. Over 50 states participated in Milan. Held in the city of Visakhapatnam, the home of the navy’s Eastern Command, the event included a seminar, an exhibition, a city parade, and an exercise at sea.   

Group Picture of participants in the maritime seminar of Milan 2024

Sea Power Today

Sea power is often equated with military capabilities, measured in numbers of ships, staff, or high-end technology, with the aircraft carrier often assuming the role as the main status symbol, given only seven nations possess that asset. Milan put some of the military strength of India’s navy on display, with the country’s two aircraft carriers along with a broad range of other assets — fighter planes, helicopters, special forces — being presented to the public.

Yet, contemporary sea power means more than counting and comparing military capabilities. Milan documented at least three forms of contemporary sea power: convening power, innovation, and responsibility.

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Meetings in Berlin: The Baltic Sea, the age of infrastructure and the future of maritime security

Over the course of a week I participated in a series of meetings in Berlin. The first was an authors meeting of a forthcoming report on the future of maritime security. The report will lay out in detail what challenges the global governance of maritime security faces and which institutions might respond to these.

The second was writing workshop of the Ocean Infrastructure Research Group. We conducted a thorough review of the chapters of our co-authored book titles Global Ocean Politics in the Age of Infrastructure.

Finally, I attended a workshop organized by the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy that focused on the Baltic Sea.

Participants of the Baltic Sea Security event, 14.2.2024, Berlin

Why navies need to coordinate better in the Western Indian Ocean – new commentary

In a new commentary published with RUSI, I argue that the number of multi-national operations in the Western Indian Ocean region requires better coordination. I show which operations are currently active, and that new coordination tools, such as an improved SHADE mechanism are required. Read it here.