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Centre for Geopolitics

Providing historically-grounded approaches to enduring geopolitical problems.

Maritime Security has become a salient concept in public discourse and grand strategic debates in the 21st Century. Justified by fears of trade disruptions at the Strait of Malacca or the Strait of Hormuz, imagined as "String of Pearls" theory or the "Indo-Pacific Strategy", and embedded into European Commission mandates and national defence white papers, maritime security has become a clarion call for nation-states to take actions reflecting a widening set of political interests, divergent ideologies, and functional needs for a multi-stakeholder approach to achieve United Nations SDGs and a “rule-based international order” in the maritime space. 

Following Professor Christian Bueger’s proposed three frameworks for mapping out the “multi-vocality” of the concept, this research programme of the Centre for Geopolitics develops a set of empirical questions aimed to critically examine the mainstream realist understanding of regional politics and power transition through competition at sea. Our research projects examine rising China’s challenge of Pax Americana in regional politics and naval supremacy. We argue that realpolitik in Asian seas is mediated by ocean governance structures – conceptualized by James Rosenau as a framework of regulation and interdependent relations in the absence of overarching political authority in the international system – that limited power projections and shaped public and private interests in conflict or cooperation. Geopolitically and in the national consciousness of Asian powers, the maritime domain embodies unique vulnerabilities and risks for state and non-state actors that require different solutions than those prescribed by the rules of stable spatial control over land. Is there any room for political autonomy and foreign policy entrepreneurship for secondary powers in Asia caught between the great power contention of US and People’s Republic of China?

Working with international scholars, we explore arguments that Europe's past could inform China's future as a transitioning land power, facing US as an established naval hegemon and guarantor of regional security pacts. Comparative historical and international relations analyses examine origins of maritime governance, tracing formative processes such as the convergence of stable notions of national sovereignty over ocean spaces, roots of state-building that shapes military and regulatory capacities, learning and contention of international legal regimes, and non-state provision of the maritime commons.

In Summer 2021, research on martime security culminated in a four-day conference, "Maritime Asia: the Securitization of the China Seas in the 19th  21st Centuries", which was co-convended with UC Berkeley's Institute of East Asian Studies and brought together 23 leading scholars from around the globe. The conference examined the how, the why, and the so what, internally and internationally, of the rise of the PRC as a major Asian maritime power in the 21st Century. The main findings of the cross-disciplinary discussions were presented in the Public Forum: "China's Maritime Power- Connecting the past to the future."

People specialising in this area



Dr John Nilsson-Wright


Surabhi Ranganathan 


Dr Christian Schultheiss