Research themes

Strategic competition in the Maritime Domain

Our first major project, Law, Strategy and the South China Sea, focused on strategic competition – including the use of international law and legal argument – in the South China Sea disputes. Douglas Guilfoyle chaired an expert roundtable on the use of law to achieve strategic ends in the South China Sea, drawing together lawyers, historians, strategists and international relations experts to consider the issue in the round. The final workshop report is available here.  

A series of articles based on the workshop have been published with Australian Outlook covering topics including Chinese military strategy, US perspectives, the impact on Indonesia and trade implications for Australia.

Our most recent expert roundtable was on China in the Maritime Pacific and a final workshop report will be available soon.

Sea Power in the modern age

Our researchers are interested in what it means to exercise sea power in the 21st century, the continuing role of old technologies alongside the emergence of new threats, and the lessons of history. Questions of the role of mine warfare and submarines as a critical capability also remain important.  

The research group has also commenced a project on the protection of submarine telecommunications cables as both critical infrastructure and a significant national security vulnerability.

Projects might consider the role of sea power in relation to one or more of technological change, diplomacy and international law. 

Transnational maritime crime and non-traditional security threats

The rising use of maritime autonomous vessels (MAVs) is creating regulatory and enforcement opportunities and challenges under international law. The aim of an ongoing Australian Research Council - funded project, Improving International Law Regulation of Maritime Autonomous Vessels, is to fill a critical gap in current responses in international law by focusing on the challenges posed by MAVs to international maritime security law.

MAVs are increasingly useful for states in peacetime military operations, in response to transnational crime, maritime cyber security and in promoting broader national security goals. But non-state actors may also use them for terrorist and transnational criminal activity.  

Projects could examine the implications of criminal, ‘grey zone’ or asymmetrical actors in the maritime domain, in fields such as smuggling, illegal fishing, or piracy and maritime militias.

The rules-based maritime order  

Rules-based maritime order considers the role of international law in public diplomacy and diplomatic argument, how legal argument can be used to bolster (or attack) the legitimacy of policies and the strategies which may be deployed to try to change ‘the rules of game’. 

View Douglas Guilfoyle’s published article on: The rule of law and maritime security: understanding lawfare in the South China Sea.

Examples of current projects

  • Nguyen The Phuong

    Supervisor(s) – Professor Douglas Guilfoyle and Dr Richard Dunley 

    My PhD project examines how Vietnam’s grand strategy influenced its naval development from a brown-water navy to a green-water navy since 1986. By analyzing different ideational and material factors that define Vietnam’s transition from a continental country to a land-oriented maritime country, the project wants to shed light on the characteristics of the Vietnamese navy, its role as well as its position within the country’s armed forces. This project also wants to contribute to the discussion about sea power, both as a grand strategic component and a military strategy, by investigating the Vietnamese navy.  

  • Daiana Seabra Venancio 

    Supervisors – Professor Douglas Guilfoyle and Professor Shirley Scott 

    My research aims to analyse the relationship between protecting the marine environment, the seabed mining system established in "the Area" by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and the emerging technology of autonomous marine vehicles (AMVs). The so-called "Area" encompasses the seabed, ocean floor, and subsoil thereof, beyond the limits of the national jurisdiction. Considering the risks to the human body involving the submersion of crewed vehicles to the deepest parts of the ocean, remote-controlled (ROV) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) are the most practical method for seabed mining. Thus, the research I am developing explores the complexities of using AUVs powered by artificial intelligence in case of environmental damage during seabed mining activities.  

  • Douglas Guilfoyle

    My current Australian Research Council funded project examines how small States are using law of the sea dispute settlement mechanisms to gain political advantages in conflicts with greater powers, including Security Council permanent members. It is important to understand how the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea can be leveraged to defend coastal State rights in strategic disputes concerning sovereign rights, unresolved boundaries, and military affairs. This research will better equip lawyers and policy makers to understand how such legal statecraft strengthens or undermines the rules based order at sea and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as its cornerstone.

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