Exploring the maritime domain

The Maritime Security Research Group draws together scholars from diverse disciplines who are interested in security within the maritime domain. We take a broad approach to maritime security, one which encompasses not only traditional hard security concerns but also human security, maritime crime and the ‘blue economy’.

The group has expertise in international law, history, strategy, naval affairs and a range of Indo-Pacific regional perspectives. Its current focuses include strategic competition, the South China Sea disputes, non-traditional security threats and wider issues of sea power and lawfare. The group combines academic staff, postgraduate researchers, Visiting Fellows and it works with external collaborators from across academic, government and policy sectors. 

The Maritime Security Research Group is led by Professor Douglas Guilfoyle.

Research themes

Strategic Competition in the Maritime Domain

This research examines contested claims and how states seek to consolidate them and the dynamics of maritime conflict between rival powers, especially in the South China Sea. 

Our first major project, Law, Strategy and the South China Sea, focused on the 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 Chinese military strategyUS perspectives, the impact on Indonesia and trade implications for Australia, among other topics.

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

This research theme considers the role of sea power in relation to technological change, diplomacy and international law. 

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. 

Transnational Maritime Crime and Non-traditional Security Threats

This research theme studies the implications of asymmetrical actors in the maritime domain, from smugglers to pirates and maritime militias. 

In particular, 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 cybersecurity and in promoting broader national security goals. But non-state actors may also use them for terrorist and transnational criminal activity.  

The Rules-based Maritime Order

This research theme examines the role of international law and international legal argument in oceans governance and conflict. 

It 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’. Douglas Guilfoyle has published a major piece on challenges to the rule of law in the South China Sea dispute available here.

Our researchers