Research on hybrid naval warfare receives funding from the Marie Curie scholarship!

We had a chat with the mastermind behind the project, postdoc Alexander Lott.

Picture of Alexander Lott in profile
Alexander Lott, postdoc at NCLOS. Photo: UiT

Thanks to the funding from the Marie Curie scholarship Alexander Lott will be able to spend the next two years delving into the topic of hybrid naval warfare. Among other things, this will result in a book, research articles, several workshops, and guidelines for decisionmakers at the state level.

But what is really hybrid naval warfare?

- There is no formal legal definition of the term hybrid warfare. So as a legal concept it is somewhat ambiguous. Therefore, there is an inherent risk when categorizing various incidents as falling within or outside the framework of hybrid warfare, Lott explains.

According to Lott there are traditionally two sets of rules used to assess the use of force at sea. On one hand the rules of peacetime law enforcement, and on the other side the rules of naval warfare. – You can say that hybrid warfare happens within a grey zone where it is uncertain whether it is peacetime or wartime rules that apply.

Lott suggests that the existence of such a grey zone is somewhat related also to the divergence of the relevant case law of international courts and tribunals. – For example, the ICJ has established in 1986 and 2003 that the use of force needs to meet a gravity threshold to qualify as an armed conflict. Whereas the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Committee of the Red Cross argue that the gravity of the use of force is not the prerequisite criterion for the use of force between states to reach the level of an international armed conflict, Lott explains.

As a phenomenon hybrid warfare has gained prominence in the last years, particularly after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, attacks against oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz in 2019, as well as the Yemeni conflict which has spilled over in attacks against neutral ships in the Persian Gulf, and the tensions in the Taiwan strait.

– In my research I am trying to find out if the concept of hybrid naval warfare is useful for legally assessing the aggressors’ actions in such incidents. Perhaps instead as I hypothesize the existing peacetime framework of law enforcement and the legal framework applicable to armed conflicts is sufficient for legally assessing instances of hybrid naval warfare, Lott suggests.

One of the main building blocks of Lott’s research is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Part three of the convention provides a comprehensive legal framework on the regime of straits. Straits are narrow maritime areas that connect two larger bodies of water. - Straits are particularly targeted by states involved in hybrid conflicts. For example, the Kerch Strait incident of 2018, and the 2019 limpet mine attacks in the Strait of Hormuz, Lott explains.

In addition to the Law of the Sea convention, there are other rules of international law that are relevant for hybrid warfare. For example, the 1949 Geneva Conventions, International customary law as codified to a great extent in the San Remo Manual and international human rights law.

–I assume that the concept of hybrid warfare might not be useful, legally speaking, to address grey zone incidents. I particularly have in mind the presumption that instead of adopting a new legal framework for hybrid warfare, we should rather try to develop the existing legal framework for maritime law enforcement and the rules of naval warfare.

-  For example, it would be worth considering options for developing the San Remo Manual into a legally binding international treaty. And of course, to focus on the rules that a state needs to follow when enforcing its laws against foreign ships, both government and commercially owned, Lott suggests.

Alexander Lott has been associated with the Norwegian Centre for the Law of the Sea since 2020. – I enjoy working in this vibrant and international environment that we have here at NCLOS. We should very much appreciate what we as law of the sea researchers have here in Tromsø. I come from Estonia and if you want to discuss law of the sea matters, there are not that many lawyers active in the field. Here at NCLOS we are over 30 researchers working within the area of the law of the sea!

Read more about the LOSFARE-project here!

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Last updated: 22.03.2022 11:04