With Friday’s opening panel on The Space-time of War and Diplomacy having established Q2’s overall theme, subsequent panels explored simultaneously the distinctive qualities and complementarity of its components of space, time, war, and diplomacy.
In the opening panel, both Stephen Kern and Arthur I. Miller emphasized the significance of technological, cultural, aesthetic, and scientific innovations to the representations and perceptions of space before and during the First World War. After a brief break, the conversation went deeper in the panel on “Space: Geopolitical, Galactic, and Virtual”. Presentations by Andrea Loehr, Mark Salter, and McKenzie Wark brought insights from astrophysics, history, and critical political theory to bear on perceptions of inhabiting and moving through space(s) at scales galactic, planetary, and subjective.
As Q2’s attendees assembled to catch a ferry to Q station on Friday morning, traces of McKenzie Wark’s lecture the night before were manifesting in conversations and the space itself. Near the pier sits a plaque commemorating the spot where the 1st Infantry Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment left to fight in Korea in 1952. This plaque mentions another 1st Battalion, one inaugurated in Sydney on August 17, 1914, that also left from Circular Quay on a tour of duty that would take it to Cairo, Gallipoli, and the Western Front. It later became a garrison reserve unit during the Second World War, and came briefly under the command of Blair Anderson Wark (McKenzie’s great-uncle, introduced in his lecture the night prior) before his untimely death in 1940.
Like the stone in which the plaque is embedded, the space and time of the First World War remains somewhat of a bedrock for so many aspects of security and geopolitics of today. The war’s impacts persist in time and space through emerging states and nationalisms, the rise of the modern international organizations and endeavors of “collective security”, and physical reminders both intentional and not (the annual “Iron Harvest”, for example, when farmers across Western Europe uncover hundreds of tons of unexploded ordinance in their fields). For a conference interrogating these impacts and parsing their contemporary relevance, Circular Quay was a fitting point of departure.
As the ferry pulled into Q Station’s small wharf after a quick trip across the harbor, a buzzing comes across the sky. A new buzzing began among the participants, realizing their welcome to Q Station by a quadrocopter making passes over the pier. With this bit of drone détournement provoking everything from bemusement to mild dismay among the passengers, the observation apparatus had already begun disturbing the behavior of the system.
If one were asked to choose one word to describe this year’s Q Symposium- an event that defies easy categorization regardless of word count- they could do a lot worse than “big”.
The quantum revolution of the early 20th century came from big changes to the way people thought about the small, which in turn led to new ways of thinking about matters as big as the universe. Now, on a big anniversary of a big war, “Q2: The Space-Time of War and Diplomacy” interrogates the relationship between the development of quantum mechanics and other innovations brought about by the First World War and these big effects. Big concentrations of capital deepened nascent networks of big science, which in turn produced increasing amounts of data novel in both quantity and kind.
This coincided with a pervasive push towards new means of representation across all types of fields. The artistic avant-garde was developing new methods of abstraction just as physicists began using the abstraction of probabilistic mathematics and wave functions to allow for representation of aspects of the universe unable to be observed or even definitively described.
Politics also confronted new issues of representation, with the war and its aftermath bringing new notions of nation, class, and gender to the fore as political identities. In the post-war system of states, bureaucrats and statesmen (at that point still an entirely male labor force) developed practices of permanent representation to embody the state in newly formed international organizations and the practice of issuing passports to represent the state’s subjects.
As per tradition, the Q Symposium opened in the University of Sydney’s famous quad with a public lecture. With this year’s iteration a co-presentation of University of Sydney’s Centre for International Security Studies (CISS) and Sydney Ideas public lecture series, the lecture drew a diverse audience of artists, students, researchers, and intellectuals from across Sydney supplemented by the Q Symposium attendees coming from around the continent and beyond.
Wars and atoms have, as it were, a conjugated history.
On the eve of the Second World War, physicists Albert Einstein and Leó Szilárd wrote a letter to President Franklin D Roosevelt to inform him of the destructive potential of nuclear fission.
The letter would trigger a chain-reaction, as it were, beginning with the Manhattan Project and leading to the first use of nuclear weapons, continuing through to an arms race without end. Einstein later offered a baleful post-mortem: “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”
One hundred years ago, German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg predicted on the eve of the First World War that the coming violence would “overthrow all that exists.” He could not possibly have known how right he was, as his prediction would be borne out by revolutions political, intellectual, and scientific. The war emerged from a Newtonian logic; one which ensured that trains set in motion would stay in motion, carrying unprecedented assemblages of violence across vast distances until they met equal and opposite forces and settled into the stagnant equilibrium of trench warfare. But these events would also enable a series of revolutions that made possible a paradigmatic shift to a new, post-Newtonian logic that led to the later discoveries in atomic physics.
These global events and their intellectual products changed the way we think about space and time, war and peace. But should we not also address Einstein’s lament and change the way we think about these events? When we keep notions of probability, entanglement and complementarity in mind, we must treat the relationship of their coterminous developments as more than coincidence and less than causal. The manners in which we conduct war and wage science are always entangled, so as science changes the ways we conceive of our world, so too must we reconsider the ways we perceive and commemorate our world wars.
Those at the Q Symposium would be forgiven, given the breadth and depth of research presented over the day and a half prior, for wondering how so much could be packed into such a short time as Saturday slunk softly towards sundown. Panels had touched on so many facets of securitystudies, natural and social science, ethics, epistemology, and security aesthetics that a single closing panel would have to serve more as a pledge for future research than a summation of conclusions.
CISS Director and Q Symposium organizer James Der Derian opened the closing with a series of questions. Do quantum considerations prompt new considerations of agency and accountability? Is the quantum turn an epistemic breach or an epochal evolution? Is quantum just a new metaphorical heuristic in a field long renowned for using the language of the natural to describe the social? Perhaps consideration of a quantum age or turn misses an epistemic shift from the age of longue durées to a world of simultaneity and entanglement in which the actualization of Virilian acceleration towards the global event has made local global and here indistinguishable from there.
Each of the Q Symposium’s Global Security panel on Saturday afternoon served to show that discussing elements of the global now necessitates consideration of the complex, the entangled, and the unpredictable. With a subtitle of “Crisis, Stasis, or Opportunity?” the panel’s presentations on East Asian nuclear security, the “cohesion” of the American military, maritime piracy in the Indo-Pacific, and global climate change all explored long-entrenched orders increasingly under challenge by changing parameters. But while each presentation stressed the challenges posed by changes to these institutions, they were careful to show the opportunities inherent in the change as well.
Moderator Roy MacLeod, of USydney’s Centre for International Security Studies, introduced the panel’s participants to kick things off. The trans-Pacific panel’s roster boasted three North American transplants to Australia and one San Francisco-based Australian, lending credence to the theory of the quantum citizenry of expatriates that had been brought up in Parag Khanna’s presentation the day prior.
Allison Bashford’s presentation for the biosecurity panel mentioned a mid-20th century idea of Warren Weaver to develop an independent, solar energy source providing every human being with a personal energy supply. Given humanity’s relative lack of follow through on the idea, coffee would have to suffice for participants still feeling jet lag and residual effects of the morning’s pre-panel activities.
The symposium reconvened after the break for Infosecurity: Cyberworlds, Surveillance, Cyberconflict and Global Media. The panel’s presenters all approached the topic with emphasis on the power inherent in information. Whether making meaning of images, collected and surveyed in of the biometric manifestations of 21st century biopower, structuring and situating potentiality through virtuality or exercising power through demonstrating competence in diplomacy, information is an integral component of power and security.
After an introduction to the panel by moderator Simon Tormey, no stranger to the manifold manifestations of power in his own work, Roland Bleiker began the presentations with his own work on images in international relations. While there were some clear similarities to the nascent research program outlined by Lene Hansen in her Hintze lecture two days earlier, Bleiker presented elements of a broad line of research he has been pursuing for some time.
The impact of images, he explained, is impossible to capture by looking for conventional causality. Images, as representations, do not cause events. They do construct an effect Bleiker called the “seduction of the real”- giving the viewer a sense of being witness to reality rather than viewer of constructed and framed representation. In spite of- or perhaps because of- this, images’ impact on policy is of considerable import- Bleiker is currently conducting research, along with Emma Hutchison and David Campbell, on the role of images in shaping response to humanitarian crises. Speaking to the local context, he spoke of research on the sort of images often selected to accompany articles on immigration to Australia. He highlighted the way these images construct and reinforce certain tropes, reinforcing categories such as “boat” people as somehow distinct and in opposition to those immigrating by air. Photographic content analysis showed that most photographs were group shots, which Bleiker hypothesized reduced the ability of the “viewer” to empathize with the subjectivity of those pictured.
Bleiker closed with his thoughts on the methodological dilemma of studying images, specifically alluding to the quantum problem of observation of wave-particle duality. For him, studying images and their impacts requires a mixed-methods approach emphasizing ethnography and semiology of the images of themselves, discourse analyses of the authority constructed through images, and more quantitative methods, like content and survey analyses, to understand the dispersal and saturation of images and their effects.
After the first day of panels, complex conversations carried over to drinks, dinner and even a pitched game of eight ball in which the billiard ball theory was briefly appropriated for strategic reasons by a motley crew of new materialists, physicists and post-structuralists.
Sunrise Saturday morning saw participants particle-scattered across the inviting scenery of Q Station to indulge in the site’s natural beauty- its tranquil cove and beach, bush trails, and commanding views of the harbor. Many then gathered for an informative tour of Q Station given by Q Symposium presenter Alison Bashford, who leads an interdisciplinary project on historic immigration and quarantine stations at Angel Island (San Francisco) and Grosse Îsle, Québec.
After the conclusion of the tour, the Symposium reconvened in the conference room to begin the day’s proceedings with the Biosecurity: Microbes, Food, and Genes panel, moderated by Adam Kamradt-Scott and drawing together a capable contingent of scholars working with the entanglement of global security, health and biopolitics.
If Friday’s opening Q Effect panel opened the theoretical possibilities for quantum IR, the afternoon’s Geo-Security: Risky States, States at Risk, and the Indo-Pacific panel re-grounded the conference in the pressing complexity of security concerns specific to the region.
Panel moderator Bates Gill, CEO of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, explained that this panel would take a unique form relative to the others. Leading things off would be a presentation by Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, AO, CSC, and Chief of the Royal Australian Navy on his thoughts on Australia’s place and role in the region. After the VA’s presentation, CISS scholars with a wide-ranging range of specialties would speak to their work and its applications in light of the Admiral’s presentation.
With Griggs’s presentation the nucleus, CISS researchers would present their research as it related to various degrees despite their different orbits, all contributing to a thorough and coherent conversation about security in the Indo-Pacific.
VA Griggs assumed his role, beginning his talk by looking for a core essence of Australian identity and interests as a foreign policy actor. He spoke of an Australian obsession with figuring out “who we are and where we sit” globally and regionally, bemoaning that such soul-searching never seemed to sufficiently convince Australians of the inevitable conclusion that their country is an island: a maritime nation utterly dependent on the sea for prosperity and security.
After welcomes and opening remarks set the tone, Friday’s first panel took the baton from the groundbreaking research presented in Lene Hansen’s Hintze lecture on images and security the day prior and continued the discussion of new frontiers in IR. Entitled “The Q Effect: Micro-, Macro- and Metaphysical,” the panel sought to draw together different commentaries on considering a quantum turn in international security from both sides of the ontology/epistemology divide. Presentations ran from the non-metaphorical advances of quantum computing to epistemic and ethical considerations, as again a notion of complementarity took a central, if unspoken, role as a guiding principle of the conference.
Leading things off was Professor David Reilly, who oversees the wealth of Australia’s research into quantum computing in his capacity as director of the University of Sydney’s Quantum Nanoscience Institute. His relatively plainspoken explanations of highly complex research couldn’t belie Reilly’s unrivalled authority on this kind of research. Catering to his audience, he spoke less to the sense of technical details and experimental design of quantum computing but rather potential applications.