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.
Friday morning saw of the best minds of a generation or two of IR scholarship, smartly dressed but nonetheless jetlagged, dragging themselves to Sydney’s Wharf 6 to catch a ferry across the magnificent harbor to Q Station in Manly. Scholars from across the world and the field sat top deck alongside tourists and commuters, familiarizing themselves with both each other and some of the world’s best manmade and natural scenery.
Pulling into the small dock at Q Station, participants made their way uphill, past impressive etchings left in the sandstone bluff by some of the facility’s former guests. Upon reaching the top, the group was welcomed to the quarantine ward’s hospital, since re-purposed as a conference venue, by a fantastic view of the harbor and some much-needed coffee.
The conference’s participants assembled, it was time for the first panel of the conference and the day. But first, Gadigal Elder Uncle Chicka Madden, in his capacity as Secretary of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, welcomed the participants onto the Eori land that Sydney and its surroundings were built on. He explained some of the history of the land and its people, but spoke as well of the present he is privy to in his work with the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence and the Aboriginal Medical Service.
After flights spanning continents and oceans and the International Date Line providing an element of quantum tunneling to their adventures, arrivals to the Q Symposium were met by the manicured greens of the University of Sydney’s Quadrangle. A Victorian outpost perched on a hill above the sleek architecture of the city and campus, the environs were an apt place to launch a project seeking complementarity between the old and the new of security studies.
Opening the proceedings was Professor Duncan Ivison, Dean of the Arts and Social Science faculty at the University of Sydney, who highlighted the work being done at the University’s Centre for International Security Studies to make USyd a nexus point of cutting edge security research and introducing the Centre’s recently appointed director, Michael Hintze Chair of International Security Studies, and organizer of the Q Symposium, James Der Derian.
In his remarks, Der Derian spoke to a vision that the Q Symposium would signal a new era for CISS, reorienting the Centre towards breaking global events on the horizon. The Centre will be seeking to lead cutting edge research in biosecurity, infosecurity, geosecurity, and global security in preparing global responses and research to emergent global threats. The Q Symposium, uniting practitioners, theoreticians and observers from across the social and physical sciences and beyond, is one of the first manifestations of steps in this new direction.
From the discovery of fission in 1939 to the detonation of Fat Man over Nagasaki a few days before V-J day, the Second World War was bookended by advances in atomic physics. Our historical epochs are named for the military metallurgy of the day, and recent work highlights the role of science in making weapons into not just “platforms” as used in the lexicon of military industrialists but those upon which societies are built and ordered.
Quantum mechanics are no exception. Among the information leaked by Edward Snowden was evidence of an NSA project called “Penetrating Hard Targets,” an $80 million dollar appropriation for the development of a “cryptologically useful quantum computer” that seeks to demonstrate the possibility of “complete quantum control” of a basic quantum computer that could be used for applications in the NSA’s “Owning the Net” program. In contrast to binary computers, the semiconductor qubits of a quantum computer could superimpose as values of one, zero, or both, quite literally expanding the universe of computing possibilities.
Much like the prophecies around nuclear physics in its nascent days, the “quantum leap” splashed on the cover of Time Magazine promises potentialities both destructive and benign. But whether ultimately used to crack the codes of genetic diseases or command and control infrastructure, the understanding of a quantum universe is no longer pure abstraction but brings the potentials of probability at the subatomic level to the macrophysical of world politics.
Against this backdrop, and with generous support from the University of Sydney and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney has commissioned the Q Symposium. Bringing together peace and security scholars alongside practitioners, scientists, filmmakers and journalists from around the world, the conference aims to investigate and theorize the meaning of a quantum world for security scholars.
The Q Symposium seeks to develop better tools for understandings notions of threats that deal less often with the macro-units of states and armies and more often with the micro-units of terror cells, pathogens, and information networks. Like its intellectual predecessors in physics, it also seeks to integrate the impact of observation, documenting its proceedings in a documentary film, in addition to tweets (#quantumIR) and blog posts, both at qsymposium.net and at the Duck of Minerva.
James Der Derian, Director of CISS and Michael Hintze Chair of International Security