International Relations goes quantum

8 December 2020
Project Q challenges our classical understanding of the world
Project Q's recently released special issue of Security Dialogue, Quantizing International Relations, explores emerging quantum perspectives that challenge our classical understanding of the world.


The realm of quantum mechanics is closely guarded by physicists.

But the development of quantum technologies has real world security implications that require scrutiny and input from social scientists who understand that scientific advances extend well beyond disciplinary siloes.

We need look no further than nuclear fission to realise why it is important to consider the alternative uses of new technologies.

What are the international security implications of an accelerating race to build the world’s first quantum systems for computing, communications, control and artificial intelligence? And are policy, governance, security and legal considerations keeping up?


In our increasingly interconnected world, the entire human population is entangled like never before. One tweet, one video shared online, can prompt protests around the world; with subsequent events shaped by social media and networked online actors.

The observer effect described by quantum mechanics is becoming more and more evident in society, as the 24 hour media cycle and relentless online activity flattens the potential for nuanced discussion or resolution to issues.

With work progressing towards a quantum internet, the world is facing significant transformations in the nature, production and distribution of power and knowledge.


Technology hype is nothing new.

Every time a new iPhone is released diehards are queuing around the block to be the first to own the new technology. However, the interaction between hype and national security is rarely scrutinised.

What happens when hype around a new technology begins to inform international relations and defence policy? What possibilities and alternatives are closed off when decisions are made as a consequence of hype instead of reality?

Quantum computers, communications and sensors are some of the most hyped emerging technologies of the moment, with significant consequences for how global powers, decisionmakers and corporations perceive the risks and possibilities of these technologies.


Is money a quantum system?

Whether banknotes or bitcoin, money combines the abstract properties of numbers with the tangible properties of owned objects to represent an idea of worth or value.

The dualistic nature of money reflects the wave-particle duality of quantum physics and can therefore be considered as a quantum system scaled up to the global level.

Quantum economics provides an alternative view of money and global finance, with implications for international relations and security.

A new way of seeing the world

The case for quantum mechanics operating at the macro level is growing.

Observable in human behaviour, societal trends and global phenomena, a quantum perspective allows new insights into international relations, world politics and global systems.

But it also poses a fundamental challenge to what we know about ourselves and the world around us.

With the support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Project Q continues to bring the leading thinkers and practitioners together to grapple with these ideas and shape the path forward.

Project Q's 'Quantizing International Relations', a special issue of Security Dialogue edited by James Der Derian and Alexander Wendt, is available online now.


Project Q is an initiative of the Centre for International Security Studies, led by Professor James Der Derian. An expanded collected volume of essays, to be published by the Oxford University Press, and a feature-length documentary film, Project Q: War, Peace and Quantum Mechanics, will appear in 2021.