Although it is said no plan survives first contact with the enemy, experience and critical thought can at least tame the beast of friction to some extent. And so it was, with nineteen years of institutional memory and six months of concentrated (mental) force, that conference chairs and MSS students Jacqueline Eenkooren and Christian Halt pulled off yet another "StratCon" without succumbing to unexpected complications.
The 19th Annual Graduate Strategic Studies Conference took place March 16-17, 2017, at the Blue Room in the University of Calgary's Dining Centre. As with previous years, the international character of the student-run conference was reflected in not only the paper topics, but the home institutions of the presenters: the University of Pécs, Hungary; Sciences Po in Paris; Columbia University in New York; and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., just to name a few. Emphasizing the Centre's rebranding to include broadened security issues, panels spoke to not only traditional strategic studies topics such as warfare technologies and military institutional learning, but refugee responses, environmental security, and communication challenges. These were approached from a variety of disciplines: not only the stalwarts of political science and history, but also geography, biomedicine, anthropology, philosophy, and more. Despite operational friction caused by a nasty bout of winter weather in the eastern part of the country, the organizers and panel chairs were able to rapidly adapt to circumstances and panels proceeded on schedule.
This year's keynotes similarly reflected the wide spectrum of the security studies field. We were pleased to have had the pleasure of hosting Bart Witteveen from Doctors Without Borders, whose perspective on the fundamental differences in ultimate objectives of humanitarians versus security and political leaders provided much food for thought amongst the strategic thinkers in the audience. During the conference dinner at Nick's Steakhouse & Pizza, CMSS Senior Fellow and GCHQ official historian Dr. John Ferris provided an elegant history of signals intelligence, concluding with some fascinating insights on the legal restrictions surrounding such activities. Finally, the conference ended on a high note with Dr. Brent Talbot of the United States Air Force Academy, who spoke on the requirements of 21st century (non-nuclear) deterrence, emphasizing several technological paths forward. The visiting keynote speakers further added to the conference proceedings by participating in all of the panel Q&As, challenging presenters to help refine their research. Impressed with the conference, one even stated it was “as good, if not better” than other professional conferences they’ve been to in their career.
But the conference involved some more relaxed elements as well: early arrivals were treated to a reception in the CMSS student area, where visitors could sample some of Calgary's locally-produced beverages, while the conference dinner allowed CMSS students and faculty to get to know the visiting presenters on a more casual basis. During an impromptu campus tour, one of the visiting presenters demonstrated their piano skills at the new Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning building, much to the excitement of nearby students.
The conference ended with an innovative twist: strategic studies-themed confections! A series of blue and green cupcakes topped with toy jet fighters and "armoured vehicles" (though many in attendance noted they were, in fact, unarmoured jeeps) provided attendees with a late-afternoon snack and a souvenir of their time at the University of Calgary.
The students of CMSS are proud to host Canada's longest-running security/international relations conference run by students for students, contributing fully to the University of Calgary's Eyes High vision.
The conference organizers would like to thank the following sponsors who made the 19th Annual Graduate Strategic Studies Conference possible:
The Department of National Defence, Defence Engagement Program
The Canadian Global Affairs Institute
University of Calgary
The Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies
The President’s Office
The Faculty of Graduate Studies
The Department of History
The Department of Political Science
The Department of Anthropology and Archaeology
Graduate Students’ Association
A copy of the full conference program can be downloaded here.
Live-tweets from the conference can be found by searching for #StratCon17
A selection of photos from the conference can be accessed on the conference webpage. Due to space limitations, only approximately one-third of the photos have been uploaded. If you were present and would like to receive other photos in which you appeared please contact the photographer, Tim Choi.