ACSS 2020’s crisis simulations saw students studying in a variety of disciplines step into the roles of Australian politicians, ambassadors, advisors, strategists, journalists, public servants, and defence officials. In teams, students coordinated an all of government response to unfolding situations that threaten Australia’s national interests.

Students were expected to field calls from the media, handle online chatter, update the Australian public, deal with concerned stakeholders and undertake media interviews. Participants needed to utilise the full extent of Australia’s diplomatic, military and intelligence capabilities to realise our national interests in each of the scenarios. The actions of allies, adversaries and international organisations both helped and hindered their actions as the crises unfolded.

The simulations were enabled by Conducttr’s professional-grade crisis simulation software used by used by NATO, the UK Foreign Office and the UK Ministry of Defence. The software emulated all facets of modern communication, including instant messaging, social media and live television, creating the urgency and uncertainty of a real-life crisis.

During the simulations, each team was mentored by a national security expert, recent graduate or a young professional working in national security. Our mentors provided teams with strategic advice and insights that will strengthen participants’ knowledge of geopolitics, Australian defence policy and domestic national security law. Additionally, our mentors provided students with a deeper understanding of the opportunities available to build a career within the national security community.

The content of each simulation was developed by a team of ANU students with some assistance from academics from the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific and ANU College of Law. Moreover, our Patron, Admiral (Ret.) Chris Barrie, AC, has a wealth of experience in conducing demanding scenario exercises to compliment course work. He has very generously donated a significant amount of his time to assist our team in developing realistic, immersive and challenging simulations for the Summit.


The three crisis simulations were focused on the challenges and threats Australian leaders will have to confront in the coming decades. After the Summit, students walked away with a clearer understanding about Australia’s national interests and its strategic policy objectives.


The Pacific Crisis explored the tensions between Australia’s traditional role in the Pacific, and the new role non-traditional actors are playing in the region. This necessarily involved a discussion about how Australia sustains national power and how Australia can use national power to shape our position in the world. China’s role in the Pacific, including its use of a geoeconomic arsenal to achieve its strategic objectives, was also explored. This simulation provoked further discussion on the role of economics and economic coercion in Australia’s defence policies.


The Antarctic Crisis foreshadowed some of the foreign and defence policy challenges Australia should expect to face in Antarctica. Reports have already begun to emerge of dual civil-military capabilities deployed in Antarctica and exploratory missions for oil and gas being conducted – all in contravention of the existing Antarctic Treaty. Given Australia is the largest claimant of the Antarctic landmass, it will inevitably have a stake in the outcome of these issues. This crisis involved a level of engagement with international law and politics. It compelled delegates to reflect upon Australia’s international and defence relations options in a multipolar world, and on the opportunities and challenges posed by disruptive technologies to the mission and operations of Defence and the ADF.


The final crisis centred around a domestic cyber-security breach of Australia’s electricity grid and water supply. With the continuous development of information technology, responding to cyber-attacks is an increasingly relevant global security challenge. Specifically, in the context of a current lack of any multilateral treaty dealing with cyberwarfare, questions arise with regards to State responsibility and the attribution of cyber-attacks. The domestic cyber crisis encouraged discussion around national resilience for our critical infrastructure, homeland security, terrorism, climate change and foreign espionage, whilst providing an opportunity for Delegates to debate ways forward for the future cyber security regime.