SAIS Europe student-led discussion on the Russo-Ukrainian Conflict

SAIS Europe student-led discussion on the Russo-Ukrainian Conflict

Earlier in the semester, the Johns Hopkins SAIS campus in Bologna, Italy and the Hopkins-Nanjing Center held a joint panel discussion on the Russo-Ukrainian conflict and its broader implications. Nathan Rose reflects on the content of the talk, and the connections that it has helped establish between SAIS Bologna and the HNC. 

On 5/16, I attended a student led discussion on the global impact of the Ukrainian conflict. The talk was a collaboration between the Hopkins-Nanjing Center and SAIS Europe. The talk consisted of two parts: first was a faculty panel, followed by a student panel. Consistent with the bi-campus theme, both the Hopkins-Nanjing Center and SAIS Europe were well represented: Professor Arase and Professor Cai Jiahe represented the HNC, while Professors Hans Maul and Sergey Radchenko represented SAIS Europe. 

Professors Cai Jiahe and David Arase represented the HNC at the staff panel
Before attending this event, I saw it as a continuation of earlier conversations regarding the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Earlier this year, on February 16th, I had the pleasure of attending a talk with Foreign Policy expert Angela Stent and Foreign Correspondent Ben Novak entitled “What does Russia want in Ukraine?” This lecture was part of the Russia/Eurasia/Eastern European Seminar offered at the D.C. campus, but given the caliber of guests and the virtual nature of coursework, it was open to all members of the Johns Hopkins community. We had our suspicions at the time, but we didn’t know how prescient this lecture would be—approximately one week later (on the 24th), Russia made good on the threats we were analyzing. On the day of the invasion, students at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center organized an ad-hoc discussion to analyze the topic. Initially, I thought this May panel would be a continuation of these earlier conversations.

This panel did, indeed, continue many of these conversations, in a more global context. Professor Arase highlighted many of the new security dilemmas created from the Ukrainian crisis, specifically focusing on the Indo-Pacific region. Professor Hans Maul addressed the implications of the conflict for the EU, specifically addressing EU effectiveness as a geopolitical actor (or more accurately, actors), and discussed possible reactions to escalation, Russian rivalry, and potential rules for Chinese engagement. Professor Cai articulated possible viewpoints from Beijing. Professor Cai’s comments were given in Chinese and translated by my fellow classmate Jeffrey Zhao; Jeffrey did a truly excellent job translating—representing the HNC community with aplomb. Professor Radchenko built on the comments of his fellow academics, elaborating more on Russian-Sino relations and commenting on the changing nature of Russian power. Following the faculty panel, a student panel with representation from both the HNC and SAIS Europe articulated their thoughts and questions regarding the Ukrainian conflict’s global implications.

This student panel highlighted one of the major takeaways: strengthening connections between HNC and Bologna is something that benefits both campuses. The John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies can be seen as an umbrella organization with three separate campuses, one in Washington D.C., one in Bologna, Italy, and, of course, the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. With the COVID pandemic forcing classes into the virtual space, this has created all sorts of new opportunities for cross-campus events. Lectures that were once limited to certain campuses are now made open to the entire Johns Hopkins SAIS community. Career events, as I know from experience, have been similarly opened up. Yet, while this opportunity has the ability to strengthen connections across campuses, so far the strongest virtual connections have been between the HNC and DC as well as between SAIS Europe and DC. Strengthening the connection between the HNC and Bologna is long overdue. The US-China relationship is arguably one of the most important bilateral relationships of the 21st century; however, it also isn’t the most significant relationship for either power. The EU is a significant player in both Chinese and American contexts. For America, the EU is a key strategic partner, both militarily and economically. With this partnership also comes tension; the EU and the US often butt heads regarding environmental policies and internet governance. The EU’s relationship with China is similarly dynamic. A China-EU economic partnership could significantly enrich both partners (and thereby reduce America's relative economic power). However, such a potential partnership is similarly wrought with tensions, as environmental and human rights issues come to the fore. Understanding EU perspectives and actions is therefore essential for both the US and China. This event allowed EU students and HNC students to connect and interact, thus strengthening the final HNC-Bologna leg in the SAIS triangle.

The talk was a great sharing of perspectives between SAIS Europe and the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. We got to hear the questions that Bologna students had about China, and questions from HNC students about Europe and the EU. From the number of students on the student panel, it is clear that students had a lot to say. However, one of the key limitations of this panel was a lack of discussion. This omission was entirely due to time constraints: a more in-depth discussion and Q&A was scheduled for this event, but unfortunately, despite the best efforts of all participants to speak quickly and concisely, these sections had to get cut. I understand the hard time limits of these events, so I cannot fault the planners. However, what this did result in is a panel discussion that felt incomplete. Students were very good about articulating their own positions, observations and questions and putting them on the table; unfortunately, these positions, observations, and questions weren’t developed more—they were left on the table. It felt like opening arguments for an interesting case, which was then put on recess. I hope that in the future there will be more opportunities to take these ideas and further analyze them.

In sum, I quite enjoyed the HNC-Bologna talk on Ukraine’s global security implications. It connected the HNC and SAIS Europe campuses in a unique way, and thus gave more insight into the key actors defining our world. I found this event to be quite engaging, even if I wish it had more options for students to share and engage with their thoughts. This only further highlights the need for more connections between SAIS Europe and the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, and I look forward to similar events in the future.