RCHGHR Student Association hosts “A Critique of Realism in International Relations” panel

SirMichael Cianci shakes hands with Rory Newman. - Photo / Connor Brown

On Tuesday, Nov. 15, Rowan Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Student Association (RCHGHR) hosted “A Critique of Realism in International Relations,” a student-led panel exploring the theory of realism through the lens of the recent militant actions taken by Russia and China. 

The panel was led by 2019 graduate of Rowan University SirMichael Cianci, and was moderated by RCHGHR Student Association member Rory Newman. 

Cianci graduated from Rowan University in 2019 majoring in International Studies, focusing on the Middle East and Latin America. He is currently pursuing his master’s at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, focusing on security, strategy and statecraft, and China and Asia. 

Given the current geopolitical climate, discussions around international relations theories such as realism help people better understand why powers like Russia and China behave the way they do.

“I believe tonight’s discussion was a good way to weave together current events with actual international relations theory. Most people probably follow current events, but it’s always nice to expand on them and have someone who is very well-informed comment on them,” said Newman. “Talking about theory is also good because unless you were to take an international relations course like we have at Rowan, you would likely never learn about the different theories,”

To start, Cianci laid out a basic fundamental idea of realism, stating that since we live in a world of anarchy with no global government, power is paramount. States that wish to survive must engage in “self-help,” taking actions in their own personal interests and doing anything to get ahead. 

He applied the theory to what is going on right now in Ukraine and Taiwan, as their respective powerful geographic neighbors Russia and China are knocking on their doors.   

One real-world example used during the panel was Putin’s aggression towards Poland, describing the Russian president’s mindset as, “The strong do what they want and the weak suffer what they must.”

Instead of realism, Cianci suggested liberalism as a solution to fixing international relations. One of his reasons was that state institutions could collaborate with one another without it being about getting ahead of other countries.

“Liberals talk about aspirations. They talk about wanting to do things to make the world a different place. And many liberals and I would acknowledge the world isn’t a perfect place and humans aren’t perfect people. But there are things we can do better,” said Cianci. “Ultimately, I think that people who talk about realism, academics and practitioners, don’t consider morality. Perhaps that’s pragmatic that if states want to get ahead, ‘throw moralism out of the window,’ but states can act moral and often do.”

The RCHGHR Student Association President Kathryn Seu was impressed with Cianci’s ability to lead a discussion around topics that are negative in nature while inspiring hope that there are solutions to these problems.

“Something that stood out to me about the discussion was how SirMichael [Cianci] is able to discuss these topics without making the future sound hopeless or bleak. I like how we can foster these discussions without making these situations seem hopeless,” Seu said. 

While he’s currently at one of the most prestigious universities in the country, coming back as an alumnus he’s reminiscent of the times spent in Glassboro.

“I go to school with smarmy Ivy League folk. People who went to Yale, people who don’t shut up about that stuff. I’m just some guy from South Jersey and I tell people, ‘Oh, I went to Rowan’ and people look at me and they go, ‘What are you talking about, what is that?’” Cianci said. “I’m proud to have gone to the smaller state school that’s scrappy and being here is exactly that. We can do anything and that’s why I like coming back.” 

RCHGHR plan on having events like this throughout the school year, including having Ciani back with other fellow alumni Marco Crolla and Michael Giuliani. Look out for future events in the Rowan Daily Mail email sent out by the university. 

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