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Student Instructor

Pop-Up Cases

Pop-up cases are short, one-page scenarios based on issues reverberating in the news today. Use one of the cases below to spark discussion and put your students in the shoes of policymakers.

All Pop-Up Cases

Americans voting in front of a flag

Intelligence shows that foreign actors are already interfering in the 2024 U.S. election. How should the United States respond?

robot in front of flag

Artificial intelligence (AI) is advancing at a breakneck pace that experts speculate could rival previous technological revolutions. AI offers economic and social benefits, but could bring social, political, and national security risks. The United States needs to weigh the costs and benefits of different approaches to AI regulation.

Illustration picture of Tiktok with U.S. and Chinese flags

U.S. politicians have raised alarm that TikTok, a popular video-sharing social media app owned by the Chinese company, threatens U.S. national security. Should the United States impose a ban on TikTok to safeguard citizens’ data and the country’s security?

A U.N. chemical weapons expert, wearing a gas mask, holds a plastic bag containing samples from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria.

In 2013, reports emerged that Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad had deployed chemical gas as a weapon in Ghouta, Syria, during the country’s ongoing civil war. Months prior, U.S. President Barack Obama had referred to this type of attack as a “red line” that, if crossed, would move the United States to act militarily. The United States now had a choice: whether to uphold its word and respond with military action at the risk of escalating a violent conflict.

Inmates shadows at a prison

Two American citizens have been unjustly detained abroad, and although one was returned, another remains in Russia. The United States needs to decide what action to take when an American citizen’s life is swept up in a geopolitical conflict.

The UN Security Council

The UN Security Council, created more than fifty years ago, has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. Some experts argue that the current structure of the UN Security Council, formed in the aftermath of World War II, does not reflect today’s geopolitical reality. As a result, the legitimacy, effectiveness, and representativeness of the Security Council has been subjected to ongoing debate. The United States will need to decide where it stands on the issue of UN Security Council reform.

Taiwanese and U.S. Flags

China’s growing military and economic strength, coupled with its increasingly aggressive posture in East Asia, have raised questions about U.S. policy toward Taiwan. Should the United States maintain its longstanding policy of strategic ambiguity toward Taiwan, or should it clarify its stance?

Sunlight behind clouds

As the threat of climate change continues to grow, some policymakers are starting to consider solar geoengineering: reflecting sunlight in the atmosphere to counter global warming. The idea could offer a vital tool against climate change, but it could be risky, especially without worldwide coordination on its use. How should the United States approach solar geoengineering?

Zelenskiy speaks with an American Delegatiion

Ukraine has withstood Russia’s initial invasion, but a new phase of the war has begun. How should Ukraine define success as it seeks to repel Russian forces?

Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest

Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest contributes to climate change, and as the practice continues, the Amazon is nearing a tipping point that could endanger the entire rainforest. Countries around the world have an interest in stopping deforestation, but as the Amazon remains largely under Brazil’s control, doing so could challenge Brazilian sovereignty. How should the United States respond to deforestation in the Amazon?

Ukrainian Soldiers operating Anti-Aircraft Missile System

Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal in exchange for security assurances. Yet those assurances failed to prevent a Russian invasion, raising questions for other would-be nuclear powers about the reliability of outside security assurances and whether pursuing a nuclear program provides the best guarantee of their future security. How should a hypothetical country under threat decide its nuclear future?

Demonstrators call for defense assistance to Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the biggest test to European stability and, more broadly, of the liberal world order since World War II. The war has the potential to widen to Ukraine’s neighbors, many of whom are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance. NATO members have so far avoided direct military involvement in the war, choosing to limit themselves to sending military and economic aid to Ukraine, providing intelligence, and supporting refugees. Yet as the conflict continues, calls for NATO to intervene directly are likely to grow. The United States will have to weigh whether and, if so, how to become more directly involved in the war.

U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker

As melting sea ice opens the Arctic for navigation and resource extraction, new opportunities and obstacles are emerging for countries that border the region. The United States needs to determine whether it should launch a new Arctic policy and, if so, what interests it should prioritize in the region.

Ukrainian officer next to a nuclear missile bound for decomission

After the Soviet Union collapsed, Ukraine inherited the third-largest nuclear arsenal in the world. Fearing the risks of nuclear proliferation, the United States and Russia alike sought to negotiate Ukraine’s disarmament, but Ukraine wanted guarantees against future Russian aggression in exchange. How should the United States have managed dismantling Ukraine’s Nuclear arsenal while safeguarding against renewed conflict in Europe?

A barbed-wire fence in front of shipping containers

Sanctions are economic measures intended to either pressure or punish bad actors—whether individuals, groups, or countries—that violate international norms or threaten national interests. Sanctions offer governments a way to pressure or punish others with little cost or risk to themselves. However, they can cause collateral damage and are rarely successful in changing their target’s behavior. In this hypothetical scenario, the United States needs to decide how best to apply sanctions to influence a crisis abroad.

Boxes of relief items from USAID arrive

Economic statecraft describes the various economic tools countries use—such as lending, foreign assistance, sanctions, and trade agreements—to advance their foreign policy priorities. In this hypothetical scenario, the United States needs to decide whether to help a country in crisis and, if so, how to best employ a specific tool of economic statecraft: foreign aid.

The largest container ship in the world enters a port

Countries use trade to generate economic growth, which provides the resources societies need to function. However, governments can also leverage trade as a direct foreign policy tool to advance other national interests. In this hypothetical scenario, the United States needs to decide how to respond when a rivalry between growing trade partners threatens regional stability.

A soldier looks at a helicopter

Armed force encompasses any use or threat of violence to influence a situation. It is a powerful tool of foreign policy, but one that carries immense costs and risks. In this hypothetical scenario, the United States needs to decide whether armed force is the best tool to influence the trajectory of a crisis and, if so, how to deploy its military to achieve its objectives while minimizing risks.

Nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile in silo

Deterrence means discouraging unwanted behavior through the threat of significant punishment. Sometimes the threat of severe consequences is enough to discourage or deter a threat without requiring governments to act. However, to be effective, deterrence requires that a country make credible threats and be capable of carrying them out. In this hypothetical scenario, the United States needs to decide how best to use deterrence to block threats against itself and its allies.

An Iranian Zelzal missile is launched

Arms control agreements are a specialized subset of diplomacy that limit developing, testing, producing, deploying, or using certain types of weapons. They can prevent costly and destabilizing arms races. In this hypothetical scenario, the United States needs to decide how to use arms control to reduce the threat posed by one relatively new category of arms: anti-satellite weapons (ASATs).

UNMISS soldiers

The world lacks a global police force capable of stopping violence in its tracks. However, it does have UN peacekeepers, who can help wind down conflicts and prevent them from recurring. Peacekeeping missions face limitations depending on a conflict’s scale and scope. In this hypothetical scenario, the United States needs to determine whether it should support a peacekeeping mission in a country riddled with ethnic conflict.


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