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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

Region
Topic
Series
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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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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As seen through night vision, soldiers conduct a night raid mission

Covert action entails taking secret measures aimed at influencing political, economic, or military conditions abroad, all while concealing the U.S. role in those measures. This can include political or economic actions, propaganda campaigns, or funding and training paramilitary groups. Covert action allows a country to address national security concerns where other tools would be too risky but, if discovered, it can risk retaliation or public controversy. In this hypothetical scenario, the United States needs to decide if and how it should use covert action to address a national security threat.

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Announcer at the State Department’s official "Voice of America" is shown broadcasting a story in front of multiple microphones labeled in different languages (1974)

Soft power is a country’s ability to influence others through example and the normal actions of a society. In practice, this process entails countries projecting their values, ideals, and culture across borders to foster goodwill and strengthen partnerships. This can build admiration and respect that makes working with other countries easier. In this hypothetical scenario, the United States needs to decide whether and how it can enhance its standing in the world to help pursue its interests.

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TAIWANESE MARINES MARCH WITH NATIONAL FLAG AT EXERCISE IN KAOHSIUNG.

China is taking increasingly aggressive actions toward Taiwan, the independently governed island that China vows to unify with the mainland, by force if necessary. If China decides to attack Taiwan, how should the United States respond? 

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U.S. Marine patrols in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province

At the start of a new term in 2021, the U.S. president wrestles with whether to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, even though doing so could risk a Taliban takeover.

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Shards of a burned building sit behind an American flag on September 11, 2001

Following the deadliest foreign terrorist attack on U.S. soil, the president of the United States learns that the terrorist organization al-Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, are responsible for the 9/11 attacks and are in Afghanistan. How should the United States respond?

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A boat arrives in Key West, Florida with more Cuban refugees April, 1980 from Mariel Harbor after crossing the Florida Straits.

Cuban President Fidel Castro has opened the port of Mariel for emigration from communist-led Cuba, causing a mass exodus that is expected to bring hundreds of thousands of Cubans to the United States. How should the United States respond to the mounting number of Cuban migrants arriving at U.S. shores?

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