Log in to get started!

Don't have an account yet? You can create one below.

Student Instructor
An Iranian Zelzal missile is launched
POP-UP CASES

Arms Control

This pop-up case is part of the series: Tools of Foreign Policy

Overview

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).

Background

First, cover the fundamentals of this foreign policy tool with World101's lesson, What Is Arms Control? Then, put these principles into practice with Model Diplomacy's hypothetical decision point below.

Decision Point (Hypothetical)

Intelligence indicates that Dacan, a longtime U.S. rival, is expanding its arsenal of anti-satellite weapons, which could knock out U.S. communication, navigation, surveillance, weapons guidance, and nuclear early-warning systems. Essentially, an anti-satellite attack could rob the United States of many technological advantages it could otherwise use in a conflict. The United States has more advanced anti-satellite capabilities than Dacan, but both countries are largely unable to defend their satellites. As a result, both have an incentive to move quickly at the earliest sign that the other is considering using their ASATs. This situation could also lead to an arms race over ASAT weapons and satellite defensive systems. Accordingly, the president has convened the National Security Council (NSC) to discuss whether and how to pursue new arms control measures that would limit this threat. NSC members should consider how broad any agreement should be, how to verify any agreement, and whether limiting the danger that ASATs pose is worth constraining U.S capabilities. 

NSC members should consider the following policy options:

  • Negotiate a treaty on ASATs requiring reductions in arsenal size and limits on testing. This provides the strongest guarantee of a reduced threat from Dacan’s ASATs. It could also preserve the current U.S. advantage. Yet it would still require both the United States and Dacan to compromise their own capabilities. Negotiations would also be difficult as they would need to establish what limitations the treaty should include and how the agreement could be monitored.

  • Announce unilateral measures in the hope that Dacan follows suit. These could include disclosures about U.S. ASAT capabilities, policy declarations around using ASATs, or even voluntary force reductions. This could be done quickly and undone if Dacan does not reciprocate. It could also build trust toward a formal agreement. However, this option still requires sacrificing military capability with no verifiable guarantees in return.

  • Do not pursue an arms control agreement with Dacan, and focus on developing offensive and defensive capabilities. Researching satellite defenses could mitigate threats, and strengthening U.S. readiness could act as a deterrent or allow for a preemptive strike if necessary. Yet this option does nothing to limit Dacan’s ASAT capabilities and could encourage an arms race that increases the risk of an accident or preemptive strike.

More Pop-Up Cases

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?

Published:
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?

Published:
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?

Published:

Do you find pop-up cases helpful?

We are looking for feedback from instructors!

If you have used a pop-up case in the classroom, please fill out our pop-up case survey or email us at [email protected] and let us know how it went. And be sure to follow us on Twitter at @Model_Diplomacy to hear about our most recent pop-up cases the moment they come out.

For Instructors

Pop-Up Case Guidelines View the Pop-Up Case Guidelines for some inspiration for how to structure your conversation.

Classroom handouts

PDF / 1.9 MB

Additional Resources