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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

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.

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.


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? 

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.

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?

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?

Members of Amhara region militias ride on their truck as they head to face the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), in Sanja, Amhara region near a border with Tigray, Ethiopia November 9, 2020.

Fighting has raged between Ethiopian government forces and a rival political faction in the country’s northern Tigray region since November 2020, threatening to destabilize the region and cause a humanitarian disaster. How should the United States respond?

Greek Resistance during the Greek Civil War

The United Kingdom has just announced it can no longer support the Greek government in its fight against a communist rebel movement that threatens to bring Greece into the Soviet orbit. How should the United States respond?

health working giving a vaccine

With the majority of the world still struggling to get access to COVID-19 vaccines, how should the United States prioritize domestic and global vaccination efforts?

nurses carrying influenza patient

In the early fall of 1918, a second wave of influenza is spreading, and World War I is waning, but not yet over. As the pandemic begins to grow more deadly, how can the United States balance the need to bring the war to an end while responding effectively to an increasingly deadly pandemic? (This case was originally published on 09/09/2020).

Cartoon of a man holding a bomb exploding that says "Zimmerman Note" on it

British intelligence has decoded a secret German telegram to Mexico that proposes an alliance against the United States and shares Germany’s plans to resume submarine warfare against U.S. shipping in the coming month. How should the United States respond?

Illustration of boat exploding at a harbor

After the mysterious explosion of the USS Maine in Havana, Cuba, the United States has decided to go to war with Spain. President William McKinley and his advisors now need to decide how to intervene against Spanish colonial rule in Cuba and what U.S. war aims should be.

UN member flags

At the start of a new presidential term in 2021, the president must decide whether to prioritize a multilateral or unilateral approach to foreign policy over the next four years.

Oregon Trail

With thousands of American settlers migrating west to the contested Oregon Country and a campaign promise from President James K. Polk to annex the entire territory, how should the United States respond to British naval buildup in the region and a deteriorating U.S.-British relationship?

Woman at a protest with a mask on where a red hand is painted over her mouth

At the start of a new presidential term in 2021, the United States reassesses its policy toward China in light of the ongoing repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang.

A U.S. soldier looks out at a helicopter in front of a sunset in Iraq

At the start of a new presidential term in 2021, the president grapples with questions about U.S. operations in the Middle East. Should the United States pull troops out of Iraq and end the ongoing campaign to combat the self-proclaimed Islamic State and deter Iranian pressure on Iraq?

British and U.S. soldiers fight on a ship

The newly independent United States has sought to stay neutral during the Napoleonic Wars between France and the British Empire, but constraints on trade and British attacks on American shipping have left the United States questioning how it can exercise its freedom from European entanglements.

Climate Change After the  Pandemic

As the United States emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic into a recession, policymakers need to consider another global crisis: climate change. How should the United States pursue environmental sustainability alongside economic recovery? 

Closed signs in a window

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic, already a global health crisis, will cause a global recession and risks causing a depression without a robust response. What role can and should the United States play in domestic and global economic recovery? 

Empty beds in a field hospital

A hypothetical pop-up case set in 2025: The world has emerged from COVID-19 and is trying to learn the lessons of the pandemic and prepare for the next one. However, a recent report found many countries are still underprepared. What can and should the United States do to secure global health preparedness before the next pandemic arrives?

Single person walking forward covered in blue mask

The Wuhan Coronavirus has spread to tens of thousands of people across several countries, threatening to become a global pandemic. How should the United States respond to contain the virus and ease public fears?


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