The Society’s “Meeting in a Box” learning modules enable chapters to have a focused, serious foreign policy conversation week after week without much preparation. The modules dig into key foreign policy concepts, historical events, and scholarly works. Some are designed so that one person from the chapter can serve as a facilitator – presenting the key arguments from an article so that the chapter can discuss the ideas in it without requiring every member to do extra reading. Other modules have a short set of recommended readings for the whole chapter. Many have supplementary readings to enable interested students to go deeper – providing the backbone for potential papers and research projects. We’ll be expanding the module set over time.
How to Use
A single article module includes a slideshow (in both Powerpoint and PDF form) and a guide for the facilitator. Some modules will be based on a scholarly article. Other than reading the scholarly article, deploying a single article module shouldn’t take more than 20 or 30 minutes of preparation time.
- Read the article.
- Look through the slides and the facilitator guide. It may be helpful to glance back through the article as you do so, as the slides are designed to help you explain the key points from the article succinctly and apply them to current foreign policy challenges.
- Get the slides onto the computer you’ll use to present them. Make sure the projector works.
- Print off the facilitator guide and the article or otherwise make sure you’ll have them handy – you’ll want to have the suggested discussion questions on hand, and it may be helpful to refer back to the article.
Other modules are tailored around a few shorter articles that the whole chapter can read. During busy periods of the semester, it may be sensible to split the chapter into groups that will each read one of the primary articles.
In the discussion section, an effective facilitator will let others do most of the talking. Some helpful tips for facilitators:
- Don’t be afraid of silence after asking a question – some people need time to gather their thoughts. Chapter officers, vocal members, and others with a strong, visible role in the chapter should consider staying silent for a bit too, as it will create a space where others are more comfortable jumping in.
- Try to get everyone to offer at least one contribution at some point during the meeting.
- If one or two people are dominating the conversation, make sure to engage others – for example, by asking them what they think about what so-and-so said.
- Open-ended questions, often beginning with “why” or “how,” drive participants to engage with the material more deeply. Even something as simple as “What makes you say that?” can draw more out.
- Keep the conversation on track – in a room full of smart people, it’s easy to get on tangents. Circle back to the current discussion question – or bring up a new one.
- If you’re the only person who has read the article, you’ll want to be ready to bring out subtler points or explain how you think the author would answer an objection.
Foreign Policy Internship Guide
Foreign Policy Grad School Tips
What Are America’s National Interests?
What Is Grand Strategy?
Ethics and Foreign Policy
The Liberal International Order Debate
Oil and National Security
Security Clearances 101
Iran, Saudi Arabia, and American Strategy in the Gulf
China and the Thucydides Trap
Russia in World Affairs
The New Progressive Debate on Foreign Policy
Conservative and Libertarian Alternatives
Neoconservatism and Foreign Policy
Cancelling the INF Treaty
Tensions in the South China Sea
The Strategic Triangle: Russia, China, and America
China’s Belt and Road Initiative
The Iran Crisis
Washington’s Farewell: Forgotten Foreign Policy Classic
The Afghanistan Papers
The Soleimani Killing in Context
War Powers, the Presidency, and Congress
The Space Force
How can you plan your application process, pick your targets, and give yourself the best odds of landing an international relations internship that will move you forward in your career? The Society’s Executive Director explains in this informative video.
We break down the international relations graduate school scene. How can you make your application stronger? What kind of degree should you pursue? What types of programs are out there? How should you evaluate PhD programs? How can you get a handle on the financial side of the graduate school decision? Should you go to grad school right out of your undergraduate program or take time to work? Learn more in this video. The website of the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs, APSIA, can be found here.
This highly interactive module has a simple structure. There’s a spreadsheet with a list of possible national interests; your chapter should put them in order of importance. Identifying which interests are most important and why will quickly yield a very serious conversation. Our generation will have to make foreign policy in a more competitive world where America no longer enjoys overwhelming military and economic advantages. Prioritization will be necessary, as will an ability to distinguish between truly vital interests and all others. (The module draws on this report for inspiration.)
What principles should guide U.S. foreign policy? What is foreign policy for? What goals should the United States be trying to achieve in its affairs abroad? What does success look like? Grand strategy is “is a state’s theory about how to cause security for itself.” It is how a state prioritizes its goals and matches them against the limited means at its disposal. To those new to foreign policy discourse, grand strategy might seem like an opaque subject. This module helps break down the concept of grand strategy in a way that is digestible for people new to thinking about it, as well as outlining possible grand strategies for the United States and examining broader debates over whether grand strategy is useful for policymakers.
- Barry Posen – Restraint: A New Foundation for US Grand Strategy
- Josh Shifrinson and John Schuessler, “Making Grand Strategy Grand Again.” The National Interest, July 25, 2018.
- Daniel Drezner, Ronald Krebs, and Randall Schweller, “The End of Grand Strategy.” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2020.
- Posen defines U.S. security priorities as first territorial integrity, sovereignty, safety, and finally power position. Do you agree with that ranking?
- What kinds of trade-offs does the United States face today in forming a theory for grand strategy? What does he mean by ends and means? What factors in the world constrain U.S. foreign policy?
- Posen identifies two different American grand strategies, often known as Primacy (or liberal hegemony) and Restraint. How do the goals of Restraint and Primacy differ? How do their means they use differ?
- What are the biggest challenges to a grand strategy of Primacy in the world today? What are challenges to the strategy of Restraint?
- Do states need a grand strategy in order to conduct effective foreign policy? Can states rely on immediate circumstances to dictate their policy options?
- How long in the future should the United States plan its foreign policy? Ten years? Twenty? More?
- What are the guiding principles of current U.S. foreign policy? Do we have any?
- Posen defines grand strategy as a state’s “theory for causing security.” Do you agree that security is the primary concern of foreign affairs?
One possible grand strategy for the United States is offshore balancing. This strategy holds that the United States enjoys relative safety, and therefore does not need a large military spread around the globe in order to protect itself and its interests. The only true threat to a country in this position is a rival regional hegemon: a state that, like America, can reign supreme and all but unchallenged in the political and military affairs of one of the world’s key regions. The United States would only contemplate alliances and significant military deployments when a state threatens to achieve such a position. This more relaxed military posture has the potential to bring strategic and economic benefits to the United States. However, the merits of the strategy are often contested by scholars and policymakers alike. This module will introduce the concepts of offshore balancing to students and help them understand the main arguments about the subject.
- John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, “The Case for Offshore Balancing.” Foreign Affairs, July/August 2016.
- Hal Brands, Peter Feaver, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, “Should America Retrench?” Foreign Affairs, November/December 2016.
- Christopher Layne, “From Preponderance to Offshore Balancing: America’s Future Grand Strategy.” International Security, Summer 1997
- What are the costs of primacy according to Mearsheimer and Walt? How does Offshore Balancing address them?
- Are regional hegemons actually a serious threat?
- Mearsheimer and Walt argue that the US should only become involved with conflict until a state threatens to become a regional hegemon. What is a regional hegemon? Is that the right time the US should get involved? What is a good historical example of such a conflict?
- Is China close to becoming a regional hegemon? How does the increasingly military spending and growing navy of Japan affect that answer?
- What does Offshore Balancing recommend for Asia and Europe respectively? Do you agree or disagree with these recommendations and why?
- How does Offshore Balancing see humanitarian intervention and nation-building?
How would a strategy of offshore balancing respond to the following?
- An invasion of Taiwan
- The seizure of Crimea
- A general European war
- A China-Japan war
- The election of a pro-Iran Iraqi government
- The Syrian civil war
This module looks at the difficulty of achieving moral ends in foreign policy, especially in war. Good intentions are not sufficient to achieve good outcomes; sometimes well-intentioned initiatives lead to disaster. This module looks at the choice to invade Iraq in 2003 and to launch an air campaign in Libya in 2011. Your chapter will watch several videos in which policymakers lay out the ethical goals they aim to achieve by involving America in these conflicts. Other videos then dig into the results of the conflicts. The module closes with a look at an excerpt from John Quincy Adams’ famed July 4, 1821 “Monsters to Destroy” speech, which was an attempt to lay out principles for ethical action in U.S. foreign policy.
In the summer of 2018, a debate over the future of the U.S. place in the world emerged in mostly academic circles, but bled through into the broader foreign policy discourse. The rise of populism the world over, coupled with the election of Donald Trump, caused many scholars to become worried about America’s role in the world. They claimed that the US is essential for holding together world peace through a combination of robust military, economic, and institutional commitments dubbed the “Liberal International Order” (LIO). Proponents argue that the LIO is necessary to create peace and stability in the world. However, a number of prominent scholars took issue with the claim, arguing instead that the United States uses international institutions to protect its own interests and pursue hegemony, often creating conflict and instability. They further argued that the limited peace and stability of the post-World War II world depended more on the emergence of nuclear weapons and the global power structure than any series of agreements. The debate raged across several prominent publication platforms and across a number of think tank stages. This module will present a few key articles in that debate so students can engage on that topic as well.
- Paul Stanilard, “Misreading the “Liberal Order”: Why We Need New Thinking in American Foreign Policy.” Lawfare Blog, July 29, 2018.
- Patrick Porter, “Wrestling with Fog: On the Elusiveness of Liberal Order.” War on the Rocks, July 15, 2020.
- Daniel Bessner, “America Has No Duty to Rule the World.” The New Republic, October 21, 2020.
- Emma Ashford, “Build a Better Blob.” Foreign Affairs, May 29, 2020.
- Stephen Wertheim, “Delusions of Dominance.” Foreign Affairs, January 25, 2021.
- Stephen Walt, “Why I Didn’t Sign Up to Defend the International Order.” Foreign Policy, August 1, 2018.
- What exactly constitutes the Liberal International Order?
- One critique of the LIO is that many of the institutions are actually relatively new, but are credited with providing seventy years of peace. Critics instead point to the presence of nuclear weapons and the war exhaustion of Europe as causes of the peace. Should we credit peace to fears of war or to institutions?
- How much does the LIO depend on American will and power to maintain? How much does it require military force?
- Are the methods used to protect the LIO actually liberal? Why or why not?
- Many conflicts have occurred in the past seventy years, including Vietnam, the Iraq War, the Iran-Iraq War, insurgencies in Central America, the wars in Afghanistan, the Congo wars, and the Balkan conflicts, to name a few. Were they irrelevant, symptomatic, or exceptions to the LIO?
- Should the United States promote these institutions abroad? Peacefully or by force? What are the benefits and costs of such a strategy?
- Should the United States try to promote a set of international governing institutions or rely more on bilateral treaties and the balance of power to provide peace?
- Does the LIO enhance U.S. security or detract from it? How could it do either?
We frequently hear that the United States must have a large military presence in the Persian Gulf in order to prevent crises there from disrupting the global economy via massive spikes in the oil price. Similarly, we often hear that any disruption in the global oil market is a source of chaos and economic instability. Thus, in a phrase – blood for oil. But is that theory correct? It may not be. Past disruptions in the global oil market haven’t had the disastrous impact that many expect; moreover, a large Gulf presence is likely to be less helpful than you’d think in preventing larger disruptions.
Citation: Eugene Gholz & Daryl G. Press (2010) Protecting “The Prize”: Oil and the U.S. National Interest, Security Studies, 19:3, 453-485, DOI: 10.1080/09636412.2010.505865
- Primary: Policy Brief
- Secondary: Security Studies Article
- Oil and National Security Slideshow PDF
- Oil and National Security Module Guide
Many college students are eager to serve the United States in positions that require security clearances, but find the process mysterious and intimidating. JQA Society Executive Director John Allen Gay breaks down the process, what investigations look for, and how you can prepare to make it as easy as possible. Whether you’re interested in government internships, State Department jobs, intelligence jobs at places like the CIA, NSA, or DIA, Department of Defense jobs, Homeland Security jobs, or even working in the White House, you’ll need to get a clearance if you’ll be handling top secret information. Surprisingly, there’s a lot of information in the public, if you know where to look. You should read this guide to intelligence careers from an intelligence community veteran. You can find the SF-86 here, the policy guidance document that goes into detail on how particular categories of concern for a background investigation are evaluated here, Matthew Heiman and Jamil Jaffer’s “A Short Primer on Security Clearances,” which forms the basis for much of the material in this video about the clearance process, here and FAQs about clearances in this Congressional Research Service report here. Check out the Adjudicative Desk Reference. The ADR is a document for security clearance adjudicators with examples of how they evaluate different risk factors in a clearance process.
Since the end of the Gulf War, the United States has had a large military presence in the Persian Gulf region. The purposes of this presence have changed over time. During the 1990s, the goal was to contain both Iraq and Iran and to enforce no-fly zones in Iraqi airspace. In the 2000s, this presence focused on supporting the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, as those wars wind down, there are new questions about our regional security strategy. Should we retain a large military presence there and align closely with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates against Iran? Or does the Gulf no longer demand the attention it once did?
- Eugene Gholz, “Nothing Much to Do: Why America Can Bring All Troops Home From the Middle East.” Quincy Institute for Reponsible Statecraft, June 24, 2021.
- Robert Manning and Christopher Preble, “Reality Check #8: Rethinking US Military Policy in the Greater Middle East.” Atlantic Council, June 24, 2021.
- Justin Logan, “The Case for Withdrawing from the Middle East.” Defense Priorities, September, 2020.
- Mara Karlin and Tamara Cofman Wittes, “America’s Middle East Purgatory: The Case for Doing Less.” Foreign Affairs, January/February, 2019.
- Paul R. Pillar, Andrew Bacevich, Annelle Sheline, and Trita Parsi, “A New U.S. Paradigm for the Middle East: Ending America’s Misguided Policy of Domination.” Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, July 17, 2020.
- Emma Ashford, “The U.S.-Saudi Alliance Was in Trouble Long Before Jamal Khashoggi’s Death.” War on the Rocks, October 22, 2018.
- Charles Glaser and Rosemary Kelanic, “Getting Out of the Gulf: Oil and U.S. Military Strategy.” Foreign Affairs, January/February 2017.
- Paul R. Pillar, “What Iran Really Wants.” The National Interest, April 16, 2018.
- Annelle Sheline, “The U.S. Military Should Take the Iraqi Parliament’s Advice and Leave.” Responsible Statecraft, January 7, 2020.
- What are America’s interests in the Persian Gulf? Which of those interests are truly vital?
- What military tools might be needed to defend those interests?
- Should the United States deploy troops or go to war in order to protect economic interests? How large do economic disruptions need to be to justify this? Whose economic interests?
- Does America need to pick sides in the Gulf?
- Can America establish friendlier relations with Iran? How?
Mercenary forces are making a comeback. A recent, noteworthy news report highlighted how former American special forces are increasingly being tapped to serve in foreign militaries. As mercenaries, those soldiers can carry out highly-specialized missions, including targeted killings. No one is more suited for such missions than former US special forces. These soldiers, whose skills and tactics honed from 17 years in the War on Terror, often feel pulled back to combat rather than languish in a civilian life. Mercenary forces are of interest to US foreign policy because the United States has been using and producing large number of private military forces. US contractors increasingly represent the larger share of deployed Americans in combat zones. Some are even arguing the US should exclusively use mercenaries in places like Afghanistan. More importantly, the drift to mercenaries is a related to a recent change in US grand strategy. Rather than try to win wars against insurgents and terrorist groups in disparate countries, the United States is using proxies and airstrikes to achieve limited objectives at little political cost. As a result, current conflicts that the US is either involved in or supporting will not be resolved in the short term, increasing the need for drones, mercenaries, and other less formal military forces.
- Aram Roston, “A Middle East Monarchy Hired American Ex-Soldiers To Kill Its Political Enemies. This Could Be The Future Of War. And accompanying video. Buzzfeed News, October 16, 2018.
- Paul Stanilard, “The U.S. military is trying to manage foreign conflicts — not resolve them. Here’s why.” The Washington Post, July 16, 2018.
- Linda Pressly, “Bay of Piglets: A Bizarre Plot to Capture a President.” BBC News, July 30, 2020.
- Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, “The Miami-Haiti Connection: Another Mercenary, Another Day.” Responsible Statecraft, July 12, 2021.
- Joshua Keating, “Mercenaries Are a Growing Labor Pool.” Slate, July 19, 2021.
- Sean McFate, “America’s Addiction to Mercenaries.” The Atlantic, August 12, 2016.
- Should the United States allow foreign countries to use former American soldiers as mercenary forces?
- Should former U.S. intelligence personnel work for foreign governments?
- What benefits and drawbacks are associated with the use of mercenary forces?
- Should the United States commit to “violence management” as a solution to drawn-out conflicts in failed states? (See the Staniland article.)
- Is it better for the United States to fully commit its own forces to a conflict, use proxies, use paid mercenaries, or stay out of the conflict altogether?
- The United States has outsourced many traditional military roles (cooks, logistics, police, force protection) to private contractors. Do you think this is a wise move?
- U.S. allies aren’t the only countries using mercenaries. How should the United States treat proxy forces of rival nations? Do you think future conflicts will include more and more private forces?
- Is the growing use of mercenary forces simply a reality of the international security environment?
Is the United States destined to have a war with China? This is a question that academics and policymakers in both countries are seriously thinking about. As China rises, its relative economic and military capabilities have the potential to eclipse American power. Historically, such a scenario has often lead to conflict and has even gained a name “The Thucydides Trap” after the quote from the Greek historian: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable.” Many scholars dispute whether the relationship between the US and China matches that of Athens and Sparta, however. Their research suggests that China and the United States can avoid conflict, even while still having a competitive relationship. This module will dive into articles that explain the parameters of the debate and provide different perspectives about the rise of China and the risk of conflict.
- Charles Glaser, “Will China’s Rise Lead to War?” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2011.
- Michael D. Swaine, Jessica J. Lee, and Rachel Esplin Odell, “Toward an Inclusive & Balanced Regional Order: A New U.S. Strategy in East Asia.” Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, January 11, 2021.
- Eugene Gholz, Benjamin Friedman, and Enea Gjoza, “Defensive Defense: A Better Way to Protect U.S. Allies in Asia.” The Washington Quarterly, Winter 2020.
- Graham Allison, “China vs America.” Foreign Affairs, September/October 2017.
- David Edelstein, “A more assertive Beijing raises new questions for U.S.-China relations.” The Washington Post, October 25, 2018.
- Doug Bandow, “China and U.S. Should Keep Competition Peaceful.” Cato Institute, April 17, 2021.
- Should the United States see China as a rival or a partner? Both?
- For the United States to be safe from attack and prosperous, what does it need from East Asia?
- Does China’s behavior, such as militarizing the South China Sea, seem offensive or defensive? Why?
- Should the United State deploy its military into China’s near-abroad to deter China’s rise? Are other strategies like ‘Defensive Defense’ a better way to achieve the U.S.’s objectives?
- What does Edelstein mean by time horizons? What benefits does the US forfeit by competing with China now for fear of a rising China later?
- Do American alliances in the region reduce or increase the chances for competition with China?
- Does China’s system of government change how it sees security threats? Can differences of culture or domestic politics heighten security suspicion?
- What is extended deterrence? Why does the United States need to demonstrate its ability to extend deterrence? Are there any risks involved?
Discussion Poll: Ask participants to answer the following questions
- If China attacked Taiwan, would you go to war to defend it?
- How many US and Allied casualties (people killed and wounded) would you accept to defend Taiwan? How many casualties would make you withdraw?
- If Taiwan initiated the conflict with a Taiwanese declaration of independence, would you still defend it?
- Will China and the United States have a war in the next 30 years?
The collapse of the Soviet Union put Russia on the back burner and dramatically reduced Russian influence in its own neighborhood. Recent years have seen a revival of Russian assertiveness, including the seizure of Crimea, heavy support for the Assad regime in Syria, and covert actions in a number of countries’ political processes. Russian relations with China have warmed, too. How did we get here, and what does all this mean for the future of American strategy?
- Can Russia be integrated into a U.S.-led global order?
- Why are U.S.-Russian relations so bad? Can they be improved?
- Is Russia a potential hegemon in Europe?
- What are the causes of Chinese-Russian cooperation, and what is the impact of this cooperation on the global balance of power?
- Emma Ashford and Mathew Burrows, “Reality Check #4: Focus on Interests, Not on Human Rights with Russia.” Atlantic Council, March 5, 2021.
- Eugene Rumer and Richard Sokolsky, “Grand Illusions: The Impact of Misperceptions About Russia on U.S. Policy.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, June 30, 2021.
- Masha Gessen, “The Undoing of Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin’s Friendship, And How It Changed Both of Their Countries.” The New Yorker, September 5, 2018.
- Thomas Graham, “Towards a New Equilibrium in U.S.-Russian Relations.” In A New Direction in U.S.-Russia Relations? America’s Challenges and Opportunities in Dealing with Russia, Paul J. Saunders, ed., pp. 5-10.
- Alexander Gabuev, “Why Russia and China Are Strengthening Security Ties: Is the U.S. Driving Them Closer Together?” Foreign Affairs, September 24, 2018.
- Fyodor Lukyanov, “Putin’s Foreign Policy: The Quest to Restore Russia’s Rightful Place.” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2016.
With recent elections bringing forward new voices like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jamaal Bowman, Ilhan Omar, and more, and with memories of Bernie Sanders’ strong 2016 and 2020 primary performances still fresh, progressives are in a position to have real impact. At the same time, foreign policy has not been a central issue in recent elections. Will the left articulate a coherent alternative to both conservative and more centrist rivals? What might the goals of a progressive foreign policy be? What challenges will it face if implemented? Will the left and right partner on key issues where they align?
- Stephen Wertheim, “The Price of Primacy.” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2020.
- Daniel Bessner, “What Does Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Think About the South China Sea?” New York Times, September 17, 2018.
- Kate Kizer, “Kate Kizer: Five Principles.” Fellow Travelers Blog, October 23, 2018.
- Samuel Moyn, “The Ethics of Coalition Building.” Dissent Magazine, Summer 2021.
- Peter Beinart, “The Vacuous Phrase at the Core of Biden’s Foreign Policy.” New York Times, June 22, 2021
- Phyllis Bennis, “A Bold Foreign Policy Platform for the New Wave of Left Lawmakers.” InTheseTimes, August 9, 2018.
- Robbie Gramer, “Bernie’s Outsider on the Inside.” Foreign Policy, February 27, 2020.
The presidency of George W. Bush and the prominence of neoconservatives in right-leaning foreign policy circles have created the impression that conservative principles entail an expansive, militarized foreign policy strongly shaped by ideological goals. However, several strains of thought with deep roots on the right have been skeptical of this vision. These alternative perspectives have tended to see a large, activist national security state as dangerous to freedom at home or an idea-driven foreign policy as not conservative, but radical. The collapse of the Soviet Union amplified these divisions, and the Iraq War and its aftermath brought the intellectual struggle to a climax.
This set of readings will focus on three strains of the foreign policy status quo’s right-leaning critics: paleoconservatives, conservative realists, and libertarians/classical liberals.
- Michael Federici, “Imperialism Destroys the Constitutional Republic.” Humanitas Vol. XX, Nos. 1 & 2, 2007.
- William Ruger, “Why Conservatives Should Embrace Realism and Restraint.” The National Interest, December 29, 2020.
- William Ruger and Michael Desch, “Conservatism, Realism, and Foreign Policy: Kissing Cousins, If Not Soulmates.” The National Interest, July 30, 2018.
- Christopher Preble, “Peace, War, and Liberty: Understanding U.S. Foreign Policy.” Libertarianism.org, 2019.
- James Antle, “The Foreign Policy We Need.” The American Conservative, July/August 2020.
- Richard M. Gamble, “The ‘Fatal Flaw’ of Internationalism: Babbitt on Humanitarianism.” Humanitas, Volume IX, No. 2, 1996.
- Richard M. Gamble, “Savior Nation: Woodrow Wilson and the Gospel of Service.” Humanitas, Volume XIV, No. 1, 2001.
- Robert A. Nisbet, “Foreign Policy and the American Mind.” Commentary, 1961.
- Christopher Preble, “Libertarians and Foreign Policy: the Individual, the State, and War.” The Independent Review, Fall 2016.
- William Graham Sumner, “The Conquest of the United States by Spain.” Lecture to the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Yale University, January 16, 1899.
What is neoconservatism? Emerging from the social chaos of the 1960s, they became champions of a crusading creed of “benevolent hegemony” that reached its zenith in the choice to invade Iraq in 2003. The aftermath of that decision caused major fractures within the movement. Today, neoconservatives remain an influential faction in Republican foreign policy circles, and their distaste for the Trump administration has endeared them to some Democrats. What ideas animate neoconservatism, and where will it go next? This module digs into their writings and those of their critics, internal and external.
- Max Boot, “The Case for American Empire.” The Weekly Standard, October 15, 2001.
- Stephen Wertheim, “Return of the Neocons.” The New York Review of Books, January 2, 2019.
- William Kristol and Robert Kagan, “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy.” Foreign Affairs, July/August 1996.
- Gene Healy, “Reagan Was No Neocon.” The DC Examiner, February 1, 2011.
- Charles Krauthammer, “Democratic Realism: An American Foreign Policy for a Unipolar World.” The AEI Press, 2004.
- Francis Fukuyama, “The Neoconservative Moment.” The National Interest, no. 76, 2004, pp. 57–68.
In 1987, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev negotiated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. The treaty banned the production of missiles with ranges between 500 and 5500 kilometers. Importantly, the treaty included both conventional and nuclear weapons. In 2018, the Trump administration announced its intention to leave the treaty to induce the Russians to return to compliance after they deployed the new medium-range missiles in Eastern Europe. Additionally, the Trump administration and proponents of leaving the treaty cited the large Chinese stockpile of intermediate-range missile forces as a reason for the United States to develop its own equivalent systems. The military on its own began exploring new options for intermediate-range weapons. However, many nuclear weapons and arms control scholars oppose the deal and argue the U.S. nuclear arsenal should be further reduced. The debate is significant, as the winner could define the future of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. This module will provide background information on the debate, allowing chapters to understand the significance of the treaty.
- Michael Kofman, “Under the missile’s shadow: What does the passing of the INF treaty mean?” War on the Rocks, October 26, 2018.
- Han Kristensen, “INF Weapons – Status, Modernizations, and Arms Control Prospects.” Toda Peace Institute.
- Austin Long, “Russian Nuclear Forces and Prospects for Arms Control.” RAND Corporation, June 21, 2018.
- Tom Nichols, “Leaving the INF Treaty Is a Gift to Russia.” The National Interest, October 23, 2018.
- Evan Montgomery, “China’s Missile Forces Are Growing: Is It Time to Modify the INF Treaty?” The National Interest, July 2, 2014.
- Why is it important that the treaty refers to conventional and nuclear weapons? Why does the treaty refer only to land-based weapons?
- What was the historical significance of the INF in the Cold War? Why does eliminating intermediate-range weapons lower tensions?
- China has a large arsenal of intermediate-range missiles. Does that undermine the treaty? Should the treaty be expanded to include other countries? Should it be expanded to apply to air and sea missiles?
- Proponents of leaving the treaty see intermediate-range weapons as useful for matching similar weapons in other arsenals. Does the United States need additional weapons to strike into the homeland of potential rivals? Are other nuclear weapons sufficient or insufficient to maintain deterrence?
- Should the United States arms race with countries that appear to be challenging us? What are the benefits and the drawbacks?
One of the most contested pieces of territory right now is the South China Sea (SCS). In the last several years, China, the United States, and other countries have aggressively opposed each other over the disputed claims in the body of water. However, as the United States conducts Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) and China build militarized islands, it can be hard to maintain focus on the political foundations for the dispute: the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This module will examine what is at stake in the South China Sea, some of the history of the tensions there, and options for U.S. policy.
- Benjamin Herscovitch, “A Balanced Threat Assessment of China’s South China Sea Policy.” Cato Institute, August 28, 2017.
- Jonathan G. Panter, “Will Americans Die for Freedom of Navigation?.” Foreign Policy, April 6, 2021.
- Ted Galen Carpenter and Eric Gomez, “East Asia and a Strategy of Restraint.” War on the Rocks, August 10, 2016.
- Eugene Gholz and Harvey Sapolsky, “The defense innovation machine: Why the U.S. will remain on the cutting edge.” Journal of Strategic Studies, 2021.
- M. Taylor Fravel, “Why does China care so much about the South China Sea? Here are 5 reasons.” The Washington Post, July 13, 2016.
- M. Taylor Fravel, “Growing competition in the South China Sea – Traces the origins of the crisis in the SCS and outlines what different interests are for China, the United States, Vietnam, and the Philippines in the area.– pp. 37-60, CNA, March 2013.
- Sam Ellis, “Why China is building islands in the South China Sea.” Vox, February 17, 2017.
- Also, insightful maps!
- Where in the SCS is China building islands? Is the United States affected by new islands at those specific locations?
- How is the United States confronting China? Do you think that is effective or ineffective?
- Why is building an island so effective? What is the role of UNCLOS in helping or hurting the crisis?
- Why is China targeting the South China Sea so heavily? Why does Taiwan agree with the Mainland’s 9-dashed line?
- Is China the primary driver of tensions in the region? Should the United States specifically oppose China’s actions or take a neutral approach?
- How strategic is the South China Sea in East Asia? How important are the islands to any claimant’s security? How integral is the sea to U.S. security?
- What does a conflict look like in the South China Sea? Do China’s new bases confer an advantage?
- China has ignored the ruling of the Court of Arbitration. What does that say about the effectiveness of international institutions to constrain China?
Russia, China, and the United States are the most powerful states in the international system. That means their relations with one another have a strong impact on the rest of the world. President Richard Nixon famously went to Beijing and pursued detente with Moscow just after the two Communist states had fought a war with one another. This deft diplomatic move placed America at the pivot of the “strategic triangle.” And “since the Nixon administration directed America’s foreign affairs,” writes former Nixon advisor Dimitri K. Simes, “it has been the policy of the United States to strive for better relations with China and Russia than the two powers have with one another. Yet America’s current policy seems to amount to a simultaneous frontal assault on both countries, at least as they see it.”
Is this true? Has an overambitious U.S. approach in both Europe and East Asia led to a Russian-Chinese alignment, leaving America the odd man out? If so, can America split the two apart, or must it learn to live with a world in which Putin and Xi are, as a recent National Interest cover asked, “New Best Friends?”
- Dimitri K. Simes, “Dangerous Liaisons.” The National Interest, No. 159 (Jan/Feb 2019).
- Graham Allison, “China and Russia: A Strategic Alliance in the Making.” The National Interest, No. 159 (Jan/Feb 2019).
- Hal Brands, “Trump Can’t Split Russia From China — Yet.” Bloomberg, July 31, 2018.
- Elizabeth Wishnick, “The New China-Russia-U.S. Triangle.” NBR Analysis, December 16, 2015.
- Lowell Dittmer, “The Strategic Triangle: An Elementary Game-Theoretical Analysis.” World Politics 33, no. 4 (1981): 485-515.
- Evelyn Goh,”Nixon, Kissinger, and the “Soviet Card.” in the U.S. Opening to China, 1971–1974.” Diplomatic History 29, no. 3 (2005): 475-502.
- Gilbert Rozman, “Giving a New Jolt to Strategic Triangle Analysis.” The Asan Forum, Auguest 30, 2017.
- Alexander Gabuev, “Why Russia and China Are Strengthening Security Ties.” Foreign Affairs, September 24, 2018.
- Alexey Arbatov and Vladimir Dvorkin, “The Great Strategic Triangle.” Carnegie Moscow Center paper, April 1, 2013.
- “The Sino-Russian Strategic Relationship: Ghost of the “Strategic Triangle”?” In Challenges to Chinese Foreign Policy: Diplomacy, Globalization, and the Next World Power, edited by Dittmer, Lowell, Yufan Hao, and C. X. George Wei, 87-114. University Press of Kentucky, 2009.
- Angela Stent, “The Sino-Russian Partnership and Its Impact on U.S. Policy toward Russia.” Asia Policy, vol. 25 no. 1, 2018, pp. 5-11. Project MUSE.
- Robert Sutter, “America’s Bleak View of Russia-China Relations.” Asia Policy, vol. 25 no. 1, 2018, pp. 39-45. Project MUSE.
- Dmitri Trenin, “From Greater Europe to Greater Asia? The Sino-Russian Entente,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 9, 2015.
- Jisi Wang, “China in the Middle.” The American Interest, February 2, 2015.
- How deep is the Russia-China partnership, and how deep can it go? What does this mean for America?
- How much responsibility do US policymakers bear for Sino-Russia alignment?
- What role, if any, does political ideology play in both Sino-Russian cooperation and distrust between the US, and Russia and China?
- If America were to attempt to split the partnership, which state should be the target for closer relations? What should America offer, and what should it seek in return?
- How would the other states respond to an attempt to split the triangle?
- Is the triangle a product of American strategy, or more of other factors?
- What are the implications of strategic confrontation with both Russia and China at the same time?
- Is the triangle the right unit to evaluate, or do side players (like the stronger states of Western Europe and East Asia) mean that more is lost than gained by simplification?
- Is it the case that, as Wishnick argues, “China and Russia oppose who we are, not what we do,” and that therefore there is little chance of splitting them?
- From the perspective of U.S. national interests, what is the ideal Russia-China relationship?
The Belt and Road Initiative, a massive program driven by the People’s Republic of China, aims to build a connected economic space across Asia and beyond. What does it mean for the United States? Critics have charged that the BRI could create a PRC-centered economic order, that it could spread corruption and ensnare participants in a debt trap, or that it could give Beijing geopolitical dominance in the Eurasian heartland. At the same time, the BRI has produced backlash in places like Malaysia, the Maldives, and Kenya, and some BRI projects have been boondoggles. What understanding of the Initiative should inform U.S. policy?
- Jonathan E. Hillman, “China’s Belt and Road Is Full of Holes.” CSIS Briefs, September 4, 2018.
- Thomas P. Cavanna, “Unlocking the Gates of Eurasia: China’s Belt and Road Initiative and Its Implications for U.S. Grand Strategy.” Texas National Security Review, Vol. 2, Iss. 3 (July 2019).
- “China’s Belt and Road Is Getting a Reboot. Here’s Why.” Bloomberg News, August 14, 2019.
- Stephen Paduano, “China’s Investments in Rwanda Raise Familiar Questions About Debt.” The Atlantic, August 3, 2019.
- Is BRI an intentional policy or a catch-all theme?
- How much power can China accumulate through BRI?
- Can China use “debt traps” to acquire a global security footprint?
- Does BRI threaten the United States?
- Does BRI offer benefits to the United States?
- Does the United States need an “answer” to BRI?
- Should an answer to the BRI include an effort to reduce “strings attached”?
- Should the United States try to split BRI partnerships?
This module seeks to provide broader context on the ongoing confrontation between the United States and Iran. Tensions continue to simmer amid intensified sanctions, the downing of U.S. and Iranian drones, the seizure of U.K. and Iranian ships, a near U.S. strike, the erosion of the nuclear deal, and a war of words between all parties. Our readings will look at Iran’s goals, the military and nuclear tools available to it, and the history and ideas that inform its approach. A supplemental reading looks at the challenges faced by oceanfaring navies like ours in maritime chokepoints like the Strait of Hormuz.
- Paul Pillar, “What Iran Really Wants.” The National Interest, April 16, 2018.
- Kelsey Davenport, “The Impact: Iran Breaches the Nuclear Deal.” The Iran Primer, U.S. Institute of Peace, July 8, 2019.
- Ariane M. Tabatabai and Annie Tracy Samuel, “What the Iran-Iraq War Tells Us about the Future of the Iran Nuclear Deal.” International Security, Summer 2017.
- J. Matthew McInnis, The Future of Iran’s Security Policy: Inside Tehran’s Strategic Thinking. American Enterprise Institute, May 2017. (Focus on pp. 1-10, 70-76, 100-110.)
- Mark M. Huber, “Chokepoint Control: Operational Challenges for Blue-Water Navies.” May 2003.
- Paul R. Pillar, Andrew Bacevich, Annelle Sheline, and Trita Parsi, “A New U.S. Paradigm for the Middle East: Ending America’s Misguided Policy of Domination.” Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, July 17, 2020.
- What are Iran’s foreign policy goals?
- How do Iranian security leaders think about foreign policy?
- What impact, if any, should the answer to the previous question have on U.S. policy in the region?
- What relationship does Iran’s military doctrine have to Iran’s foreign policy goals?
- How is Iran’s strategy likely to evolve if America reduces its role in the Middle East?
On September 19, 1796, the American Daily Advertiser published a letter from President George Washington. The letter announced that he would not seek a third term of office, and offered his thoughts on politics and foreign policy amidst rising partisanship and sectional division at home and major wars abroad. His counsel against entanglements in other nations’ politics, against foreign influence, and in favor of separation from Europe’s conflicts would be a central influence on American foreign policy for the next century and a half.
This module zeroes in on several of the foreign policy elements of the speech, interspersed with discussion questions that apply them to contemporary policy. It is good for chapters to read the whole speech beforehand, but the slideshow can serve as a standalone basis for discussion.
In December 2019, the Washington Post published a series of articles on the war in Afghanistan that drew from newly released internal interviews with U.S. policymakers and military officials who had shaped the conflict’s conduct. The interviews showed a strong contrast between the optimism about the war’s progress that leaders had projected to the public and the pessimism within the government. Interviewees spoke of cherrypicked and inaccurate metrics used to assess progress, poorly thought out strategy, widespread corruption, a failed struggle against Afghanistan’s opium production, waste and inefficiency in nationbuilding efforts, and Afghan security forces that remained ineffective after years of training. The interviews sparked outrage – and a critical discussion about a war then in its nineteenth year.
- The Afghanistan Papers, Part I: At war with the truth
- From families of servicemembers killed in the conflict
- From Afghanistan veterans
- Carrie Lee, “Lies, damned lies, and statistics: the politics of the Afghanistan papers.”
- Paul Pillar, “Government lies aren’t solely responsible for our misguided wars.”
- Jonathan Schroden, “There was no ‘secret war on the truth’ in Afghanistan.”
- What surprised you most in the readings? What surprised you least?
- How did the various challenges facing U.S. efforts (such as opium production, corruption, and insecurity) interact with one another? Would success against one challenge (such as jailing a corrupt but friendly warlord) have made other challenges easier or harder?
- Was nationbuilding possible in Afghanistan? Is it possible anywhere?
- Were failures in Afghanistan driven by poor planning and execution of U.S. policy, or was the task impossible? (If it was driven by poor planning and execution, did strategists adequately consider such weaknesses of ours in deciding whether to continue the war?)
- Assuming the United States should have conducted a major operation in Afghanistan in 2001 to answer the 9/11 attacks, what should that operation have looked like?
- What lessons should future policymakers take from the Afghanistan Papers?
The January 2020 death of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al Muhandis in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad led to an Iranian ballistic missile strike and widespread fear that a major war was breaking out. What are the underlying strategic dynamics of the strike – and how does it fit in with broader concerns around the role of frequent uses of force in U.S. foreign policy?
- Robert Jervis, “On the Current Confrontation with Iran.” War on the Rocks, January 9, 2020.
- Aaron Stein, “A Guide to Getting Real on Iran.” War on the Rocks, January 10, 2020.
- Margaret Sullivan on the high visibility Iraq War promoters had in the press after the strike. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/the-media-should-spotlight-a-different-kind-of-war-expert-those-who-voted-no-on-iraq/2020/01/07/e4f71766-3174-11ea-91fd-82d4e04a3fac_story.html
- Karen J. Greenberg on the rise of “targeted killing.” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/06/opinion/qassim-suleimani.html
- Tess Bridgeman on war powers questions around the killing. https://www.justsecurity.org/67921/the-soleimani-strike-and-war-powers/
- Does the strike alter the current strategic situation between the United States and Iran?
- How might a U.S.-Iran conflict impact U.S. interests?
- Does the media do a good job of covering major national security events like this?
- What relationship does the strike have to U.S. law?
The U.S. Constitution stipulates that Congress holds the power to send America’s armed forces to war, while the President serves as those forces’ commander in chief. Yet this balance has increasingly shifted towards the executive branch, which has on its own authority involved the United States in conflicts in Libya, Yemen, Syria, and beyond. At the same time, presidents have used force under the two major existing Congressional authorizations (for the war on terror and for Iraq) in ways that seem beyond the scope of the law.
Why has Congress stepped back from its Constitutional role in choosing when America chooses war, and how can it regain its power? This module examines the status quo and potential solutions. It draws on perspectives from former executive branch lawyers on both the right and left and from former U.S. Senator and Secretary of the Navy James Webb.
- Sarah Burns, “Presidents Were Never Meant to Have Unilateral War Powers.” Foreign Affairs, November 11, 2020
- Brian Egan and Tess Bridgeman, “Top Experts’ Backgrounder: Military Action Against Iran and US Domestic Law.” Just Security, June 21, 2019.
- Curtis Bradley and Jack Goldsmith, “OLC’s Meaningless ‘National Interests’ Test for the Legality of Presidential Uses of Force.” Lawfare Blog, June 5, 2018.
- James Webb, “Congressional Abdication.” The National Interest, March-April 2013.
- Oona A. Hathaway, “How to Revive Congress’s War Powers.” Texas National Security Review, November 2019.
- Louis Fisher (2012), “Basic Principles of the War Power.” Journal of National Security Law & Policy: Vol. 5.
- Michael D. Ramsey (2002), “Textualism and War Powers.” University of Chicago Law Review: Vol. 69 : Iss. 4, Article 1.
- Is this a problem of law or a problem of politics? In other words, should solutions focus more on rewriting laws or on altering public and legislative attitudes and practices around war powers?
- Senator Webb asserts that the war on terror drove most of the accumulation of power in the executive branch. Other critics have suggested that the Cold War and the attitudes and laws of the period (such as the 1947 National Security Act) are the main force. Which perspective is more correct?
- How far does a president’s power as Commander in Chief extend?
- Hathaway argues for reforms grounded in several principles: 1) clearly defining “hostilities”; 2) requiring all future authorizations of force to automatically sunset in two years, forcing every Congress to vote to continue a war; 3) making clear that uses of force that violate international law are illegal unless authorized by Congress. What do you make of these proposals?
- Does partisan polarization make the war powers problem more severe?
In December 2019, the United States launched the Space Force – the first new armed forces branch in seventy years. The new service aims to “provide freedom of operation for the United States in, from, and to space; [and provide] prompt and sustained space operations” in order to “protect the interests of the United States in space; deter aggression in, from, and to space; and conduct space operations.” But is a separate force the best way to pursue this goal? What will such a force look like in practice, and what challenges will it face?
- David Wright, Laura Grego, and Lisbeth Gronlund, “The Physics of Space Security: A Reference Manual.” American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2005, pp. 1-18. (Note that there have been significant advances in the development and proliferation of ASAT weapons since this work was published.)
- Russell Rumbaugh, “Six Competing Visions for a Space Force.” War on the Rocks, October 7, 2019.
- Leigh Giangreco, “Space Force’s Second-in-Command Explains What the Hell It Actually Does.” GEN, February 25, 2020.
- Kevin L. Parker, “Why Not a Space Force? Cautions of Organizational Re-Design.” War on the Rocks, March 20, 2019.
- Matthew Donovan, “Unleashing the Power of Space: The Case for a Separate U.S. Space Force.” War on the Rocks, August 1, 2019.
- “Policy Roundtable: Does America Need a Space Force?” Texas National Security Review, September 2018.
- Brian Weeden, “Space Force Is More Important than Space Command.” War on the Rocks, July 8, 2019.
- Given the underlying physics, what strategic goals are attainable and what strategic worries are reasonable regarding space?
- What role will space play in future conflicts? Which of Rumbaugh’s six visions is most correct?
- What does the underlying physics tell us about the likelihood of each vision coming to pass?
- What will be the organizational impact of the Space Force within DOD and beyond?
- Will we be more likely to use force in space with a dedicated Space Force?
- Is a separate Space Force the best way to secure U.S. space interests?
- Will a Space Force be “an independent and strategic instrument of national power,” per Acting SecAF Donovan’s description of the modern Air Force, or “an extension of traditional military forces” like early air power?
- Donovan uses the phrase “space superiority” to describe the goal of the Space Force. This is a derivative from “air superiority,” a technical term within Air Force and NATO doctrine, meaning “That degree of dominance in the air battle of one force over another which permits the conduct of operations by the former and its related land, sea and air forces at a given time and place without prohibitive interference by the opposing force.” Does this concept work well for space?