The Society’s “Meeting in a Box” learning modules enable chapters to have a focused, serious foreign policy conversation without much preparation. The modules dig into key foreign policy concepts, historical events, and scholarly works. They are designed so that one person from the chapter can serve as a facilitator – enabling the chapter to engage seriously with learning material without requiring every member to do extra reading. We’ll be expanding the module set over time.

How to Use

A typical module includes a slideshow (in both Powerpoint and PDF form) and a guide for the facilitator. Most modules will be based on a scholarly article. Other than reading the scholarly article, deploying the module shouldn’t take more than 20 or 30 minutes of preparation time. Other modules are tailored around a few shorter articles that the whole chapter can read.

  1. Read the article.
  2. 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.
  3. Get the slides onto the computer you’ll use to present them. Make sure the projector works.
  4. 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.

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.
  • Since you’ll often be 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.


      • What Are America’s National Interests?

        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.)
        National Interests Exercise Spreadsheet
        National Interests exercise guide

      • Ethics and Foreign Policy

        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.
        Ethics Module Background
        Ethics Module Presentation Powerpoint
        Ethics Module Presentation PDF

      • Oil and National Security

        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
        Oil and National Security Slideshow PDF
        Oil and National Security Module Guide

      • Security Clearances 101

        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.

      • Iran, Saudi Arabia, and American Strategy in the Gulf

        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?

        Possible discussion questions:

        • 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?

        Ashford, Emma, “The U.S.-Saudi Alliance Was in Trouble Long Before Jamal Khashoggi’s Death.” War on the Rocks, October 22, 2018.

        Glaser, Charles L., and Kelanic, Rosemary A., “Getting Out of the Gulf: Oil and U.S. Military Strategy.” Foreign Affairs, January/February 2017.

        Karlin, Mara and Cofman Wittes, Tamara, “America’s Middle East Purgatory: The Case for Doing Less.” Foreign Affairs, January/February 2019.

        Pillar, Paul R., “What Iran Really Wants.” The National Interest, April 16, 2018.

      • Modern Mercenaries

        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.

        Primary Article

        Buzzfeed – A Middle East Monarchy Hired American Ex-Soldiers To Kill Its Political Enemies. This Could Be The Future Of War. And accompanying video.

        Secondary Articles

        The Atlantic – Sean Mcfate – America’s Addiction to Mercenaries (Great article on origins of US mercenary troops and scope outside of Middle East).

        Washington Post– Paul Staniland (UofChicago) – The U.S. military is trying to manage foreign conflicts — not resolve them. Here’s why.

        Discussion questions

        Should the United States allow foreign countries to use former American soldiers as mercenary forces?

        How should the United States respond to other countries using targeted killings, after having its own drone strike program?

        Should the United States commit to “violence management” as a solution to drawn-out conflicts in failed states?

        Is it better for the US to fully commit to a conflict, use proxies, 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?

        US allies aren’t the only countries using mercenaries. How should the US treat proxy forces of rival nations? Do you think future conflicts will include more and more private forces?

      • China and the Thucydides Trap

        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.

        Primary Reading

        Foreign Affairs – Charlie Glaser – Will China’s Rise Lead to War?

        Secondary Readings

        Foreign Affairs – Graham Allison – China vs America

        Washington Post – David Edelstein – A more assertive Beijing raises new questions for U.S.-China relations.

        Discussion Questions

        Should the United States see China as a rival or a partner?

        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?

        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?
      • Russia in World Affairs

        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?

        Gessen, Masha, “The Undoing of Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin’s Friendship, And How It Changed Both of Their Countries.” The New Yorker, September 5, 2018.

        Graham, Thomas, “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.

        Gabuev, Alexander, “Why Russia and China Are Strengthening Security Ties: Is the U.S. Driving Them Closer Together?” Foreign Affairs, September 24, 2018.

        Lukyanov, Fyodor, “Putin’s Foreign Policy: The Quest to Restore Russia’s Rightful Place.” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2016.

      • The New Progressive Debate on Foreign Policy

        With 2020 looming, 2018 bringing forward new voices like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and memories of Bernie Sanders’ strong 2016 primary performance 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 Trump and more centrist rivals? What might the goals of a progressive foreign policy be? What challenges will it face if implemented?

        Supplemental readings:

        • The Yemen issue has been a hot topic during this debate: see in particular this essay by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ro Khanna, and this by Sen. Bernie Sanders for representative offerings.
        • colloquium in which other writers, paralleling Bessner’s essay, offer five principles.
        • Phyllis Bennis offers an issue-by-issue breakdown of how a progressive foreign policy might look.
        • A pseudonymous essay argues that a left foreign policy, coupled with trends in the global military balance, will increase the opportunity cost of interventionism.

We’re always adding to this list!