Thursday, September 19, 2013

PF 2013 Sep/Oct Pro Proliferation

For part one of this analysis - definitions - click here

Resolved: Unilateral military force by the United States is justified to prevent nuclear proliferation.

On Unilateral Force and Prolif

In my region, the debate season does not kickoff until late October with a short run of novice contests and the first major tournament that more-or-less marks the official start of the season on the first weekend of November.  It's a somewhat late start which pushes us well into March before it ends.  As a result, we do not debate the Sep/Oct topics.  Not even the poor novices who end up with only a few short weeks to prep out the Nov topics before debating them in late October.  I recently decided to change schools and began working with a new group of debaters.  Over the last four years they have had four different debate coaches and yet despite the revolving door at the top, they have had their fair share of success churning out some outstanding debaters.  The school itself is top-notch with very good support for speech and debate and that is always a big plus. Our team this year is comprised of a lot of PFers and a smaller, dedicated crew of LDers.  Sadly, I have no policy debaters this year since policy has not been strongly, uh, encouraged at this school of late.  I on the other hand, love policy debate and the word is being put on the "street" there is a new coach in town and policy is once again, an option.  We'll see what happens.

I have been trying to initiate a number of changes this year on our team.  I am interested in re-establishing some fundamentals, focusing on professional presentation, cross-x skills, strong argumentation, and top-down; line-by-line debate. Because of this I have novices and varsity debaters writing cases for the Sep/Oct resolutions.  Normally, I would let the varsity group off the hook until October.  Fortunately, many of them have jumped in with both feet and are researching (well, kind of) and writing cases.  Okay. To be sure, some of them need time to get back into the swing but nevertheless, it is interesting to see how they are interpreting the resolutions.

On Unilateral

Words have meanings and in many cases more than one meaning.  One case I heard, must of used the Google definition and defined unilateral as "an action or decision performed by or affecting only one person, group, or country...".  When I heard the word "group" my mind started buzzing.  What made it all the more interesting is the fact that during cross-fire the other debater began a very intense questioning of which elements of the Pro case actually upheld a justification for unilateral action by the U.S.  The more Con hammered at the principle of justification for UNILATERAL action, the more I began to consider the use of the word "group" in the definition.  It was obvious by the cross-fire answers, Pro was focused on unilateral, meaning the U.S. acting alone.

So let us consider the apparent fact, that unilateral may also mean a "group" acting alone.  Can this be interpreted perhaps as NATO acting alone or a coalition of perhaps the U.S., U.K. and France acting alone?  In a world of groups organized by treaties, coalitions, ideologies, or religions, one can rightly claim that a particular coalition is a single entity capable of unilateral action among a group of similar entities.  This puts the debate in a different context completely.  So then the question is, can such an interpretation endure since the resolution specifically states "unilateral military force by the United States"?  Obviously, it is not "by NATO" or any other multi-national group.  Nevertheless, an interpretation may be offered that suggests the U.S. may use military force under authorization of NATO acting unilaterally (or any other group to which the U.S. is a member) and so the justification for action is not necessarily found in international law as administered by the United Nations but in the authorization or mandates of the group to which the U.S. is bound.  I think, Pro would have a tough fight on its hands since such an action would stand up squarely in opposition to international law but with the right evidence, and a skillful team of debaters and an opened-minded judge, the possibilities are interesting.

Situational Awareness

Debaters are a remarkably diverse group in their approach to topics and I love to encourage independent thinking and new approaches.  I admire innovation.  Often though, words, claims or statements emerge in a debate round which on the surface seem common enough but they kick-off a certain thought process inside me which begins to explore the nuances which may or may not have been intended.  This topic states the unilateral military force by the U.S. is justified to prevent some harm; the harm being, "nuclear proliferation".  The debate obviously tends to address the broad question of why nuclear prolif is a bad thing and thus forces Pro to devise a sweeping justification for unilateral military intervention.  However, there is nothing in the resolution which forces Pro to justify unilateral action in every scenario in which nuclear prolif is a looming possibility.  Perhaps a very rational approach for Pro would be to reduce the problem to a very specific scenario which can only be answered by the U.S.  This is one way, PF can learn from policy debate. Isolate a specific scenario or situation from a broad resolution under which U.S. military action is justified and run with it.

The difference here is PF does not need (nor should it) propose a specific plan but the PF Pro case can take advantage of other argumentation structures in Policy Debate.  For example, a typical policy debate affirmative case would detail certain advantages which arise from preventing prolif.  For this case, if the Pro can isolate certain disadvantages which are a consequence of multilateral action, the claim can be made unilateral action avoids the disadvantages of multilateral action and so isolates advantages which are not possible in a world in which a group of nations attempt to prevent prolif.  This creates the necessary uniqueness which makes such claims viable and serves as a justification.  Thus under a certain unique situation or set of conditions, unilateral military action is the ONLY possible way to prevent nuclear prolif while avoiding the impacts of multilateral action.

"Let's play Global Thermonuclear War"

Stephen Falken (fictional character):
"Now, children, come on over here. I'm going to tell you a bedtime story. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin. Once upon a time, there lived a magnificent race of animals that dominated the world through age after age. They ran, they swam, and they fought and they flew, until suddenly, quite recently, they disappeared. Nature just gave up and started again. We weren't even apes then. We were just these smart little rodents hiding in the rocks. And when we go, nature will start over. With the bees, probably. Nature knows when to give up, David." (Actor John Wood, from the movie "Wargames")

Does nuclear prolif increase the chance for "doomsday" scenarios?  In the movie, "Wargames" a teenager and his friends hack a defense department computer and thinking they are playing a fairly innocent computer game, initiate a simulation that puts the world on high-alert and nearly launches all-out thermonuclear war.  The potential for extinction is very real in the event circumstances real or imagined force nations to believe they must launch massive preemptive nuclear strikes.  This potential is real among today's currently armed regimes.  It is logical to conclude the danger increases with every new member which joins the "nuclear club".  Since the NPT (Nonproliferation Treaty) has been in effect and as successful as it is touted to have been, new nations have joined the nuclear club which has increased the possibility the game of thermonuclear war may be a real possibility.  The weaponization of Pakistan and the development of nuclear devices in North Korea are obvious examples.  Thus we can derive arguments that as nuclear weapons tech continues to spread the danger increases and the ability of multilateral efforts like NPT to prevent prolif is questionable.  We have heard the U.S. administration say, for example, a nuclear Iran is not an option.  Why? the destabilizing nature of such a shift in the balance of power may be the motivation for thinking, massive preemptive strike is the best option and so as many debaters may be aware, the world falls down the slippery slope toward extinction.  I heard a case yesterday in which the debater made the claim that nuclear war will destroy the climate leading to food riots and mass starvation.

If the case can be made that multilateral efforts fail and thus such global catastrophes are perhaps one more nuclear nation from crossing the brink then so be it.  It could possibly work.  Go look in the virtual tubs of your resident policy debate team and you will find all the evidence you need.  Perhaps a more realistic and imminent danger is found in the rogue, non-aligned entity working outside of the purview of national security systems and spy satellites seeking to obtain nuclear weapons technology.  Additionally, this technology need not be sophisticated to be an effective weapon of mass destruction.  Perhaps under some definitions, passing the materials for a dirty bomb to a terrorist organization may be classified as nuclear proliferation.  I think it is safe to assume that if a nuclear device (dirty bomb, suitcase nuke) unexpectedly detonated in mid-town Manhattan, it would not necessarily trigger the kind of nuclear doomsday scenarios common to policy debate.  And yet, even in policy debate this scenario is the catalyst for a much wider conflict that escalates into global thermonuclear war.

Public Forum Policy

Absolutely, the Pro has big impacts.  Nuclear prolif can be very bad.  The question is, should it be managed multilaterally or are there some circumstances in which anything other than a unilateral, precision strike by the U.S. unleashes a torrent of negative blow back which outweighs the potential downside of unilateral action? Perhaps multilateral action is in fact the catalyst for multiple actors throwing planet killing nukes across borders, whereas a smaller, limited strike as unthinkable as it may be (how dare the U.S. violate that state's sovereignty without approval), prevents a wider "hot" response.  I think the evidence is out there and I think a clever team can make it work.  I kind of like the idea that maybe a few PFers will start to think like policy debaters.  Maybe then a few of them may think, hey, maybe policy would be possible next year.

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