Thursday, September 5, 2013

PF Sep/Oct 2013 - Proliferation - Pro Position

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

Pro Position

 The Pro debate for this resolution seems clear enough.  The U.S. is totally justified in utilizing military aggression or coercion in order to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons technology to non-nuclear states or groups.  Further, according to the position advocated by the resolution, that action can be taken without consultation or approval by any other nations.  Within the context of the resolution, the U.S. may still consult, may take advantage of a wide range of possible military actions, and may apply a fairly loose standard about what constitutes nuclear proliferation. (i.e. is it the spread of weapons, delivery systems, fissionable materials, equipment capable of producing weapons materials, or intellectual know-how?)
The approach to the topic can and should remain on a fairly high level.  By that, I mean it does not have to bog down into specifics driven by narrow definitions. In addition, there is no need to advocate particular courses of action, or even name potential states where such actions can or should be carried out.  The stasis point of this debate, in my opinion, is centered around the word "justified". Pro says the U.S. is justified, Con says it is not.  Having said this, I've no doubt Con can shift the advocacy around the idea of unilateral action and concede the U.S. is justified in the use of military force to prevent nuclear proliferation but only if it is not unilateral.  Such a shift could be difficult for Con if Pro is prepared for the possibility and it may involve some particularly difficult sorting of the varied and nebulous legal definitions of unilateral (see the Weingerl definition of unilateral and link provided in part one of this analysis).

A major difficulty for the Pro lies in the fact that presently, there is no international law or U.N. resolution which justifies the use of military force in efforts to prevent proliferation.  This means it is very unlikely, teams will find legitimate legal basis for intervention or preemption.  The issue of state sovereignty remains an over-arching barrier to multilateral or international support.  For this reason, I suppose the NFL was wise to include the adjective "unilateral" since the U.S. must justify its action either on the basis of a moral duty/right or on the basis of a legal justification which remains uniquely US-centric.

Some Unilateral Justification

The reality is, WMD proliferation is happening now and the U.S. government and Department of Defense firmly believes proliferation will result in negative consequences for U.S. interests. The reality of continued proliferation (North Korea for example) points to the failure of current non-proliferation strategies on the basis of threat deterrence, negotiation and treaties.
 Ellis 2003:
For this reason, and because the consequences of particular WMD attacks may be severe, White House officials have argued that the United States must plan as if such weapons will be used. Indeed, not only does the continuing proliferation of WMD capabilities appear inevitable, the potential for adversarial use of WMD against U.S. forces, U.S. friends and allies, or the U.S. homeland is increasingly likely. This reality is hardly news to the Defense Department, which as early as 1997 concluded that the use of chemical and biological weapons would be a “likely condition” of future warfare.
Following the 2001 terror attack on the World Trade Center, the U.S. administration began taking a more proactive approach to preventing the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction.  Abandoning Clinton's deterrence through negotiation strategy, the Bush administration adapted the "The National Security Strategy of the United States of America" in 2002.
 Butcher 2003:
"Rather than aiming to deny enemy access to NBC [Nuclear Biological Chemical] weapons and dissuading attacks through the threat of massive retaliation, Bush’s approach to the proliferation of NBC weapons entails seeking out and destroying suspected stores of enemy NBC weapons before they can be used against us. This is explicitly stated in The National Security Strategy:
…as a matter of common sense and self defense, America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed. We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best. So we must be prepared to defeat our enemies’ plans, using the best intelligence and proceeding with deliberation. History will judge harshly those who saw this coming danger but failed to act. In the new world we have entered, the only path to peace and security is the path of action."

While international law and the U.N. has evaded the question of direct military intervention to prevent proliferation, justification is found in the general principles of jus ad bellum (Just War) theory.

Butcher 2003:

Barry Schneider, in Future War and Counterproliferation, quotes Brad Roberts, and elaborates a set of rules and conditions that would need to be fulfilled before moving ahead with military action. Roberts argues that just war theory in international law would require leaders of state who are considering preemption against an emerging NBC threat to follow five rules:
  • Taking action only after peaceful remedies are exhausted.
  • Taking only those actions that have a reasonable chance of success.
  • Taking actions proportional to the injury or anticipated injury about to be suffered.
  • Acting only in self-defense.
  • Taking action only if exercised by a competent authority.

When is the threat sufficient to justify the use of force in response to it? The situation ripe for counterforce action is one where a number of conditions are present:
  • The enemy is very hostile in words and behavior.
  • The adversary has shown intent to inflict injury.
  • There is an active preparation for the use of weapons of mass destruction.
  • The enemy state is also engaged in illegal acts that threaten the peace and stability of the region.
It is concluded in a U.S. net assessment that more lives and vital interests of the United States and its allies will be lost by inaction in the face of imminent danger than by taking offensive action
The U.N. does permit any state to defend itself under the provisions of U.N. Article 51.  This provision in the U.N. Charter affirms the rights of all nations to take steps necessary to protect themselves from imminent threat.  If such threat is verified to exist, there is little doubt the U.N. would authorize a nation to take action in self-defense.  However, this debate is not requiring U.N. approval and perhaps under some definitions of unilateral, it forbids it.

Humanitarian Intervention

For this contention, I would like to detail a two-step approach to justification that strikes me as fairly obvious based on available evidence. In the past, we have seen several debates (especially) in Lincoln-Douglas which advocates state obligations to provide humanitarian aid.  Why not leverage some past debate knowledge and assemble some linkages to justification?

Weiss, Burroughs 2011:
"WMD experts in the field of arms control consider such problems as how to abolish these weapons or at least reduce the risk of their being used, how to prevent their proliferation, what damage they cause to humans and other living things, etc. Human rights specialists contemplate which human rights are ‘real’, what should be their order of priority, how best to enforce them and whether a culture of human rights can be introduced into society. Rarely do these two communities consider the overlapping issues of their respective fields. And yet the linkages between WMD and human rights are manifold...In 1985, the UN Human Rights Committee, the body charged with overseeing implementation of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, strongly asserted the relevance of human rights law to the consequences of reliance on nuclear weapons, both in the context of war, traditionally the province of humanitarian law, and of international relations more generally. The Committee commented that:
It is evident that the designing, testing, manufacture, possession and deployment of nuclear weapons are among the greatest threats to the right to life which confront mankind today. This threat is compounded by the danger that the actual use of such weapons may be brought about, not only in the event of war, but even through human or mechanical error or failure."
Sidel, Levy 2007:
"Controlling the proliferation of nuclear weapons is one of the major challenges we face as a global society. Given that public health is “what we, as a society, do collectively to ensure the conditions in which people can be healthy,” controlling the proliferation of nuclear weapons—and ultimately abolishing them—must be a major global health priority."

Having established that nuclear proliferation is a major threat to human rights and human health in the status quo, Pro can claim that any moral or legal justification the United States may possess for preventing threats to human rights or human health is defacto justification for military intervention to prevent nuclear proliferation.

The Moral Justification

Perhaps the connection between legal and moral justification to preemptive nonproliferation is very tight and so the justification on the basis of protecting human rights (as a moral basis) or state duties under the social contract (philosophical and legal basis) are intertwined.  Natural law dictates every human being has the right to life and liberty and certainly proliferation threatens the natural rights.  Further, the basis of nearly all man-made laws are found in the natural laws and so the moral duty to protect natural rights extends to the legal duty to protect natural rights whether explicitly stated or not.  Finally, the obligation of the state to protect its citizens from harm is a philosophical ideology born from social contract theory and essentially ingrained into the fabric of the US constitution and government structure.

Bradford 2004:
Absent any authoritative statutory command obligating presidential action in response to a specific threat, if the President is dutybound to defend the U.S. the source of such a duty must necessarily arise as the logical corollary to the natural rights, and in particular the rights to life and liberty, possessed by U.S. citizens. Accordingly, in charging presidents with the “solemn responsibility” to safeguard the nation and its population against the threat or use of force, scholars, presidents, and sitting heads-of-state have drawn heavily upon the language and ethos of natural legal theory. Contractarian theorists hold the state to its bargain, demanding protection of life and liberty from officials specifically entrusted with the duty to defend; just war and Catholic theorists insist not only that human beings are collectively obligated to protect and defend life “even if it means occasionally using arms” but that state leaders and other “key actors” bear “moral obligations . . . to protect and defend . . . the innocent from grave evil[.]”

There is, no doubt, much more I can add to the justification argument and certainly the moral duty to take preemptive actions to prevent proliferation.  But I don't want to write the case for you, I just want to stimulate you shake off the summer doldrums and awaken your minds for the coming debate season.  So for now, I leave you with this Pro position.

Click here to look at the Con position.


Butcher, Martin; What wrongs our arms may do: The Role of Nuclear Weapons in Counterproliferation; 2003
Ellis, Jason D.; The Best Defense: Counterproliferation and U.S. National Security;The Washington Quarterly; 2003.
Morgan, Phillip; "Unilateral Deployment of Armed Force for the Protection of Human Rights"; Journal of International Law and Policy; 2007
Shue, Henry; Rodim, David; Preemption : Military Action and Moral Justification; University Press Scholarship Online; 2008
(available online)
Sidel, Victor W., Levy, Barry S.; "Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons: Opportunities for Control and Abolition"; American Journal of Public Health; 2007
Weiss, Peter & Borroughs, John; Weapons of mass destruction and human rights; Disarmament Forum;2011


  1. Thank you for this great resource. But I just have one question. If the Con said that Unilateral military force would undermine opinion/credibility of the U.S. could you use the argument that unilateral military force does not eliminate possible agreements/ alliances with other nations?

    1. Consider turning the argument. There is a plenty of evidence which states unilateral military force will send a clear message which ultimately deters other nations from attempting to acquire nuke tech. The benefits far outweigh any temporary harms to our credibility. Secondly, and more to your point and again as a possible turn, I think military force could increase the likelihood of more treaties as nations will be inclined to use treaties to constrain unilateral action. Nevertheless, historically there has been little significant, direct blowback from certain past U.S. unilateral action (Libya for example). However, finding the evidence will be up to you. I think, the research must be focused. Generally speaking there is a fair amount of evidence to suggest some kinds of unilateral actions do produce negative blowback, but we are talking about nuclear proliferation which is a much narrower and specific application with few empirical examples.
      Whether or not, unilateral action threatens existing treaties or agreements, perhaps it will, but that may not necessarily be a bad thing. If the unilateral action succeeds in stopping prolif, especially to rogue entities, there is a major benefit which offsets all sorts of negative blowback.

    2. One I got burned on, say world opinion doesn't matter if preserving it means risking American civilian lives.


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