Wednesday, September 4, 2013

PF Sep/Oct 2013 - Unilateral Military Force - Definitions

Welcome Public Forum Debaters

For PF debaters unfamiliar with Everyday Debate, welcome.  Each month, I will try to submit a detailed analysis of the resolutions as they are issued by the National Forensics League.  Generally, the analysis will consist of three parts: a definitions section which looks at the meanings of the language used and present some discussion about what should or should not be debated based upon how the resolution is interpreted.  I will also present Pro position and Con position articles which will discuss possible case strategies and provide enough good, easy to find evidence to get you started in your research and case writing.  Occasionally, a topic will require an in-depth analysis which will be explored in a series of additional posts.  I am an active debate coach working with an experienced team, looking forward to a successful season.  For this reason, while I will explore the various developments in debate theory in adequate detail, I default to a conservative style of argumentation and case structure which appeals to the districts in which we compete and which seems compatible with NFL Nationals level debate where I have judged rounds and coached competitors.

For those of you already familiar with Everyday Debate, let's get right into this topic.

2013 September/October Topic
Resolved: Unilateral military force by the United States is justified to prevent nuclear proliferation.


adjective - done or undertaken by one person or party; of, relating to, or affecting one side of a subject;
Unilateral basically means one-sided and in the context of international relations, when a nation makes a unilateral decision or takes a unilateral action, the nation is acting alone.

Ales Weingerl, Doctoral Student of Philosophy elaborates on the legal definition of unilateral action of states:
"There presently exists no generally accepted definition of unilateral acts in international law. There exists no treaty defining unilateral acts as a general legal concept6 and there is no all-encompassing definition of them in customary international law either. Doubts may thus be cast on the very existence of unilateral acts as a legal institution...In sum, I propose the following definition:
Unilateral acts of States are international legal transactions (permissible State conduct), representing legally recognized means of manifesting (or expressing) unilateral consent to be bound (precipitating conduct) and creating, modifying, suspending or terminating international rights and obligations in accordance with international law.

military force
In this situation, the definition of military force as a compound noun is not correct.  The terms in this context do not refer to a military unit as a subset of a larger military establishment.  Instead it references a kind of aggressive or coercive action.

adjective - of or relating to soldiers, arms, or war.

noun - strength or energy exerted or brought to bear : cause of motion or change : active power; military strength; violence, compulsion, or constraint exerted upon or against a person or thing.

Thus we can interpret military force to be a coercive action executed by soldiers or arms.

United States
'United States' means the several States, the District of Columbia, and the territories and possessions of the United States including the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico;

This word has appeared in previous topics so for consistency I choose the same definitions cited in the March 2013 Lincoln-Douglas topic (found here):

"A sufficient or acceptable excuse or explanation made in court for an act that is otherwise unlawful; the showing of an adequate reason, in court, why a defendant committed the offense for which he or she is accused that would serve to relieve the defendant of liability."
West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc.

Also known as the choice of evils defence, and derived from the common law doctrine of necessity. In the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Justice Papadakos presiding (Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Berrigan), in a tort case:
"The defense of justification will lie only where the actor offers evidence that will demonstrate: 1) that the actor was faced with a public disaster that was clear and imminent, not debatable or speculative; 2) that the actor could reasonably expect that the actions taken would be effective in avoiding the immediate public disaster; 3) that there is no legal alternative which will be effective in abating the immediate public disaster; 4) that no legislative purpose exists to exclude the justification from the particular situation faced by the actor."

This particular word is important to understand.  First of all, one should not automatically assume there is some kind of association between the value of justice of the quality of being justified.  I intentionally selected the first definition in order to highlight a particular aspect of a justifiable action.  The action taken must be one that would not, under ordinary circumstances be considered desirable or even legal.  It is an acceptable reason to perform an extraordinary action.  We also consider, for this resolution, two contexts for justification.  One is the legal justification and the other the moral justification.

to prevent
verb - to deprive of power or hope of acting or succeeding; to keep from happening or existing; to hold or keep back.

nuclear proliferation provides a good starting definition of nuclear proliferation (affectionately known as "prolif" in academic debate circles):
"Nuclear Proliferation is a term used to describe the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons-applicable nuclear technology and information, to nations which are not recognized as "Nuclear Weapon States" by the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, also known as the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or NPT."

For a specific definition of proliferation by the U.S. Department of Defense, click here.

Interpreting the Resolution

Now that we have broken down the language of the resolution we can begin to apply specific interpretations and begin to establish positions of advocacy.  In the light of impending nuclear development in Iran and perhaps evidence or at least a circumstantial motivation for a nation such as North Korea to sell nuclear technology to entities unknown and possibly hostile to U.S. interests, the debate may center on the US justification to take unilateral steps to prevent proliferation.  This could involve a pre-emptive strike against nuclear facilities in Iran, terrorist camps in Pakistan which may be seeking to obtain nuclear tech or a pre-emptive strike against North Korean activities which may result in the spread of nuclear tech.

These examples are only useful for framing a context for the debate.  I am not suggesting PF debaters should advocate specific unilateral military actions.  I think the intent is to examine the issue of whether non-specific unilateral force is justifiable if the impact of non-action is proliferation.  Clearly, diplomatic efforts or negotiations and treaties are not at issue.  The implication of the resolution and advocacy of the Pro side will be the negative impact of nuclear proliferation is legally and/or morally significant enough to merit the use of military force.

For a look at the Pro position, click here.


  1. This really helped me in my assignment! Without cheating! Even though i'm in policy debate.

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  6. If Ales Weingerl defines "unilateral acts of states," how can that definition be used for the topic on "unilateral military force by the United States?"

    1. Uhmm, because Weingerl's definition applies to states, as in countries; and the United States is one.

    2. Ok, so just making sure im not missing anything, the definition (which he used for states) can still apply to our country? Im in policy debate, but my resolution is very similar, and that was the only definition for unilateral that i could find. Thank you so much, this is really helpful :)