Saturday, September 28, 2013

Values in Lincoln-Douglas Debate - part 2

This part two of a series - for part 1 click here.

The V/VC Framework

As discussed in part one of this series, Lincoln-Douglas debate is known as values debate since the opposing sides seek to defend a value premise, such as life, justice or morality through the support of their case.  In classic LD, the ability of each side to defend, uphold or promote their chosen value ultimately determines who wins.  The values are often abstract, subjective concepts; for example how does one measure if one side is more just or more moral than the other?  For this reason, the debaters present a value criterion - a value standard - as an aid for the judge to make that measure.  It is for this reason, we often see LD discuss the value/value criterion (V/VC) framework.  The value is what we want to achieve, the value criterion is how we can achieve it or how we know we achieve it.  The value criterion is linked to the value in such a way, that if we meet the standards of the VC we will achieve the desired value. So it is through the mechanism of the VC, the judge is able to decide how effective each side is in achieving their values.

Standards of Measure

Often coaches and various teachers of debate techniques and procedures will speak of standards, and especially with respect to judging.  I just want to clarify what I mean when I talk about standards in this article.  I will be saying things like "judging standard" or "evaluation standard".  A standard is a norm (rule, law) or an agreed convention or requirement.  In the physical sciences, when something is being measured, there must be some assurance the instrument which performs the measurement is accurately calibrated.  Typically, the instrument technician will use a "standard" which is a known quantity, size, weight, composition, etc.; measure it with the instrument; and if the instrument result is within an acceptable tolerance of error, the instrument is considered true or calibrated and so can be trusted when an unknown is measured.  The standard, then is a known quality so to speak and when the unknown is measured one can ascertain if it is larger or heavier or otherwise conforms to the standard.

Judging the Value

Debaters must always be aware of the fact, the case will be judged by an older, more experienced (life experience, not necessarily judging experience) person who has a very strong sense of duty to fairly determine a winner in the round. In order for a novice judge or any judge to determine a winner the judge must have a way of determining the winner.  Now I know, you as debater may think, well obviously the judge should listen to the debate and give the win on the basis of ... the side which better upheld the contentions? ... better upheld the value? ... had the greatest overall value? ... by all of these? by none of these?  It is the dilemma of the debater to know what evaluation standards the judge will use and it is the dilemma of many novice judges to know what evaluation standards to use.  I can assure you, because the judge is duty bound to pick a winner, she will use some kind of standard by which to decide, even if it is who spoke the most eloquently or sounded the most knowledgeable.  You don't want the judge pulling a standard out of clear blue sky and even if the judge tells you on a preference sheet, I judge based on contentions, or values, you need to understand that in many situations it is the default standard the judge will resort to unless you give them another way to evaluate the round and a good reason to prefer your evaluation standard.  Let me make this clear.  You must give the judge a reason to prefer your standard.

Here is an example. Let us assume you are advocating the affirmative for "Resolved: States ought not possess nuclear weapons" and you feel the most important consideration in the round should be the weight and seriousness of your impacts, and not the value framework.  Then you must give the judge a reason to prefer your standard, especially if the judge's default standard is the value/criterion clash. For example, you may say, "My value is the quality of life and my criterion is eliminating the risk of nuclear war.  Nuclear war results in widespread death and long term suffering. Life, justice, happiness, and other such values are meaningless when you are dead or when your day-to-day survival is marked by endless suffering. The magnitude of my impacts outweigh all other considerations. You should prefer the side which eliminates the risk of nuclear war and avoids these terrible impacts."

The Value Criterion

The value criterion is one of the most important parts of the value framework upon which the case is built.  The purpose of the value criterion is to give the judge the standard which she should use to evaluate the case.  Consider the round where the affirmative and negative side each have the same value.  In fact, one never knows going into the round if that will be situation or not.  If the judge is faced with debater 'A' defending life and debater 'N' defending life, how does the judge pick a winner?  The obvious way is on the basis of which debater does the best job of defending life and how that is measured is by applying the supplied value criterion.  For example, debater 'A' tells the judge, "my value is life, which is the most important value so you should vote for the side which reduces the risk of nuclear annihilation, because only by reducing the risk of nuclear annihilation do we protect the value of life".  Debater 'N' may say, "My value is also life, the most important value of the  round, and you should vote for the side which deters war because by deterring war, more lives will be saved."  Thus we see two different criteria seeking to protect life, now the judge can determine based on the facts of the cases, which side succeeds.  On one side the evaluation is based upon the fact that wars will happen but without nukes there can be no annihilation, the other side is saying nukes prevent wars from starting in the first place.

In classic LD debate, the value criterion then serves as a weighing mechanism for the judge. It takes the form of, "the side which best accomplishes such and such, will best achieve the value of..."  In order to be fair in classic LD, that "such and such" criterion must be doable by both sides.  It is the only way a judge can weigh which side does it better. Of course, each debater is free to choose any desired criteria and nothing says you must chose a criterion that is equally winnable by both sides.  Obviously you will want to choose a criterion which suits your case and favors your position.  But if you choose a criterion that cannot be used by the opponent, it will reduce the clash which is expected in a competitive event.

The Clash

Obviously, since the LD judge is being asked to use the value criterion of each side as a standard for evaluating a winner, it is logical to assume both debaters will clash over the value criterion.  In the example given about nuclear disarmament, debater 'N' will use the debater 'A' value criterion and claim "I also reduce the risk of nuclear annihilation through deterrence, protecting life while at the same time possessing a powerful incentive to negotiate peace treaties which protects even more life." Conversely, debater 'A' may claim, "my opponent's criterion is deterring war but I also deter war.  If both sides have no nuclear weapons it does not mean that war is inevitable as history proves.  There is deterrence through conventional weapons, diplomatic incentives and globalization. which is just as effective in protecting lives".

Debate implies there will be clash. Judges expect clash and will be very quick to criticize the lack of clash on their ballots.  I think, quite often when there is no clash in the round it arises from two possible causes.  One, there may not be clear standards enumerated by the debaters or second, the debaters may simply fail to center the debate around the declared standards.

Attacking the V/VC

So let us assume you are getting it and you are understanding how to set up a V/VC framework in your case and you understand its purpose.  It is also important to understand how to debate it.  Of course your entire advocacy is centered around maintaining your framework in the face of opposition.  There are several useful strategies for attacking the opponent's V/VC framework.  First and foremost, and only if the opponent's value is not the same as yours, you can attempt to show how your value is the superior value.  For example you could argue there is no reason to prefer life if there can be no justice or what good is justice if there is no safety.  But don't just say it, explain it to the judge.  Another useful technique is to absorb the opponent's value or claim your side is preferred because not only do you achieve your own value which the opponent can not, but you also achieve the opponent's value.  Finally you can attempt to show the opponent is incapable of achieving her own value or at least incapable of achieving it to a significant degree.

When looking at the opponent's value criterion it is useful to try to prove the opponent's VC fails to achieve the opponent's value.  For example, "my opponent's value criterion is deterring war and he claims that possessing nuclear weapons deters war and yet, my case has shown that nuclear states continue to be involved in wars, and the possession of nuclear weapons is not an effective means to deter war thus he fails to achieve his value".  Another effective strategy is show how the opponent's VC also links to your own value and by meeting his standard, your own value is supported.  If you can couple this argument with the claim the other side's VC is ineffective in achieving the other side's value, you will deliver a powerful one-two punch.

Values in Lincoln-Douglas Debate

This is part one of a multi-part series.

Lincoln-Douglas (LD) 101 - Intro

This year I have begun the process of indoctrinating a new group of novices into the wonderful world of LD Debate.  Let's face it, very few incoming freshman high school debaters are prepared to debate (argue, yes, debate? No.) let alone ask them to frame their debates around a value criterion framework.  That's the time half of them leave thinking they will find shelter in speech world.  Frankly, it's been a while since I have started day-one with a group of potential novice LD debaters.  Previously, an assistant coach took on the responsibilities of breaking in the novices and judging by some of the outcomes, she did a fine job.  Since I am pretty much dealing with the entire team alone, this year (I do have a worthy part-time PF assistant) I have been revisiting my lectures and materials.  Therefore, I thought, why not put it out there for the world to see?  For this reason, I will be publishing a series of posts dealing with the values and philosophies common to LD debate.  It will be geared toward the novice debater competing in a traditional LD circuit.

Lincoln-Douglas in traditional tournament circuits and as seen in the National Forensics League National Tournament finals, is built upon a "values" framework.  In other words, debaters will structure their cases so they are defending some lofty values all humans hold dear, such as life, justice, morality, etc. And sometimes, in fact quite often, debaters reference the philosophies of great thinkers to help support their positions.  To be sure, there are many, many philosophers and many ideas and justifications for how humans think, act, reason, and react but fortunately, in Lincoln-Douglas debate there are a limited number of basic philosophies which appear over and over in debates throughout the year and by gaining some understanding of these, the novices will begin to understand probably 75% of the case philosophies they will encounter.  The remaining are usually variants of the one's I will discuss in future articles.

However, before looking at philosophy, I want to look at the common values defended by LD debaters and discuss how to apply values and their standards to LD debate cases.

The Values of LD

As I have said in my introduction, the "values" in LD debate are the lofty ideals which most human beings hold dear.  The best "values" are those which are esteemed by the majority of humans and not dependent upon cultural, religious, nationalistic or other such boundaries.  They are universally appealing. Most of the time these values will fall into three groupings depending on the nature of the case or the resolution being debated.

The first group are the personal values - those which individuals cherish:
  • life - the supreme value perhaps and often related to quality of life
  • quality of life - qualities which make life worth living
  • liberty - freedom to do whatever, whenever
  • justice - receiving just desserts
  • happiness - the sense of pleasure
  • autonomy - self-determination
  • safety - free from all manner of threats
  • health - without physical limitation
  • well-being - general sense life is good
  • self-worth / dignity - one's life has value to others
  • privacy - anonymity or the right to keep some aspects of life non-public
  • morality - discernment of right behavior

Second are those values esteemed by societies or groups:
  • equality - all members have the same opportunities
  • egalitarianism - see equality above (more a philosophy of equality)
  • social justice - the society conforms to standards of just desserts
  • social harmony - everyone gets along
  • societal welfare / well-being - community care
  • upward mobility - ability to climb the ladder of success
  • fairness - everyone is treated justly
  • community / belonging - being accepted by the group
  • rule of law - willingness to submit to legal authority
  • democracy/democratic ideals - everyone has an equal voice
  • progress / social progress - ability to achieve higher ideals or standards
  • morality - group or corporate right behavior

Finally there values associated with governments, rulers and authorities:
  • government legitimacy - recognized authority granted to the government
  • security - duty of the government to protect citizens, lives, liberty and property
  • (open markets - sometimes) - freedom to participate in the market place
  • autonomy - freedom from outside interference
  • duty of government - values arising out of the social contract; duty to protect citizens
  • morality - right behavior of nations and governments

Notice, I have included morality in all three groups.  Morality can be a relative concept but we can think of moral actions as those which are generally accepted as the "right thing to do".  Very often when debates begin to explore the questions of whether groups, businesses, governments, etc. are moral agents the debates can get very interesting.  Also, you should realize there is nothing firm about these groupings.  A resolution which asks us to consider social or national issues, for example, may still require the protection of values pertinent to individuals.

Sometimes, the resolutions being debated will permit other kinds of values.  For example, a resolution which narrows the debate to only the U.S. may permit the use of values which may be considered uniquely American, such as individuality, or any of the liberties granted by the Bill of Rights and Constitution in general.  

The debaters must define the meanings of those values within the context of their cases so as to avoid any ambiguity. For example, justice is commonly defined as "giving each his due" but there are other interpretations of justice and so the debater must clarify what is meant when the claim is made that "justice" or any other value is the most important thing we must consider in the debate round.  What exactly is the form of justice, or equality, or fairness to be considered?

Choosing Values

How should a debater choose a value?  Indeed, this is not an easy question to answer for novices.  Some times the resolution itself gives the answer. For example, "Resolved: Justice requires the recognition of animal rights" strongly suggests a value of justice; "Resolved: Targeted killing is a morally permissible foreign policy tool" perhaps suggests a value of morality. Usually the values of justice and morality are the most common values embedded in LD resolutions.  There is nothing that says you must use the explicit value in the resolution, but if you are novice and you struggle with picking a good value, then why not go with it?
If the value is not so obvious, consider the scope of the resolution.  Does it deal with individuals, societies or governments and then consider any of the values categorized above.  For example, "Resolved: Individuals have a moral obligation to assist people in need" would expect a personal value since it deals with individuals; "Resolved: It is morally permissible for victims to use deadly force as a deliberate response to repeated domestic violence" suggests a societal value, though it may support a personal value; "Resolved: States ought not possess nuclear weapons" suggests a governmental value.

Building On Values

I suggest doing some preliminary research, and outline some contentions prior to deciding on a value.  It's not a good idea to rely on your personal knowledge of a topic, in my opinion. Once you have a good idea of the kinds of arguments that can be authenticated with evidence, look at the values and see what kind of contention narratives can be constructed around the value. To construct the narrative, I will say to the debater, forget all the lingo, buzzwords and debate double-speak and just explain your contention to me.  For example, with the resolution, States ought not posses nuclear weapons, a debater may say, "I found evidence which says, nuclear war a is serious threat to human health so if we can eliminate nuclear weapons, we reduce the risk of war and so we can protect human health. Therefore I think we can protect the value of life or health or security, or the moral duty of nations."  Notice, in the example, based on the evidence, a very viable contention is set up by the debater linked to four possible values (life, health, security, duty of nations).
Continuing with the contention narrative, the debater may say, "I also found evidence that says nations which have nukes are more likely to be attacked with nukes so by getting rid of nukes we can increase national security, or protect lives".  Thus somewhere in the intersection of the two contention narratives, common values begin to emerge and we see security and life as common values.  Thus the debater, based on the narratives, isolates values which are common to all of the contentions and therefore, creates a value foundation for the case.  Anytime you as a debater think, "I found good evidence", ask yourself, knowing this fact, what values can I defend?  Soon, you should be able to put together a case narrative, with several contentions each supporting a common value.  Then the real research and case writing can commence.

Monday, September 23, 2013

PF Nov 2013 Proposed Topics

From the National Forensics League -

The Public Forum TOPIC AREA for November is "Executive Branch Powers." The two resolutions from which students and advisors may choose are as follows:

  • Resolved: The United States government should stop conducting warrantless surveillance of its citizens' electronic activities.

  • Resolved: The benefits of domestic surveillance by the NSA outweigh the harms.

At first glance, this could be an interesting topic.  The second choice, in my opinion, may be too narrow since it specifies the NSA.  The NSA is not the only U.S. domestic intelligence gathering group is it?

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.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Everyday Debate is Two Years Old

Happy Birthday

It is officially the second year this site has been up and running.  The best news is, Everyday Debate began life as a free service to the debate community and two years later it is still 100% free.  I confess, running a team and keeping this site going while holding down a fulltime job is a lot of work sometimes.  It's difficult to keep up with it, especially when LD and PF resolutions come out at the same time.  But when I get it done and post the analyses and evidence, I am happy to think one or two of you may be actually using some of this stuff to win debates.  Maybe not my team, but someone must be benefitting.

Two years is not bad.  Some of you may recall the original white on black theme.  Some may recall when the public could post comments without having to type in a code to prove they are human.  We can thank the spammers for the end of that freedom and yet, some spammers are so desperate to ruin your experience on this site, they will go through all the trouble to enter the code just to drop a link to their virus infested garbage.

Anyway, there have been improvements.  There is an easier-on-the-eyes theme; there are lots of ways to share and promote Everyday Debate using Twitter, Facebook, and Google+; and recently I have added a translate tool so international readers can read in their own, um, less than perfect, Google translated languages.

Your comments are still welcome and any ideas on how to make your experience with Everyday Debate better will be greatly appreciated.

Visit the About page to learn more about the mission of Everyday Debate and see how I may be contacted.  The links to other good sites are updated and included there as well.

Here's to another great year!
Now back to work!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Policy Debate 2014-2015 Proposed Resolutions

From the National Forensics League, Summer 2013 Rostrum Magazine -

Policy Debate: Synopsis of the Problem Areas for 2014-15

Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its non-military exploration and/or development of the Earth’s oceans.

Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase restrictions on the use of its military force to comply with one or more provisions of international humanitarian law.

Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its constructive engagement with the government of one or more of the following: Egypt, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian Authority.

Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially strengthen its export controls on military and/or dual use technology toward one or more of the following: China, Israel, Russia, Taiwan.

Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase restrictions on consumption and/or contamination of water in the United States.

Monday, September 9, 2013

LD Sep/Oct 2013 - Compulsory Voting - Neg Position

Click here for part 1 of this analysis - definitions

Resolved: In a democracy, voting ought to be compulsory

Neg Position

I think most experienced debaters will look at this resolution and think compulsory equals coercive equals loss of rights, no freedom of choice, dehumanization, Foucault, Nietzsche, and here we go. So yes, we will look at the obvious disadvantages of governmental coercion although compulsory voting may be one of the least coercive things governments do.

Looking at the Aff position I published previously, I feel the most important and perhaps only reason to mandate voting is to solve the harm of low voter turnout.  The expected way to deal with that claim is either show turnout is not low, or low turnout is not harmful, or low turnout is not as harmful as mandated voting or if low turnout does have bad impacts, perhaps there are ways to encourage participation without coercion.

First, let us look at a few common objections to compulsory voting (there are many more than these few examples).

Compulsory Voting Does Not Solve

While it may be stated that compulsory voting does increase the turnout at the polls, it is not necessarily true that the problems associated with low turnout will be solved.

Lever 2009:
"Indeed, the evidence suggests that compulsory voting does nothing other than raise turnout – and there are, in fact, some questions about how far it is better than other means of doing this, too (Margetts 2006, 6). Recent work suggests that compulsory voting has no noticeable effect on political knowledge or interest, (Engelen and Hooghe, 2007) nor, more surprisingly, any evident effect on electoral outcomes (Selb and Lachat, 2007). Unfortunately, it also does not seem to force parties to compete for the votes of the poor, the weak or the marginalized, as Lijphart hoped, or even reduce the costs of electoral campaigns. Hence, Ballinger concludes, “Compulsory turnout does not guarantee inclusiveness; nor does it guarantee political equality” (2006, 13)."

The argument is strongly made that nothing is gained by forcing a disgruntled electorate to vote.  Voters choose to drop out of the election process for a lot of different reasons and forcing them to show up at the polls does nothing to change their attitudes for the better. In fact, just the opposite.

Compulsory Voting Makes Things Worse

Forcing persons who have no interest in the political outcomes may actually harm the process.  On the one hand it forces campaigns to spend more money targeting groups which have no interests in the outcome but even worse, there is a risk of diluting the desires of those who do care about the political outcomes with the votes of those who do not.

Lever 2009:
"...I have argued that the case for compulsory voting is unproven. It is unproven because the claim that compulsion will have beneficial results rests on speculation about the way that nonvoters will vote if they are forced to vote, and there is considerable, and justified, controversy on this matter. Nor is it clear that compulsory voting is well-suited to combating those forms of low and unequal turnout that are, genuinely, troubling. On the contrary, it may make them worse by distracting politicians and voters from the task of combating persistent, damaging, and pervasive forms of unfreedom and inequality in our societies."

Moraro 2012:
"... it could be argued that compulsory voting is likely to do more damage than good, by reducing the quality of the electoral outcome. Forcing everyone to vote means that the voice of those with no interest in politics will influence the decision about who rules the country. This generates what author Jason Brennan calls ‘pollution of the polls’ in his book The ethics of voting,1 and is one of the main causes of the actual crisis of democracy worldwide: incompetent politicians winning elections through media control (the recent case of Italy under Silvio Berlusconi epitomises this phenomenon)."

Democratic Tyranny

Most democracies (most societies) are comprised of subgroups.  Some are poor, some rich; some educated, some not; some advantaged in some way, some not; some disabled, some not; some will be religious, some not; you get the picture.  In a democracy there is a very real prospect that a phenomenon will arise known as the "tyranny of the majority".  This is what happens when the desires of the majority so overwhelm the minority it becomes a form of oppression to the minority group.  For example, the majority could pass tax the rich laws which oppress the wealthy or a dominate religious group could pass laws which are perceived as repressive to the minority or the majority may establish polling places in their neighborhoods forcing minorities to travel great distances to vote.  In many ways, the possibility of majority tyranny becomes an indictment of democracy itself.

"A majority taken collectively is only an individual, whose opinions, and frequently whose interests, are opposed to those of another individual, who is styled a minority. If it be admitted that a man possessing absolute power may misuse that power by wronging his adversaries, why should not a majority be liable to the same reproach? Men do not change their characters by uniting with one another; nor does their patience in the presence of obstacles increase with their strength."

John Stuart Mill, the prominent 19th century political philosopher also spoke of the oppression that can arise in democracies in his book "On Liberty".

Brians 1998:
"Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first, and is still vulgarly, held in dread, chiefly as operating through the acts of the public authorities. But reflecting persons perceived that when society is itself the tyrant--society collectively over the separate individuals who compose it--its means of tyrannizing are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself."

State Coercion Bad

Of course we must look to the idea that state coercion is controversial to begin with and the idea the state would usurp an individuals right to not vote or choose to drop out of the political process is an easy target for Neg criticism.

Malkopoulou 2009:
A third objection to compulsory voting, and perhaps the most serious one, is that it violates the principle of liberty, which is one of the core elements of democracy. For this reason, more often than not, the measure is attacked as being undemocratic and coercive. Libertarians claim that they have the right to disagree on the value of political participation as such. They furthermore argue that one should be able to choose among other competitive kinds of participation (Lever,2008). On these grounds, compulsory voting is charged with violating basic human rights, namely the “freedom of thought, conscience and religion” (Art. 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights). However, in the case of X v Austria (Application No. 4982/71) in 1971, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that mandatory voting does not violate fundamental freedoms, because only attendance at a polling station – and not voting itself – is compulsory, while the voters also have the option of casting a blank or spoiled ballot paper (cited in Baston and Ritchie, 2004).

The Value of the Neg Position

I have no doubt, the Neg debater will have little problems finding evidence that attacks the principle ideas I laid out at the beginning of this article, that is, low turnout is not bad, mandates do not solve, or the impacts of low turnout are outweighed by the impacts of coercion.  In fact, on a straight up, toe-to-toe battle there is a pretty good chance the Aff and Neg can essentially cancel each other out with offsetting evidence.  For this reason, I think the real debate should be about the value framework.  For example, the Neg may also decide to choose the value of government legitimacy but defend it with the criteria of maximizing liberty.  A government which is able to conduct its affairs with minimal intrusion and coercion into the lives of the citizens is more legitimate.  In fact, if democracy itself, may be considered a value then why not run it under the criterion that a democracy which allows its citizens the freedom of choice is more legitimate.  In fact choosing not to vote may be considered an expression of political will which is just as meaningful as a choice made at the polls.  Under these kinds of frameworks, the contentions and evidence serve to rebut the affirmative case while showing that the expansion of government power represented by the voting mandate is another misguided attempt to control outcomes with no real indication it will ultimately avoid the intended impacts.

Expanding the idea that the government mandates will be ineffectual (yes they will increase turnout, but at what cost?) values such as liberty, freedom of choice and justice stand out.

I think, for now, I have said enough and hopefully you will be able to take these ideas and expand upon them.  Good luck.

For some random thoughts on Pro approaches to Proliferation, click here.

Brians, Paul; John Stuart Mill: On Liberty; Reading About the World, Volume 2; 1998

Lever, Annabelle; Is Compulsory Voting Justified?; 2009


Moraro, Piero; Why compulsory voting undermines democracy; Living Ehtics,Issue 88; 2012

Tocqueville, Alexis de; Democracy in America, chap. 15; English translation by Henry Reeve; 1899

Sunday, September 8, 2013

LD Sep/Oct 2013 Compulsory Voting - Affirmative Position

Click here for part 1 of this analysis - definitions

Resolved: In a democracy, voting ought to be compulsory

Pro Position

Compulsory voting is already the norm in a significant part of the democratic world.  The CIA Factbook gives details on the number of countries currently mandating compulsory voting (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Congo, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Greece, Honduras, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Mexico, Nauru, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Singapore, Thailand, Uruguay).  Perhaps not all of them are democratic in the classic sense of the word.  For example, some are Republics and the distinction between democracies and republics may or may not be significant in this debate.  The argument is strongly made by some historians that the United States, for example, is not a democracy, but is a republic.  At this point, I am not sure it is important for me, in my analysis to draw those distinctions.  There is a certain overriding perception among Americans (and that would include LD judges) that The U.S. is a democracy and so it is a model for democracies around the world.  Shaking that perception would only serve to add a measure of incredibility to a case.  For those, interested in examining those distinctions, here are a few sources:

Benedict LaRosa; Deomcracy or Republic, which is it?; undated

Hamilton A. Long; The American Ideal of 1776: The Twelve Basic American Principles; 1976

Generally, speaking both the Aff and Neg will find evidence.  Often one finds Aff and Neg arguments in the same articles and so it becomes a matter of weighing the good and bad and reaching a conclusion.  LD debate allows one to add an additional element: the value framework. This permits the savvy debater to shift the advocacy into another place which allows the judge to evaluate the round on the basis of something other than a rote weighing of benefits and harms.  Believe me, I have a feeling that if all you want to do is argue statistics, pragmatic facts, and historical reviews, go ahead but it will get boring very soon.  Link the pragmatics to big values and make the debate more interesting for everyone.

I also would like to touch on another potentially important area.  Many proponents of compulsory voting will point out that such systems can allow the individual voter to cast a sort of blank ballot which amounts to a "no vote".  This avoids the objection that claims people are being forced to vote in an unpopular election in which the individual does not wish to participate in either choice.  For example, a voter thinks all the candidates on a ballot are poor choices so decides not to vote for any of them.  This may be legitimate since often the compulsion is not to vote but rather show up to vote or at minimum to cast a ballot even if the ballot makes no choice.  One's vote then becomes, no vote.

Legitimacy in Numbers

One of the most common arguments, perhaps the ONLY argument for mandatory voting is the perceived need to overcome voter apathy and the tendency for low voter turn-out at elections.

Lever 2009:
"Participation in elections is declining in most advanced industrial countries. Lower turnout, moreover, is more unequal turnout and these two facts, taken together, underpin the case for compulsion. Lower turnout seems to threaten the legitimacy of a country’s government and electoral system, because it significantly increases the likelihood that governments will reflect a minority, rather than a majority, of registered voters, and of the voting-population, itself."

Mackerras 1999:
"The level of popular participation in national elections is usually regarded as a sensitive barometer of the health of democratic institutions. Political systems that attract high levels of participation are seen as more legitimate and more responsive to the needs of the electorate compared to systems with lower levels of participation. As a consequence, various electoral devices have been introduced to increase turnout, the most notable of which is mandatory or compulsory voting."

Personally, I can find no other harm in the status quo other than low voter turn-out.  But, by solving that harm, it enables a number of advantage scenarios which can be claimed.  As you research, you will discover the low turn out harm, has impacts but the most important cited in the literature is the impact upon governmental legitimacy and this could be the most important value in the round.  I think anyone can understand that if only 40% of the eligible voters cast a vote, one can question if the elected government truly represents the majority which is supposed to be a criteria of democratic governments.  Therefore, a very simple and obvious value/criteria framework is isolated.  The value of governmental legitimacy is upheld by maximizing voter participation; or by ensuring some kind of actual investment in the government by the majority of the citizens.  This is much more than merely affording the opportunity to vote.  It means to make sure people have their views represented.
So let's look at some advantages.

Malkopoulou 2009:
"Despite the many problems of enforcement, a number of scholars, policy-makers and voters worldwide continue to believe that compulsory voting is a good thing. Besides the obvious reason of increasing participation in elections, they defend it on many more grounds, theoretical and technical. In short, full participation prevents electoral corruption and promotes political integration and equal influence on the electoral outcome. In comparison to other means of boosting voter turnout, compulsory voting is the most effective measure; it decreases campaign spending, increases the income of the electoral administration and functions as an indirect tool for civic education."

The Minority Voice Advantage

Malkopoulou 2009:
"In his milestone article in 1997, Arend Lijphart argued that low turnout is biased against citizens with a lower education, income and social class. According to him, citizens with lower education or modest social status, as well as those belonging to ethnic, linguistic or religious minorities, are more prone to abstention than others. Conversely, voluntary voting perpetuates political inequalities and misrepresentation."

Further to the claims of Lijphart, Carey and Horiuchi conducted empirical studies so see if low voter turn-out did indeed result in bias which disfavored the low-income sector of society.  They concluded Lijphart was correct and the interested reader can review their methodology (though the source is missing the graphics) in the paper cited in the bibliography.

Flavin 2012:
"One likely reason that citizens with low incomes are underrepresented by their elected officials is that this group votes at significantly lower rates than more affluent citizens (Lijphart, 1997; Verba, Schlozman, & Brady, 1995). Therefore, the upper income bias in political representation might simply be an artifact of the reality that (1) elected officials focus their energies on representing the opinions of citizens who vote and (2) wealthy citizens turn out to vote at higher rates than citizens with low incomes. As Sidney Verba (2003, p. 663) put it, “Equal activity is crucial for equal consideration since political activity is the means by which citizens make their needs and preferences known to governing elites and induce them to be responsive.”

Wealth is not the only determinate in low-voter turnout.  Other demographics are also affected differently in other parts of the world.  For example, the following reference with respect the the European Union.

Lever 2009:
"Now, as it happens, in Britain, as in most other countries, it is age, rather than wealth or income, which is the best predictor of who votes (Blais 2000).9 Interestingly, in Britain, race is not a significant variable in explaining turnout, nor is wealth per se. In so far as they matter to turnout, in other words, it is because they are correlated to age and to the second most important factor to explain turnout, namely, education10 Indeed, Keaney and Rogers say of age that “it is the single most significant of socio-demographic factors – more significant even than socioeconomic status” (2006, 11)."

The Morality Advantage

Lever's paper brings up an interesting argument which leads to a possible case advantage for compulsory voting.  If the voting of can be visualized to incur a cost, then those who do not vote are not paying the cost, hence, they are "free-riding" on the efforts and responsibility of those who do vote.

Lever 2009:
"The key idea here is that a democratic electoral system is a public good, in that all citizens get to benefit from it, even if they do nothing to contribute to it. Because it is a public good, it is possible to free-ride, or to enjoy the benefits of that good, without contributing oneself and, indeed, most people will have an interest in doing precisely that. Non-voters, therefore, can be seen as free-riders, selfishly and immorally exploiting voters."

The Balance Advantage

One of the claimed impacts of low voter turnout is target campaigning by those seeking office or the passage of issues.  One need not strain their thinking to hard to realize that campaign money and energies will be focused on those groups which are likely to turnout at elections and those who are  least likely to vote will be ignored.

Hajnal 2011:
"The skewed nature of the vote raises real concerns about how well the interests of different groups are served in democracy. As V.O. Key noted decades ago, “The blunt truth is that politicians and officials are under no compulsion to pay much heed to classes and groups of citizens that do not vote” (1949:99). The fear is that individuals and groups who do not participate in the voting process will be overlooked and their concerns ignored (Martin 2003, Bennet and Resnick 1990, Piven and Cloward 1988). Policies will be biased, outcomes unfair, and in the end American democracy will represent the interests of the privileged few over the broader concerns of the masses (Mills 1956; Schattschneider 1970)."

The Value of Voting

There is a lot of argument on both sides of this debate and hopefully I have given you enough to get moving on some ideas for cases.  There are more advantages that can be isolated and the research will yield these quite easily.  One can choose to create and defend a very pragmatic, non-philosophical case and it can be successful on the basis of comparative advantages.  There will be objections of the Neg side, most notably regarding the problems associated with enforcing the mandate to vote.  Aff can choose to avoid this argument by taking the debate to a more abstract level.  In other words, the resolution asks us to debate whether or not voting OUGHT to be compulsory not how to make it compulsory which is more in keeping with proposing a plan.  However, be careful because a pragmatic case will be subject to pragmatic evaluation.

Solving the main identified harm of low turnout suggests the governmental legitimacy is an obvious choice, as I have already mentioned earlier.  Nevertheless, other values emerge as one examines the advantage scenarios.  Consider values like equality and justice, for example.

I see this as a good topic to start the season.
Good luck.

Click here for the next part in the series - Neg positions


Carey, John M, Horiuchi, Yusaku; Compulsory Voting and Income Inequality; 2013

Flavin, Patrick; Does Higher Voter Turnout Among the Poor Lead to More Equal Policy Representation?; Baylor University, Asst Professor; 2012

Hajnal, Zoltan, Troustine, Jessica;Uneven Democracy: Turnout, Minority Interests, and Local Government Spending; 2011

Lever, Annabelle; Is Compulsory Voting Justified?; 2009

Mackerras, M., McAllister, I; Compulsory voting, party stability and electoral advantage in Australia; 1999


Friday, September 6, 2013

LD Sep/Oct 2013 - Compulsory Voting - definitions

2013 September/October Topic
Resolved: In a democracy, voting ought to be compulsory

Welcome Varsity LD

Welcome back. Hopefully if you are debating this topic, it is not your first time visiting Everyday Debate.  But if it is, I hope you find lots of useful information here.  Whenever NFL releases an LD topic, I try to post an analysis of the topic.  You should find (eventually) a definition section, an Aff Position and a Neg Position.  Sometimes, a topic is so deep and fascinating it requires many articles to discuss the issue.  Unfortunately, this does not appear to be one.  I am also surprised, considering the NFL has released a separate novice topic this year, they would release this topic for varsity debaters.  The good thing is, if you do debate this topic, it will be a great chance to dust off the brains and loosen your vocal chords and get ready for a great season.



noun - government by the people; especially : rule of the majority; a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections; a political unit that has a democratic government.

William Reisinger of the University of Iowa provides a very nice list of interpretations of democracy: "The basic sense of democracy as a form of governance rests on its etymology as rule by the entire people rather than, as Shapiro puts it, by any "aristocrat, monarch, philosopher, bureaucrat, expert, or religious leader." Beyond that, actual definitions of democracy come in all shapes and sizes. On the next page are a variety of others’ definitions for your perusal, presented in chronological order. Each emphasizes one or more things thought to be true about democracy: 1) it is a dangerous form of government; 2) it includes genuine competition for power; 3) it permits mass participation on a legally equal footing; 4) it provides civil and other liberties that restrict the sphere of state power within the society; or 5) it promotes widespread deliberation about how to make and enforce policy so as to promote the common good."

Simply put, "vote" is a noun meaning an expression of preference. Voting, on the other hand is an intransitive verb which describes the action of expressing the preference.

verb -  to express one's views in response to a poll; to exercise a political franchise; to express an opinion

Of course, in the U.S. voting carries a pretty specific meaning in that each year there are usually several elections held in which individuals formally express their preference for political representatives, issues, laws, taxes, etc.  There are also many informal events in which voting is carried out as a way of expressing choices.

verb - used to express obligation, advisability, natural expectation or logical consequence.

This is a word which should be very familiar to Lincoln-Douglas debaters.  There are several ways to spin the definition of ought depending on the sources used and intention of the case.  Some will claim ought means obligation others will claim it carries a meaning suggesting "strongly advised"
For an interesting and very detailed philosophical exploration of the word "ought" look at this essay entitled The Meaning of Ought by Ralph Wedgwood.

Merriam Webster
adjective - mandatory, enforced; coercive, compelling

Compulsory carries a sense the thing is being compelled against one's will.  In other words, it is not optional.  You must do the action whether you wish to or not and if it is not done, there is a consequence which is unfavorable.


No doubt, most debaters and LD judges will immediately apply their U.S.-centric experience to the resolution.  Doing so, one may think of a national election such as the presidential election and think, the resolution means every citizen is required by law to cast a vote in the presidential election (or local election or whatever the official government sponsored election cycle happens to be).  We need to remember, I suppose, the context for this resolution is not necessarily the U.S. and we also need to remember, since this is LD debate, the Affirmative is not advocating a plan.  Really the term "ought" is a suggestion the debate should be about whether or not the concept of compulsory voting in democracies promotes a value humans desire. Remember it is something that OUGHT to be done which means the debaters can examine worlds which address the rationale for supporting or rejecting the resolution without necessarily considering real-world practicalities of forcing individuals to vote.  Nevertheless, my experience with LD in more-or-less conservative circuits shows that judges will be willing to explore conceptual worlds but they appreciate reality a little more.

Click here for part 2 - Aff Position.

PF Sep/Oct 2013 - Proliferation - Con Position

For part one of this analysis - definitions - click here

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

Neg Position

As I mentioned in the Pro position, I believe the primary debate will center around the word "justified".  This means Con should advocate that military force is not justified and below I will be discussing ideas about how that claim is upheld.  I also mentioned, in the prior article that Con may decide to shift the advocacy in favor of a debate about whether or not unilateral military force is justifiable. Con may decide to concede military force on the condition it is multilateral. This would represent a legitimate Con position.  I do think, defining unilateral gets dicey.  What constitutes true bilateral or multilateral military force?  Consider that an ally like the UK could be consulted and support a US military action; they could sign a UN security council resolution supporting action even though no one else does; they could provide air bases for staging an action or ships or money; they could provide direct support in the form of military force.  All of these options represent increasing levels of involvement.  The debate would need to decide, what level involvement defines a bilateral action?  For this reason, I think unless Con has a really firm definition of unilateral, bilateral or multilateral, the debate will not be easy since Pro can merely introduce competing interpretations, continue throughout the round to chip away at Con's definition and in the end throw the decision into the hands of the judge.

Alternative Solutions

The issue of proliferation is obviously key to the security of many nations so everyone is concerned and taking steps to limit proliferation.  Some existing programs such as the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) worked very well for decades despite skepticism by participants.  Only recently, because of the rise of non-state threats (i.e. terrorism) has NPT proven to be ineffective.  Nevertheless, programs are being revised and new initiatives are being put in place.  It is after all, very crucial to world security so it is not ignored.  It is also important to note, the programs (including NPT) are multilateral.

The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism is a program established in 2006 and administered by the U.S. Department of State in conjunction with many other nations.

State Department 2006:
"The mission of the GICNT is to strengthen global capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to nuclear terrorism by conducting multilateral activities that strengthen the plans, policies, procedures, and interoperability of partner nations. The GICNT is co-chaired by the United States and the Russian Federation."

Jenkins 2011:

"Recognizing all states’ shared responsibility for preventing acts of nuclear terrorism, the United States and Russia launched the GICNT in order to build international collaboration to address all facets of the nuclear terrorism threat. The initiative strengthens international security through building the capacity of nations to combat the threat in all regions of the world, including Africa. It is an international partnership of 82 countries and four official observers committed to achieving a broad set of nuclear security objectives, including improving nuclear detection, strengthening nuclear forensics, and denying safe haven and financing to terrorists that may seek to acquire nuclear or radiological materials. Since it was launched in 2006, the GICNT has conducted more than 40 multilateral activities and exercises as well as six senior-level meetings, resulting in strengthened policies, greater information-sharing techniques, and greater transparency and collaboration on security issues among the partner nations."

Cooperative Threat Reduction is U.S. sponsored program which provides funding and expertise to states to dismantle or neutralize NBC weapons (Nuclear Biological Chemical).  The program has been expanded to include border control efforts which help secure weapons materials which cross borders. Russia has recently dropped out of CTR because they no longer needed US funds to continue the program.  The Russian U.S. program has been replaced with a new bilateral agreement (see the Fact Sheet here).

Weiner 2012:
"For over two decades, the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program has funded efforts to secure loose nuclear material in Russia and the Former Soviet Republics.  Under CTR, over 7,600 warheads have been deactivated, over 900 intercontinental ballistic missiles and over 650 submarine launched ballistic missiles have been destroyed, 24 Russian nuclear sites have undergone security upgrades, and all nuclear weapons have been removed from Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus.  By many accounts, CTR – also called the “Nunn-Lugar” program after its founders Senators Sam Nunn and Dick Lugar – is the United States’ most successful nonproliferation program."

While CTR is waning, the fact a new program has emerged serves as an example of how the nonproliferation efforts continue to evolve and adapt according to current realities.
Perhaps the bottom line for these kinds of initiatives demonstrates that no program is 100% successful but they have been remarkably successful in limiting the spread of nuclear technology.  Careful research will show a dramatic drop in the number of countries acquiring nuclear weapons capabilities since the 1970s when the NPT was ratified.  It can be argued that the strength of these programs is in multilateral cooperation, intelligence sharing, etc.

Unilateral Military Force Is Bad

For a really good empirical example of how unilateral action is looked upon with disfavor and even fear, look at the current situation in Syria as the U.S. seeks a consensus from other nations about whether to initiate a military strike in response to alleged chemical weapons attacks from the Syrian government.  The world-view favors U.N. sponsorship which is clearly a multilateral approval for action, even if the U.S. is the sole wielder of the hammer.  The other nations are simply not comfortable with a giant that runs around clubbing victims seemingly at its own discretion.  It invokes fear and anger and any PF judge should understand that.  The conditions under which the U.S. could justify a unilateral strike, even under the provisions of jus ad bellum (just war theory) are limited and subject to a great deal of scepticism.  Jus ad bellum is a theory, not a law.

The astute debate researcher will find nothing in the arena of international law which provides a legal justification for unilateral military force, not only to prevent proliferation but for any reason.  UN Article 51, the right to self-defense and the Responsibility to Protect doctrine (see Responsibility to Protect here also see the Pro Position for March 2013 LD topic on humanitarian intervention, here) demand international consensus for action.  My personal observation is in the post cold-war world, nations are relying on the U.N. to stand up against U.S. hegemony.

Tams 2009:
"Security Council enforcement action being effectively unavailable, the legal regime governing anti-terrorist force crucially depended on the scope of other exceptions permitting the unilateral use of force. Whether the ‘ use of force by a State against terrorists in another country ’ could ever be ‘ lawful ’ 49 was much discussed. As regards international practice, a number of incidents – among them Israel’s anti-terrorist raids since the 1950s, the South African incursions into neighbouring ( ‘ frontline ’ ) states during the 1970s and 1980s, or the United States ’ 1986 attacks on Libya – focused international attention...only terrorist attacks effectively controlled by another state triggered a right of self-defence. By adopting a restrictive approach to attribution the Court effectively restricted self defence to the inter-state context. This approach seemed in line with an inter-state reading of the jus ad bellum , took into account the scepticism among UN members against broader readings of self-defence (which would have allowed the abuse of the concept)."

Multilateral Military Force is Good

One excellent example demonstrates the effectiveness of a multilateral approach to preventing proliferation.  In 1991, the U.N. Security Council did approve a U.S. preemptive strike against Iraqi nuclear reactors.  The effort to restrict the proliferation of nuclear capability began with the adoption of UNSC Resolution 687, authorizing nuclear plant inspections and to execute a plan to render the nuclear capability neutral.  The primary reactor sites were then included in the list of targets authorized by the UN for destruction during the US led Persian Gulf War.

Malone 2003:
"Although there has been some support for the concept of coercive arms control, this has been done through Security Council Resolutions. Unilateral action without Council authorization has been condemned as a "clear violation of the United Nations and the norms of international conduct."' Considering the wide-ranging violations of arms treaties, it would be difficult to distinguish which acts constitute a threat and which do not. This suggests the need for debate and multilateral action through the auspices of the Security Council."

National Sovereignty

I want to mention the well established and ever pervasive argument that state sovereignty is one of the highest values of international law and basically all nations have the right to conduct their affairs without externally meddling.  There have been long standing prohibitions in international law against allowing one country to intervene in the internal affairs of another and it can argued these prohibitions extend to proliferation scenarios whether being carried out by recognized state actors or non-aligned entities operating within the boundaries of a legitimate state.  Rather than cite a bunch of evidence, I will direct you to the March 2013 Lincoln Douglas topic where you can begin your research on state sovereignty by clicking here.

Closing Remarks

Once again there is much more than be can discussed.  This is a pretty big topic on both sides of the debate.  Here are some things to think about with regard to the negative point of view.  What if a country like Brazil began to develop a nuclear arms capability?  Generally the US has a good relationship with Brazil so we would be reluctant to attack them.  There would be many other courses of action.  For example we may offer incentives (much like we did for North Korea) to abandon their nuclear ambitions.  This has been effective many times in the past.  We could also offer enhanced or privileged defensive aid so Brazil can feel more secure and have less need for WMDs.  The point is, there are always a series of alternative actions which can be and are taken to prevent the use of force and because there are so many options, force is not justified.  As for hostile entities such as nuclear terrorists, the world has an obvious interest to contain the threat, so if the threat is legitimate, the world, multilaterally, will act to contain it.  Unilateral force is unjustified.

Jenkins, Bonnie; Adapting to the Times: The Evolution of U.S. Threat Reduction Programs; 2011


State Department 2006; The Global Initiative To Combat Nuclear Terrorism; 2013

Tams, Christian J.; The Use of Force against Terrorists; The European Journal of International Law Vol. 20 no. 2; 2009

Walsh, Jim; Learning from Past Success:The NPT and the Future of Non-proliferation;WMD Commission; 2005

Weiner. Sarah; The End of Cooperative Threat Reduction (As We Know It); Center for Strategic International Studies; 2012

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