Sunday, December 7, 2014

PF Jan 2015 - U.N. Peacekeepers Offensive Power - Intro

Resolved: United Nations peacekeepers should have the power to engage in offensive operations

Let him who desires peace prepare for war.-Vegetius

My center is giving way, my right is in retreat; situation excellent. I shall attack.-Ferdinand Foch

There is no avoiding war; it can only be postponed to the advantage of others.-Niccolò Machiavelli
Quotations source:


Is it just me or is this resolution an oxymoron reminiscent of the time in the mid-1980s the U.S. government decided to name the MX intercontinental ballistic missile (an offensive weapon with 10 warheads) the "Peacekeeper". I guess by definition, once a peacekeeper becomes a war-maker the peacekeeper ceases to exist unless somehow it is possible to engage in an offensive of peace.  Oh wait, perhaps it is possible -

Merriam Webster Dictionary
peace offensive
a campaign designed to serve the interests of a nation by the expression of wishes to end a war or of intentions to resolve conflicts peacefully and thus cause hostile or unfriendly nations to relax their efforts or become less vigilant

United Nations peacekeepers
Obviously, the United Nations peacekeepers are a group organized and managed by the United Nations (I hope there is no need to "define" United Nations.  Their own website defines their mission: "United Nations Peacekeeping helps countries torn by conflict create the conditions for lasting peace. We are comprised of civilian, police and military personnel."  U.N. peacekeeping began in 1948, as a multi-national group of military observers whose mission was to monitor the "Armistice Agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbors". Typically, this is the role of the United Nations peacekeepers.  Following a period of war, unrest, revolt, or conflict, the United Nations may agree to send a "force" of military personnel to maintain a negotiated or mandated truce or peace agreement.  As observers or monitors they will report any attempted violations of the agreement between conflicting parties and do what they can to aid and protect innocent people caught in between and generally serve as a deterrent to aggression or violation of the peace agreement. Historically, U.N. peacekeepers are lightly-armed with defensive weapons and have depended on the aid of other regional or international powers to protect them in case conflict erupted beyond the ability of the peacekeeping force to maintain their own safety.  As a result, "More than 3,220 UN peacekeepers from some 120 countries have died while serving under the UN flag.".

So, while the original mission of U.N. peacekeepers has been considered to monitor peace the role has expanded to included limited offensive operations in recent years which I will discuss shortly.

Offensive Operations
While most of you are probably familiar with offense and defense in sports we can extend that analogy to military operations and understand that when a troop is projecting its force with intent to gain some advantage or objective it is engaged in an offense operation. When a troop "digs in" behind barriers or in safety zones in anticipation of being attacked, it is considered a defensive position.  You also should know in debate, the difference between attacking (offense) and defending (rebutting attack). A Mississippi College ROTC document describes offensive operations:
Offensive operations are chiefly designed to disrupt the enemy’s combat power—
firepower, maneuvering, protection, and leadership. You plan and execute them to:
• destroy the enemy and his will to fight
• seize terrain
• learn enemy strength and disposition
• deceive, divert, or fix the enemy.
Offensive operations suppress enemy strengths and take advantage of weaknesses.
[page 335]

should have the power
When one makes a statement which proclaims one "should have the power" to do something, there are several ways we can look at it.  First, we may consider by using the word "power" we can think of authority.  This is because the word "power" imparts a sense there must me more than a simple ability to carry out an action. We may also apply a sense of ability (strength) to do something that is directed toward a particular purpose. Perhaps the famous, former Professor of Political Science at Yale University, Robert Dahl can help us conceptualize power.

Dahl (1957):
Unfortunately, in the English language power is an awkward word, for unlike “influence” and “control” it has no convenient verb form, nor can the subject and object of the relation be supplied with noun forms without resort to barbaric neologisms. 

Then again, perhaps not, since Dahl takes over 14 pages in his paper to describe the concept of power and this is Public Forum debate where the longest speech is only four minutes.  Therefore , an appropriate dictionary definition may be sufficient.

However, the Pro side of this debate is making a claim by way of the resolution, U.N peacekeepers are lacking something they should have, namely power to engage in offensive operations.  Therefore, we must for now assume, they do indeed lack this authority, ability, influence, or "power" and there is a very compelling reason to believe such a thing should be imparted to them now. This is, in fact, the very nature of debate affirmative positions.  A problem exists in the status quo which is producing significant harm. The solutions, for some reason are not or cannot be corrected without some heretofore, ungranted, unenabled or unenacted condition and when the barrier to acting is removed immediately, the harms can be solved and other advantages may ensue.  In classic debate the negative will claim there is no reason to change the status quo, since the harms may have other causes, the affirmative proposal will lead to other harms or there may be other ways to solve the harms without affirming the resolution.

As soon as you begin researching, you will discover, the 'classic' debate positions do not apply for this resolution.  Oddly, as it turns out and depending on your point of view of current peacekeeping operations, it may be the pro  position is NOT advocating a change to the status quo and depending on how the Pro positions itself it may turn out to be the Con needs to advocate a change to the status quo.  In other words, we could interpret the words "should have the power" as saying "should continue to have the power".  As if someone says, "hey, UN peacekeepers have the power to engage in offensive operations" and Pro says, "well, yes, they SHOULD have the power to do so".

UN News (2013):
With peace efforts under way with the M23, the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is shifting its focus to other rebel groups and working with the Government to maintain the fragile gains in the eastern part of the country, the Security Council was told today. “We will go on with this fight against all armed groups,” Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the country, Martin Kobler said, referring to the UN peacekeeping force in the DRC (MONUSCO) which he heads.

So what exactly does this mean when Kobler says, "this fight against all armed groups"? As it turns out, Kobler's peacekeeping operation was given the "power", so to speak.

UN News (2013):
In March, the Security Council authorized the deployment of an intervention brigade within MONUSCO to carry out targeted offensive operations, with or without the Congolese national army, against armed groups that threaten peace in eastern DRC.

This report in Aljazeera America serves nicely to frame the impact debate.

Brooks (2013);
While the world's attention has been fixed on Syria over the past few weeks, the landscape of diplomacy quietly but radically evolved amid the dense green hills of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). A flock of attack helicopters descended there on Aug. 28, in a town north of Goma, in the eastern region of the beleaguered Central African nation. The aircraft were filled with armed United Nations peacekeepers, along with Congolese military forces. The first-ever U.N. peacekeeping force with an offensive combat mandate – tasked with "neutralizing" and disarming rebel forces in one of the world's most intractable conflicts – was in action. Within two days, the peacekeepers and army had forced rebel militias threatening Goma to withdraw from the front lines. On Thursday, a rebel group known as M23 agreed to resume peace talks with the Congolese government. Despite the military and diplomatic gains, what impact the force will have on the ground in the eastern DRC remains to be seen – the country has suffered both internal and regional strife for decades. But the impact on peacekeeping is likely to be profound.

Yes, Oxymoron

As it turns out we are looking at an oxymoron. Either that or we need to define a new category of operations for UN forces.  But more importantly we, as Public Forum debaters need to consider the advocacy shift which has occurred and Pro must realize they must now support the status quo while Con must advocate for change. This is much more subtle than demanding Pro to advocate a negative position and tends to make coaches like me think the resolutions of late may be indicative the category is perilously adrift.

The Pro position is found by clicking here.

Unlinked Sources:

Brooks, C. (2013), UN tests combat brigade in Democratic Republic of Congo, Aljazeera America, September 6, 2013; accessed 12/3/2014

Dahl, R.A. (1957), The Concept of Power, Behavioral Science, 2:3 (1957:July)
p.201; accessed 12/3/2104

UN News Centre (2013), DR Congo: UN peacekeeping on offensive after defeat of M23, says senior UN official, 11 September, 2013; accessed 12/3/2013


  1. I'd just like to point out that the most powerful word in this resolution is, in fact, the word "power." The way it is defined as the way the case goes. Is power having the weapons to execute offensive operations? Is power having the permission to execute offensive operations? However power is defined in the debate will determine the outcome.

  2. When will you have the CON position??

  3. As always, Everydaydebate helps breakdown what initially appears to be a confusing resolution. Thank you.

  4. I love these ever since i started reading everyday debate i haven't lost once thanks keep up the good work.

  5. Thank you for the clear and thoughtful breakdown. More and more debate websites have started charging money for just a basic breakdown of the topic, unfortunately, and I'm glad everydaydebate hasn't become one of them!

    1. You're welcome. I don't begrudge those other websites the right to earn income for their excellent work. But I do feel, that despite their relatively low costs (for a few sites), there are many debaters or fledgling programs unable to pay so I am doing my best to fill a void.


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