Saturday, October 3, 2015

PF Nov 2015 - Prioritizing Humanitarian Needs Over National Interests - Introduction

Resolved: In response to the current crisis, a government should prioritize the humanitarian needs of refugees over its national interests.


It looks like the Public Forum debate community has returned to its "ripped from the headlines roots" and chosen a topic as fresh as the six o'clock news.  Unless you have been in a deep sleep for the last 60 days or so, you no doubt have seen the images and heard the stories poured out in all manner of media concerning the movement of hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing all kinds of insurrection, persecution and unrest in the Middle East.  It is indeed a humanitarian crisis. But let us not forget, it is a crisis that has been playing out for several years. Now that the waves of humanity have surged over the borders of Asia and spilled into the EU, suddenly the west has seemingly awaken to the sound of knocking on the door. It is a topic that cannot be ignored and I am glad to see we will debate it.

The Definition of the Topic

Let's start this analysis by examining the definitions and intent of the language used in the resolution. While this may seem unnecessary to some, it is helpful to clarify the topic in order to focus one's preparation.  Later it will serve as an aid to keep the debate on point and directed to the desired conclusion.

in response to
Generally a response is an answer or reaction prompted by a stimulus of some type.  The stimulus is some kind of input to the senses which stirs a reaction. This particular usage is intended to serve as a directed reaction or response to a specific stimulus. "In response to" points to a specific circumstance, event or question which expects a response.

the current crisis
This phrase identifies the thing to which our response is directed. A crisis can be loosely defined as a time of trouble or intense problems but that does not properly convey the proper meaning, in my opinion.  A crisis is a turning point or a tipping point between good or bad outcomes.  It conveys a sense of urgency where choices taken can make the difference between life or death.  But it can also be the point of decision between bad and worse.  The current crisis is the tipping point we are facing in the present time. We given the specifics in the next part of the resolution.

a government
Simply put, a government is the collection of people, laws and institutions which officially control a country. While there are many forms of government, we can think of it as the authority which establishes not only how the internal affairs of the country are managed but also how the country will respond to other countries and peoples who are not under the authority of the government in question.

should prioritize
Should in this context is a suggested course of action to be taken in deference to other courses of action.  In this phrase the action to take is to prioritize. Prioritize has two meanings. First it means to consider one thing more important than other things or it means to order (arrange) a group of things according to relative importance. In this resolution, the humanitarian needs of refugees should be considered more important than national interests.

humanitarian needs 
It not so easy to define humanitarian needs.  Obviously they are the needs of humans and so at the most basic level we can assume this means daily sustenance and perhaps shelter from the elements. At a higher level needs may include various kinds of security such as security from physical harm, food security or financial security arising from employment opportunities and on a still higher level needs may include those things necessary for self-actualization.  Sound familiar?  Click here to see the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs. I don't think this needs to be a major point of contention although debaters may choose to make it so.  In my opinion, as needs become more complex, for example when considering the needs required for self actualization, they tend to be more and more individualized and less about those things common to humanity when we apply specific cases.

of refugees 
A refugee is defined by the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention :
A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it. 

national interests
National interests are those things the government of a country has decided are the pursuits of the nation. They are the things which the nation considers most important in fulfilling the ambition or goals of the nation.  National interests are not usually focused outward but rather inward toward acquiring the things needed to maintain power and achieve permanence. While the definition applied to national interests may be narrow or broad; specific or vague, it is clear that whatever definition is applied directly affects the country's foreign relations and how it responds to outside events and influences. 

The Interpretation of the Resolution

Based on the resolution requirement to prioritize the humanitarian needs of refugees over national interests we can surmise this resolution is asking us to respond to the current crisis unfolding by the outflow of thousands upon thousands of individuals fleeing war and persecution throughout large portions of Syria, Iraq and other regions in the Middle East.  We have seen this resolution enacted in real life as some nations have attempted to close their borders in order to preserve their national interests while others have open their borders and granted temporary asylum. The responses of the nations in Europe and indeed all of the nations in the world are a living enactment of the resolution as each country decides how it will respond to the current crisis. And the diversity of responses reflects the vagueness inherent in defining what exactly are national interests, what are humanitarian needs, and what is the obligation of nations both legally and morally. The resolution gives us the obligation  and it is up to the Public Forum community to debate.

This could be a very interesting topic.

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