Sunday, January 31, 2016

PF Feb 2016 - Carbon Tax - Pro Position

Resolved: The United States federal government should adopt a carbon tax.

For part one of this discussion, click here.


Pro Position

Pro asserts the USFG should adopt the carbon tax.  This is a simple and clear position on face. So, in order to win this debate, Pro must be equipped to prove that imposition of the tax will have some over-arching benefit which justifies the cost imposed upon the economy if indeed there is a cost. My approach to the Pro position will be simple and basic.  I will establish the harms in the status quo, provide a solvency mechanism (the tax), and discuss advantages.  I don't want to dive deeply into the politics of global warming as I feel that is another debate for another time. Having said that, I feel there is definitely valid Con arguments requiring Pro to defend carbon taxation in the context of a global problem.  For example, while Pro may claim a USFG mandated carbon tax will reduce GHG emissions Con can argue the overall impact on the global environment may be minimal unless every emission producing nation in the world agrees to similar constraints.  Of course, the US is one of, if not the single largest, producer of GHG emissions as a consequence of its vast and active manufacturing sector, numbers of automobiles, etc. Taylor argues that U.S. leadership will encourage other nations to agree to acts which curtail emissions. Recognizing there is no certainty in such speculation Taylor does note that unilateral action by the U.S. will make a positive impact on the environment which is a certainty. But Taylor goes even further in citing the ethics of emission reduction.

Taylor 2015:
Perhaps the strongest argument for unilateral action—even in lieu of a global commitment—is that ethical considerations demand it. Simply put, one should not harm others, one should not damage the property of others, and one should leave enough for others when taking from common resources. It does not matter if others have imposed the same harm and not been held to account, that others will continue to impose identical harms without being held to account, that the one who harms gains more than is lost by the one who is harmed, or that the harmed party has imposed similar harms on others without being held to account.[21]

Perhaps some conservative PF judges are not swayed by the ethical considerations since the costs of such action are clear and the benefits long term and less certain. But Taylor points out Con arguments against unilateral action are non-unique.

Taylor 2015:
Regardless, a carbon tax does not introduce this issue to the climate policy debate. The United States is already acting unilaterally to reduce greenhouse gas emissions outside of a global agreement. Our political commitment to unilateral action, as noted above, appears to be irrevocable. If the United States is going to act unilaterally, better that it do so at the least cost possible.[21]


Harms & Problems

Greenhouse gas emissions rise to the upper atmosphere and trap heat which normally radiates from the surface of the earth and escape the atmosphere.  As a result, over time, the temperature of the atmosphere has been increasing.  This is no doubt a simplification but it is how most judges would understand the issue.  The rising temperature is having profound effects on the climate including changing weather patterns, an increase in severe storms, warming of the oceans, melting of polar icecaps, and rising sea levels. It is anticipated and has already been demonstrated the impact of these changes in terms of lives, harms to species and costs due to damages, droughts and storms is altering life for millions of people. Unless the nations of the earth take steps to curtail GHG emissions, the impacts will escalate and potentially generate a "runaway" warming effect which would be catastrophic and it may already be too late. For the purposes of this resolution, the certainty of the situation is not disputed (although in some rounds it may be).

Efforts to curtail emissions have been difficult to implement due to our dependency on carbon products for energy.  Policies to force reductions in emissions are politically unpopular because major industries would be forced to either take on expensive mitigation projects or shutdown. Either alternative has significant impact on the nation's economy.

Maron, Toder & Austin (2015):
Businesses, consumers, and governments emit carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and other greenhouse gases by burning fossil fuels, making cement, raising cattle, clearing land, and other activities. Those emissions build up in the atmosphere and trap heat, warm the globe, raise sea levels, shift rainfall patterns, boost storm intensity, and increase the risk of sudden climate changes. Rising carbon dioxide concentrations also alter the chemical balance of the oceans, harming coral reefs and other marine life. Greenhouse gas emissions thus create a host of potential economic and environmental threats, including increased property damage from storms, human health risks, reduced agricultural productivity, and ecosystem deterioration.

Besides the political difficulties of implementing a curtailment program is the sheer complexity of the logistics required to identify the sources of emissions, the measurement of the emissions, and the impact of the policy on those sources.

Maron, Toder & Austin 2015:
The challenge for any effort to reduce climate change is that emissions come from millions of sources and activities. For this reason, setting emission limits on individual sources, mandating specific technologies, or establishing other direct regulations will be difficult and needlessly costly. Piecemeal regulations can reduce emissions, but even the best-intentioned approaches under control some sources, over control others, and overlook still others. Moreover, direct regulation does little to reward innovation beyond regulatory minimums.

In the past the federal government has adopted many policies aimed at regulating broad classes of emissions by placing limits which targeted particular industries. These limits have been imposed on both the federal and state levels of government.  This is the so-called command-and-control approach. Carbon taxation is seen as way of controlling emissions by placing a cost on carbon usage and allowing the affected industries to take steps to reduce the cost without mandating actions.

Taylor 2015:
Given that the political choice today is between carbon taxation and command-and-control regulation, conservatives betray their market principles by rejecting the former and, consequently, locking in the latter.28 As University of Chicago economist John Cochrane says to those who believe doing anything about climate change is a waste of money, “Look, if we're going to waste money, let's minimize the damage.” The political decision to address climate change appears irrevocable. Even were that not the case, conservatives should embrace some sort of policy to respond to climate change risks, and a carbon tax, as noted above, is the best policy response. Risks from climate change are real and a policy of ignoring those risks and hoping for the best is inconsistent with risk management practices conservatives embrace in other, nonclimate contexts.[10-11]


Solvency

While there are many sources and types of GHGs, not limited to CO2, such as methane, flouro-carbons, etc. In the U.S. a tax issue aimed at CO2 could capture 80% of emissions and impact a relatively small number of industries. You are encouraged to look at the Metcalf and Weisbach paper.

Metcalf & Weisbach 2009:
We show that a well-designed carbon tax can capture about 80% of U.S. emissions by taxing only a few thousand taxpayers, and almost 90% with a modest additional cost. We recommend full or partial delegation of rate setting authority to an agency to ensure that rates reflect current information about the costs of carbon emissions and abatement. Adjustments should be made to the income tax to ensure that a carbon tax is revenue neutral and distributionally neutral.

While it is understood that unilateral efforts to mitigate climate change may be futile, we can still claim solvency insofar as the carbon tax is a means to achieve a policy goal aimed at reduction and it meets the expectation of the resolution.

C2ES 2013:
The economic rationale for creating a price on greenhouse gas emissions is multifold. First, it would correct an underlying market failure that has led to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels and other activities that release greenhouse gases are associated with warming global temperatures and adverse climate impacts. The costs of these impacts, including an increase in extreme and damaging weather events, rising sea levels, loss of biodiversity and other effects, will be borne by society as a whole, including future generations. However, these costs are not currently included in the market prices of goods that emit greenhouse gases, leading to an inefficient use of resources and excessive emissions from a societal perspective (see Box 1 for a discussion). A carbon tax would attempt to include these costs in market prices. Second, use of a market-based policy instrument can achieve greenhouse gas emission reductions at lower cost to regulated sectors than a command-and-control approach, which emphasizes source- and sector-based mandates for particular technologies or processes. As technologies that reduce CO2 emissions during or post-combustion are not yet widely available, the primary way to reduce CO2 emissions is to switch to fuel sources with lower carbon content or reduce consumption of fossil fuels. Use of a market-based policy to establish a common price on greenhouse gas emissions is necessary to provide incentives for a broad range of emission reduction options across firms, households, and activities. Some emission reductions will be achieved by firms as they switch from higher- to lower-carbon fuels and invest in energy-saving technologies. Other reductions will come from consumers, who will respond to higher energy prices by purchasing less energy-intensive goods and changing their behavior in ways that use energy more efficiently. Greenhouse gas pricing policies also provide incentives to develop new technologies, such as carbon capture and geological storage and zero-carbon energy sources, and encourage biological sequestration of greenhouse gas emissions in forestry and agriculture.

Advantages

The direct advantages to implementing a carbon tax arise from the potentially huge source of new revenue. These funds can be used to offset other taxes, which can help level the burden upon those most affected.

Taylor 2015:
Meeting greenhouse gas emissions targets with a tax rather than with regulation produces revenue that can be used for lump sum rebates54 or to offset tax cuts elsewhere. Suggestions have been made to use those revenues to offset cuts in the corporate income tax, the capital gains tax, personal income taxes, payroll taxes, and sales taxes. If the carbon tax is less economically harmful than the tax it displaces, a revenue neutral carbon tax is worth embracing even if we leave aside the environmental benefits. Although it is unclear whether a carbon tax swap produces net benefits aside from any consideration of environmental benefits,57 the important point is that a revenue neutral carbon tax delivers tax cuts. The implicit taxes imposed by command-and-control regulation do not. Whether those offsetting tax cuts completely offset the economic cost of a carbon tax is less important than the fact that offsetting tax cuts will produce significant economic benefits that command-and-control regulation cannot produce.[15-16]

Morris puts specific numbers on the economic revenues.

Morris 2013:
The proposed carbon tax would raise about $88 billion in the first year and rise to almost $200 billion two decades later, for an undiscounted total of $1.1 trillion in the first decade and $2.7 trillion in revenue over twenty years, according to McKibbin and colleagues (2012).10 Adding in the proposed subsidy reduction of $6 billion per year, this proposal would provide almost $200 billion in deficit reduction in the first ten years and $815 billion in deficit reduction over the first twenty years. In the very long run, emissions will decline enough to reduce annual revenue, so eventually other sources of revenue or spending reductions would be necessary to replace revenue from the carbon tax.

Naturally there are other advantages that can be claimed assuming the researcher can find the required links (I don't think it will be very hard at all) but I leave the details for the ambition debater to discover.  First consider the advantages of shifting away from fossil fuels. It reduces our dependency upon foreign oil which frees us from the ever-changing whims of foreign policy and it ensures alternatives as the major sources of oil are exhausted.


Tax Regression Answers

Many studies looking into the Pros and Cons of carbon tax note it is a regressive tax. This means if the government uses the revenues for government interests like reducing the national debt, funding military expansion or so on, the greatest tax burden will be upon the lower income households and the least burden on higher income households. I am sure Con will be happy to explain why that is and Pro will need to answer the criticism.  Of course, the burden on different income brackets is a question of how the tax law is structured and in particular, how the revenues are applied. One proposal suggests the revenues can be used to reduce the corporate tax rate. At the same time, a portion of the revenues could be returned in the form of rebates aimed at leveling the burden across tax brackets.(Marron & Toder 2013).  Of course, the overall benefits arising from deficit reduction, can mitigate impacts to certain economic sectors or regions.


Hood 2011:
The revenue generated from carbon tax or ETS can be used in various ways. If used to stimulate the economy such as reducing labour or capital taxation (offsetting the dampening macroeconomic effect of energy price rises), there can even be a net positive economic result overall from the introduction of a carbon price (Parry et al., 1999). Because carbon prices are passed through into product prices (electricity, or energy-intensive goods like steel, cement and aluminium), there can also be an interaction with wider policies relating to energy access and affordability, and industrial competitiveness. Carbon pricing  policies are therefore generally coupled with compensating measures for strongly affect industry and low-income households to help them cope better with energy price rises, funded with part of the proceeds from the carbon tax or ETS auction revenues.

Metcalf and Weisbach argue that policy goals should not be adjusted to compensate for the regressive nature of the tax. Instead the emission reduction benefits should be maximized while compensating those most impacted through adjustments in the income tax system.

Metcalf & Weisbach 2009:
Redistributing income or wealth through adjustments to a commodity tax is in general less efficient than redistributing through adjustments to direct taxes on labor or income. Thus, the distributive effects of a carbon tax should be offset through adjustments to the overall tax system (in particular, the income tax) rather than through adjustments to the design of the carbon tax itself. In particular, adjustments to the carbon tax for distributive effects produce the same types of distortions that adjustments to labor income taxes do. For example, progressive taxes reduce work incentives. In addition, adjusting the carbon tax for distributive effects would reduce the environmental benefits of the tax: carbon emissions would not be priced equal to their marginal damages. Therefore, the better approach is to design the carbon tax to best internalize the effects of emissions and to adjust the income or payroll tax for any distributive effects. This reflects the fact that distortions arise from redistribution in the tax code. [513-514]


Scandinavian Results Answer

Some European nations implemented a carbon tax in the early 1990s. Norway was one of the first and so there has been sufficient time to measure the effectiveness of the program in reducing emissions, which is, after all, the primary objective.  Internal studies in Norway state their program has minimal impact on emissions and Con will be sure to point this out. Answers to these studies can be found in the Metcalf & Weisbach paper cited in this essay. Specific to Norway, for example:

Metcalf & Weisbach 2009:
All of the Scandinavian countries adopted carbon taxes in the 1990s. These taxes have narrow bases and do not impose a uniform tax on emissions from the sources that they do cover. Instead, they provide a wide variety of different rates.38 The Norwegian carbon tax covers about 64% of CO2 emissions and 49% of total GHG emissions.39 According to Nicholas Stern, the impact of the tax is weakened by numerous exemptions related to competitiveness concerns.40 Moreover, the tax does not accurately reflect variations in emissions across fuels.
[508-509]


Sources:

C2ES (2013), Options and considerations for a federal carbon tax, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Feb. 2013. accessed, 1/20/2016. http://www.c2es.org/publications/options-considerations-federal-carbon-tax

Hood, C. (2011), Managing interactions between carbon pricing and existing energy policies, OECD/IEA, 2013, accessed 1/20/2016, http://www.iea.org/publications/insights/insightpublications/managinginteractionscarbonpricing_final.pdf

Marron & Toder
http://www.urban.org/research/publication/carbon-taxes-and-corporate-tax-reform
http://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/alfresco/publication-pdfs/412744-Carbon-Taxes-and-Corporate-Tax-Reform.PDF

Marron, D, Toder, E, Austin, L (2015), Taxing carbon: what, why and how, Tax Policy Center, accessed 1/20/2016
http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/uploadedpdf/2000274-taxing-carbon-what-why-and-how.pdf

Morris, AC (2013), Carbon taxes and corporate tax reform, Tax Policy Center, 2013. accessed 1.20.2016
http://www.hamiltonproject.org/assets/legacy/files/downloads_and_links/THP_15WaysFedBudget_Prop11.pdf

Morris, AC & Mathur, A. (2014), A carbon tax in broader U.S. fiscal reform. Design and distributional issues., Center for Climate and Energy Solutions,
http://www.c2es.org/docUploads/carbon-tax-broader-us-fiscal-reform.pdf

Metcalf, GE & Weisbach, D (2009), The design of a carbon tax, Harvard Environmental Law Review, Vol 33. 2009. accessed 1/20/2016
http://www.ourenergypolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Design-of-carbon-tax.pdf

Taylor, J (2015) The conservative case for a carbon tax, Niskanen Center, Mar 23, 2015, accessed 1/25/2016.
http://niskanencenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/The-Conservative-Case-for-a-Carbon-Tax1.pdf

PF Feb 2016 - Carbon Tax - Introduction

Resolved: The United States federal government should adopt a carbon tax.

Introduction

This resolution potentially touches upon a wide range of issues spawned from the controversy surrounding global warming, dependency upon fossil fuels, macro and microeconomics, and the role of government. Briefly, a carbon tax is a tax imposed upon carbon emissions which are usually released by burning fossil fuels (coal, oil (and its by-products) and natural gas). Combustion of carbon produces compounds such as carbon dioxide which is a so-called "greenhouse gas" (GHG) blamed for global warming. In fact, this is the primary issue being addressed by this resolution: the idea that a tax on carbon emissions can serve as an effective means to reduce the production of carbon emissions and thus alter the trend toward global-warming and its associated harms. Just to clarify, the tax may also be levied on carbon in other forms since it is not always easy to directly measure targeted emissions. For example, an oil company's carbon products are burned in consumer vehicles which would be very difficult to directly measure for tax purposes. So, the government can instead tax the crude oil itself, noting a defined relationship between the amount of crude converted to consumer products and the amount of emissions those consumer products release.

The topic of taxation can be extremely complex and the complexity would be multiplied if the resolution had been worded, "Resolved: States should adopt a carbon tax." U.S. students, therefore, can focus solely on the United States and the system of taxation they may be somewhat vaguely familiar with since they encounter it whenever they purchase consumer products. Since the discussion of taxes can be quite involved (especially in the U.S. where consumers and corporations employ multitudes of tax professionals to help them wade through the complexity) the debaters approach to the topic should be measured.  Public Forum debate is specifically aimed toward the non-specialist judge, in other words, everyday parents from all types of backgrounds.  Since most judges are tax-paying adults they already have a practical understanding of taxes and their effect on spending and more broadly, the economy. Also, remember, the extended knowledge many judges will possess on the topic of taxation will come, not from economists and professors of economics, but from politicians and pundits.  This is not a bad thing.  It is a normal thing and debaters should adjust their contentions appropriately. Besides, four minutes is a very short time in which to present complex data.

In my opinion, the role of government is not a trivial side-issue in this resolution although it may lead to a lot of non-topical, Lincoln-Douglas-like argumentation.  Nevertheless, one may consider the carbon tax as a kind of punitive action, designed to penalize carbon consumers and there is always the question of what should the government do with the tax money? I think it is clear the federal government has an interest in regulating various kinds of emissions which travel across state lines and affect the well-being of citizens. But I can tell you that many policy debate counter-plans have effectively argued that these kinds of federal policies harm federalism and are best managed by state governments and this would in-fact be a legitimate Con argument if counter-plans could be run without the Pro team screaming about abuse and citing NSDA rules. Proponents of the carbon tax will not see it as a punishment for carbon emission. It will be presented in a more positive light as an incentive to reduce carbon emissions and develop alternative sources for energy as well as providing a lucrative revenue stream.

Discussion of alternative energy sources is explicitly linked to the topic of U.S. dependency on fossil fuels in general, and dependency upon foreign sources of fossil fuels specifically. There are national security interests at stake when we talk about dependency upon foreign oil and the debate could easily fall off the cliff of topicality, although it would certainly be a very interesting descent.  Still, I do think the Pro can leverage advantages from reducing carbon emissions such as breaking dependency on foreign oil, and a myriad of feel-good potentials such as saving polar-bears from extinction or mitigating any number of harms arising from runaway, global warming.

Definitions:

The United States federal government
The USFG, as any policy debater can tell you is the combined branches of executive, legislative and judicial. I think we can understand that taxes are established by laws enacted by the Congress (legislative branch), signed and enforced by the executive branch and adjudicated by the courts (judicial branch). This arrangement is in keeping with the principle of the separation of powers and "checks and balances" designed to prevent one branch from assuming more power than the constitution allows.  I don't think we need to spend time defining nor discussing how it works except when it may directly apply to the implementation and enforcement of the carbon tax.

should
Some may question, why not just define "should adopt" rather than separately define should? While there are some definitions of should which may suggest an obligatory requirement in order to fulfill some duty to moral standards, my reason for isolating the word has another purpose. Use of the word should (as a suggested action or if you prefer, an obligation) permits the assumption Pro has a kind of "fiat" power.  Policy kids are taught fiat is Latin for "let it be" which prevents Con from arguing that such a tax will never be passed. The Pro must be able to take a position which permits substantive debate on the merits or harms of the carbon tax. If the Con is permitted to undermine that ground and claim the tax will never pass, then the debate will center around the feasibility of tax passage which is not the intent of the resolution. "Should" permits Pro to take the position, the federal government can and will pass such a tax and so, with that assumption secure, let us now debate the implications.

adopt
For this word, I will use one of the meanings supplied by Merriam-Webster:  to accept formally and put into effect. Basically, adopting a tax means legally establishing and implementing the tax.

carbon tax
According to Merriam-Webster, tax, as a noun, is "a charge usually of money imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes". A carbon tax, in this context is a federally mandated cost attached to the emission of by-products of carbon combustion or more generally the acquisition or use of carbon products which eventual result release of targeted emissions. 

World Bank:
A carbon tax is a form of explicit carbon pricing; it refers to a tax directly linked to the level of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, often expressed as a value per tonne CO2 equivalent (per tCO2e). Carbon taxes provide certainty in regard to the marginal cost faced by emitters per tCO2e, but do not guarantee a maximum level of emission reductions, unlike an emissions trading scheme. However, this economic instrument can be used to achieve a cost‐effective reduction in emissions. Since a carbon tax puts a price on each tonne of GHG emitted, it sends a price signal that gradually cause a market response across an entire economy, creating incentives for emitters to shift to less greenhouse‐gas intensive ways of production and ultimately resulting in reduced emissions. [src: World Bank (undated)]

Cap-and-Trade

Because other proposals for inducing reductions in carbon emissions have been proposed I think I should at least review one of the proposals that has been discussed in Congress. The so-called Cap-and-Trade proposal garnered serious consideration and has been adopted by some nations. Under this proposal, the government establishes overall emissions quotas (the cap) for various industries or sources and then requires the purchase of permits which grant rights to release the controlled gases in quantities specified by the permits.  Any entity which wishes to increase its permitted allocation may then buy (or trade) additional allocations from other permit holders. The theory is market forces driven by supply and demand will set the price and provide incentive for industry to find alternative sources of energy. Of course the authority can manipulate the market by adjusting the caps periodically. It is believed that some industries will be able to find ways to reduce emissions quickly and cheaply relative to others and thus the early deductions in overall emissions will be made at the least cost as opposed to laws which mandate specific reductions across broad categories of industries. The carbon tax does not impose any caps.  It simply imposes a cost to carbon usage which will also drive the market to seek alternatives.  And once again, of course, the government can adjust the tax rate as political expediency demands. I am sure my explanation is overly simplified but those who desire may research more deeply.



For the Pro position, click here.




Sunday, January 3, 2016

PF Jan 2016 - Economic Sanctions Against Russia - Con Position

Resolved: On balance, economic sanctions are reducing the threat Russia poses to Western interests.


For the introduction to this topic, click here.



Con Position

There is a great deal of evidence to suggest, thus far, sanctions imposed upon Russia following the annexation of Crimea have failed to alter Russian activities and by extension threats to western interests. Caution is in order, however, since the sanction regime is still in force and perhaps yet to yield its expected results.  Nevertheless, this resolution is not asking us to look into our crystal balls and decide what the future outcome will be. We have to look at what is happening since inception until the day of the debate round you find yourself, and Pro must make its case. Yet look at what has happened since inception. Just to name a few incidents, Russia imposed its own sanctions on the west and in particular EU; formalized its annexation of Crimea; increased support for Pro-Russian groups in Ukraine; failed to comply with the Minsk II agreement; launched a proxy war in Syria in defiance of western interests and requests not to interfere and issued threats to Turkey in response to the downing of a Russian war plane near the Turkish/Syrian border.  Does this sound like a nation that is ready to bow to western hegemony?

The Sanction Regime is Collapsing

Even though the current sanctions will not expire until the the 31st of January 2016, even sources in Russia believe they will be extended and indeed they have been extended. However, it is clear the solidarity of the regime is starting to crack. The economic blow-back against Europe is significant and demonstrates the ability of Russia to threaten western interests as a direct consequence of EU and US sanctions.

Simha 2015:
Economic sanctions on Russia seem to be hurting the imposer more than the intended target. Britain’s oldest conservative think tank, the Bow Group, has published a paper from six Eastern European analysts on the affect of sanctions against Russia on Eastern Europe and the wider West. The report reveals the estimated financial costs of sanctions to the West could exceed $755 billion – roughly equal to the annual US defence budget. The paper details the potential costs: the UK will lose $9.6 billion in exports, 119,000 jobs and $41 billion of Russian capital invested in the country. The US economy is expected to take a hit of $137 billion in trade, including $38 billion in exports, and up to $30 billion in US capital tied up in Russia.


In mid-December, Italy was already signalling an intent to reassess and perhaps suspend support.

Kanter 2015:
"Italy made a procedural move last week that had the effect of preventing the union’s foreign ministers from endorsing the decision on Monday. Unanimity is required; any one of the union’s 28 members can block renewal by signaling its opposition. The Italian foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, said his country’s position was “not a matter of principle,” and that Italy wanted the union’s national leaders to assess the state of the Minsk agreement before action was taken. “I am sure that we will have a common decision,” he said. Russia is a significant economic partner for Italy. The Italian energy industry has close ties to Gazprom, the Russian state-run natural gas exporter, and important Italian industries like farming and fashion have lost business because of retaliatory measures imposed by Moscow."

Besides the economic impact on certain EU member states, the wider consideration in the EU is the wisdom of alienating a potential important partner in the war against terror and the widening crisis in Syria.

Kanter 2015:
"President Fran├žois Hollande of France has said that Europe needed to ease its sanctions on Russia. After the terrorist attacks in Paris last month, he flew to Moscow to talk with President Vladimir V. Putin about fighting the Islamic State. “There are signs in Europe of a wider change of thinking on Russia, given the situation in Syria, and Italy is sending particularly strong signals,” said Rosa Balfour, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a research organization. “But it’s probably too early to justify a change of policy because there has been no tangible progress by Russia in Ukraine, and weakening sanctions now would leave Eastern European countries too concerned about their own security.”

Even if Russia ever was a substantial threat to U.S. interests it is clear the actions Russia has taken since the impositions of sanctions have not curtailed and if anything, have increased Russian aggression outside of its national borders.


Poking the Bear

Putin is ambitious and it is reported he is intent upon elevating Russian influence to the level of the US. In many ways, the macro-economy is a a zero-sum game. There is only so much to go around and one nation's gain is another's loss.  If Russia expands its influence, another must recede and this is seen as aggression and threatening. But even if the judge buys the argument that Russia is aggressive or threatening to western interests, Con claims the steps taken by the west have been inadequate to alter the Russian intentions and if anything, have only served to provoke the bear.

Hryckowian 2015:
So far, responses to the new Russian threat have been weak and reactionary. Economic sanctions offer at best a long-term plan to reduce Russian influence, rather than an immediate response to aggressive behavior. The lack of aid rendered to Ukraine to date demonstrates European and U.S reluctance to challenge Russia militarily. Western Europe's reluctance to assist the Baltic States in defense against potential Russian aggression, meanwhile, exposes deep rifts within NATO – and raises worries about the alliance's long-term cohesion. Naturally, these half-measures have done little to temper Russian aggression or deter its strategic goals.

Other areas are now seeing an increasingly provocative Russia which defies any claims of economic sanctions reducing threats. Consider this report from last September after an interview with Latvian Armed Forces Commander, Raimonds Graube.

Riga 2015:
According to Graube, Russia's actions are becoming increasingly pronounced in the sea, where military vessels cruise or hover near other countries' territorial waters, often without rational reason. Likewise, military aircraft for no apparent reason appear near the Baltic countries' borders. They do so with transponders turned off, nevertheless, they are detected thanks to the Armed Forces' new radars. Although Russia's actions cannot be perceived as a direct military threat, the unpredictability is "alarming", as they heighten the risk of conflict, said Graube

Graube claims the Russian actions are "increasingly provocative". Isn't increasing the opposite of reducing, as claimed by the Pro in the resolution?

When we consider the action which sparked the economic sanctions in the first place Con looks to the current situation. After all, the reason for sanctions was a response to claimed Russian aggression within the sovereign borders of Ukraine. One would expect that if sanctions were having the intended effect, Russia would be showing signs of reduced threat in Ukraine. However, as recently as this past December, the EU was still calling for Russian capitulation to the Minsk agreement.

OSCE 2015:
The European Union remains concerned by the volatile and tense situation along the line of contact, where heavy weapons are still being used. We reiterate our call for all sides to take immediate and concrete steps to consolidate the ceasefire and move toward a sustainable political settlement in line with OSCE commitments and principles.

Problem? What Problem?

Finally, I would like to focus this position on the idea the perceived threat was just that; "perceived" but not necessarily legitimate. As it turns out, the U.S. Military was promoting the view that Russia was a threat but not everyone in the U.S. government held that view, including Secretary Kerry of the U.S. State Department.

Brunnstrom 2015:
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Kerry did not share the assessment, even though Russia's actions in Ukraine posed regional security challenges. "The secretary doesn't agree with the assessment that Russia is an existential threat to the United States, nor China, quite frankly," Toner told a regular news briefing when asked about Dunford's remarks. "You know, these are major powers with whom we engage and cooperate on a number of issues, despite any disagreements we may have with them," he said. "Certainly we have disagreements with Russia and its activities within the region, but we don't view it as an existential threat."

Stephen Kinzer, a visiting fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, agrees and cites a certain comfort-level for some in extending the old cold war mentality but Kinzer saw Russia as a relatively minor force in the world of powers.

Kinzer 2015:
This summer’s most extreme exaggeration of Russia’s power came not from an inveterate Cold Warrior like John McCain or Hillary Clinton, but from the new chairman of our Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford. At his Senate confirmation hearing in July, Dunford said Russia “could pose an existential threat to the United States.” He suggested that, to defend ourselves, we should send aid to Ukrainians who want to fight Russia. Statements like these are bizarre on several levels. First, Russia is a fundamentally weak country with a tottering economy. It is far from being able to compete with the United States, much less threaten it. Second, Russia is surrounded by American military bases, hears threats from the West every day, faces NATO guns on its borders, and therefore has reason to fear for its security. Third, by pushing Russia away, we are driving it toward China, thereby encouraging a partnership that could develop into a true threat to American power.

As it turns out, there are voices in the EU which also understand that Russia is not and never was the recent threat claimed by others. Especially in the light of the existential threat of terrorism again the west, the EU and US are better served by focusing on the real problem. UK politician, Ken Livingstone, tried to refocus his colleagues this past December.


Connett 2015:
Russia was getting a bad press and President Vladimir Putin was being demonised he also claimed. “In Britain no one is told about the discrimination against Russian-speaking people in the Baltic States, no one is told that it was actually pressure from the EU that insisted to the then Ukrainian president that they wouldn’t sign a trade deal unless they stopped negotiating a trade deal with Russia, and then when the president decided that he wouldn’t do that, oddly enough he was overthrown.”

Therefore, judge, Con claims that Russia never was a significant threat to western interests, but even if you don't buy that we have shown how Russian aggression has increased since the impositions of sanctions.  In fact, the alienation and forced isolationism imposed upon Russia has done more to threaten the west by risking the loss of an important ally in dealing with real threats terrorism.

For all these reasons a more, we urge a Con ballot.



Sources:

Brunnstrom, D (2015), Kerry doesn't view Russia as existential threat: State Department, Reuter News, Jul 10, 2015. Accessed 12/14/2015 at: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-defense-dunford-state-idUSKCN0PK27120150710

Connett, D (2015), Saudi Arabia more of a threat to UK than Russia, says Ken Livingstone, The Indepenedent (UK), Dec 10, 2015. Accessed 12/18/2015 at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/saudi-arabia-more-of-a-threat-to-britain-than-russia-says-ken-livingstone-a6768646.html

DW News (2015), Diplomats: EU states agree to extend Russian sanctions by six month, DW News, Dec 18, 2015; accessed 12/22/15 at: http://www.dw.com/en/diplomats-eu-states-agree-to-extend-russian-sanctions-by-six-months/a-18928570

Hryckowian, D (2015), Not Your Father's Cold War, US News and World Report, Aug 2015, accessed 12/15/15 at: http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/world-report/2015/08/25/russias-current-aggression-is-not-a-cold-war-redux

Kanter, J (2015), Italy Delays E.U.’s Renewal of Sanctions Against Russia, NYTimes, Dec 14, 2015, accessed Dec 16, 2015 at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/15/world/europe/italy-delays-eus-renewal-of-sanctions-against-russia.html?_r=0

Kinzer, S (2015), Russia is not the enemy, The Boston Globe, Sep 20, 2015. Accessed 12/12/2015 at: https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2015/09/19/russia-not-enemy/O0nCDUXrXAYLliutmqUtlN/story.html

OSCE (2015), EU Statement on Russia’s Ongoing Aggression against Ukraine and Violations of OSCE Principles and Commitments, OSCE Permanent Council N°1083, Vienna, 17 December 2015; accessed 12/24/2015: http://www.eeas.europa.eu/delegations/vienna/documents/eu_osce/permanent_council/2015/pc_1083_eu_on_ukraine.pdf

Riga, BC (2015), Graube: Russia's actions near Latvia's border "increasingly provocative", The Baltic Course, Sep 22, 2015. Accessed 12/15/2015 at: http://www.baltic-course.com/eng/direct_speech/?doc=110907

Simha, RK (2015), Why sanctions are stupid and spell the end of western influence, Russia and India Report, 29 Sep 2015, access: 12/17/2015 at: http://in.rbth.com/blogs/stranger_than_fiction/2015/09/29/why-sanctions-are-stupid-and-spell-the-end-of-western-influence_443625

TASS (2015), EU sanctions against Russia bound to continue - source, World Desk, TASS Russian News Agency, Dec. 12, 2015; accessed 12/18/15 at: http://tass.ru/en/world/843594