The saga continues. We now turn to NCFCA’s proposed debate resolutions for the 2018-2019 season.
A. Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially reform its policy toward one or more of the countries in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
I’ve discussed this in-depth with others and read topic analyses published by other authors and institutions–this topic is largely seen as weaker and less appealing. However, I believe NCFCA debaters would be remiss to pass this resolution up. As with all the topics, share different perspectives with your peers and let discussion and discourse produce the best results.
Pro 1: Education
This foreign policy resolution presents tremendous educational opportunities to debaters. First, many debaters have not researched or discussed US policy towards Western Africa (or know the names of these countries)! Only when education begins may real policymaking and discourse begin. Second, it provides debaters with an introduction into the role of regional economic coalitions, the need to understand geography as a precondition for making policy (this is especially true in Africa, where borders were drawn without understanding human and physical geography), and the role of the US in fostering trade, aid, and security abroad.
Pro 2: True Affirmative Burden
Some have expressed concern that US policy towards West Africa is not relevant enough. This puts the onus on the affirmative to show that there should truly be substantial reform to policy. Such a resolution forces debaters to show ripeness and need for reform.
Pro 3: Ground
This topic would be very different if it concerned policies towards the Greater Horn of Africa or Eastern Africa. Perhaps in the eyes of many, these regions would provide more “interesting” arguments on terrorism, infrastructure, and humanitarian aid. However, ECOWAS provides a unique scope of arguments dealing with business, trade, aid, terrorism, and security, which need to be debated. A fair amount of case opportunities exist on the affirmative, and sufficient negative ground exists in regards to counterplans, the role of foreign policy, effectiveness, and stakeholders. A smaller topic is not always worse–it provides opportunities to go deeper into geopolitics, economic analysis, and the effects of policy (specific arguments vs. generic ones!), which is often missed in foreign policy topics.
Con 1: Interest
In terms of on-face appeal to debaters, I think the EU and international terrorism topic will seem a lot cooler. I don’t think this is a sufficient reason to vote against this resolution, because sometimes the least interesting topic area provides a tremendous amount of education and dialogue on a topic that doesn’t receive much discussion.
Joshua’s Rating: 8/10, a solid topic and my first choice.
Pro: People’s understanding of West Africa is limited and therefore ripe for expansion; there should not be nearly as much judge bias in this resolution as compared to other resolutions; this resolution doesn’t really have any mechanical (e.g. wording) problems. In other words, it could be a lot worse.
Con: ECOWhat? Jokes aside, I (vaguely) understand that the ECOWAS region is important… in some ways (mainly Nigeria). However, at some point one has to draw a brightline and say “This doesn’t deserve the ‘timely and important’ platitude.” This topic, as far as I can remember, is one of the least-important topic choices I have seen in a while. Furthermore, it is not at all clear that there will be a large amount of policy research or case ideas for this topic, which should at least be taken as a red flag (since it would significantly undermine clash); perhaps if this resolution were broadened to include more of Africa, it might be more viable. Ultimately, although I may be giving a poor impression of the importance of West Africa, at least in relation to other topics this resolution simply appears too niche/insignificant.
Harrison’s Rating: C-
B. Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially reform its foreign policy regarding international terrorism.
Pro 1: Relevance
This is an extremely relevant topic as terrorist groups such as Boko Haram and Hamas, and states such as North Korea, Iran, and Syria plague different regions of the world today. Evil exists in the world, and this resolution asks us what the proper response ought to be.
Pro 2: Scope
This topic provides a tremendous scope allowing for debates concerning prevention, intelligence gathering, military deployment, targeted killing in many regions of the world. Such a topic provides for unique argumentation concerning effectiveness, backlash, and proper actor on both the affirmative and negative.
Pro 3: Key Conflict
Key questions of the debate consider if the US should act, and whether or not certain action will cause more harm than good. Terrorism is pressing problem because, in several cases, standard military tactics do not work and questions of morality will come up regarding the use of certain tactics to achieve an end. The philosophical and practical considerations provide a unique conflict that needs to be addressed.
Con 1: Scope
This topic is very broad. Very broad. Unfortunately, this may lead to a debate centered around generic argumentation on the negative, rather than specific arguments regarding policy. Both have their merits; however, specific argumentation provides for greater nuance, real-world policy making, and greater flexibility in argumentation. The resolution itself is incredibly expansive; I believe a qualifier in regards to region could have given more meaning to the topic and depth in debate.
Joshua’s Rating: Second choice, 7/10.
Pros: Studying terrorism/counter-terrorism can be very important in one’s career/academics, everyday conversations, and voting habits, making this a rewarding topic to learn about. Additionally, for many people it is an interesting topic to learn about (although some people may be distressed by the topic). Furthermore, there is plenty of literature/debate over the various policies and available policy options—including the significance of terrorism itself—so there should be plenty of case options and clash (especially compared to things such as the ECOWAS resolution)—and not just any clash, but (as stated before) important/educational clash.
Cons: First of all, I hope you don’t mind the NSA/FBI spying on you. That aside, there are some very legitimate cons to this resolution choice. Notably, this topic is very broad: it can refer to terrorism anywhere, and the very definition of terrorism is very broad—further exacerbated by the fact that there are many different definitions of terrorism (including in the US, although US Code has a specific section/definition for “International terrorism”)—so this can end up straining negative preparation. Additionally, there can be significant judge bias on this topic (as illustrated by the rhetoric that goes on about whether or not to accept enhanced interrogation techniques).
Harrison’s Rating: B+
C. Resolved: The European Union should be substantially reformed or abolished.
Pro 1: Key Topic Area & Scope
This resolution provides a unique discussion concerning the role of regional coalitions in furthering economics, trade, policy, and foreign relations. With a wide scope and key conflict, debates could focus on the abolition of the EU, the creation of EU joint military forces, reform of monetary policy, human rights policies, etc. Many issues are at play here leading to key political and philosophical questions.
Con 1: No Actor
Debates here will be very messy. Given that many of the actions which would be substantial enough to be topical would require the agreement of all 28 EU member states, debates could devolve into theory debates concerning fiat, solvency, and implementation. Additionally, disagreement on policy by member states is a significant majority of policymaking. Taking out that consideration and not specifying an actor takes out a key conflict and clash of the EU making policy–concession, compromise, and agreement.
Con 2: Judge Bias
Let me be clear that judge bias does not mean you should not vote for a topic. On the contrary, arguing against your judge’s beliefs provides tremendous opportunities for growth and an insight into deeper persuasion and rhetoric. However, such bias (leaning heavily towards nationalism) may discourage debaters from pursuing unique topical policy advocacies because they will not be taken by judges. This overall harms debate and education on the topic, which ought to clash both sides and create discourse. Judges aren’t perfect, but perhaps a topic such as this may foster discussions among judges on how to exclude personal biases from adjudication.
Joshua’s Rating: 3rd choice, 5/10.
Pros: The state/fate of the EU is an important, timely topic (given Brexit and the threats of other country departures, such as Italeave), and it may be refreshing (for some) to have an actor which isn’t US-centric. There should be a lot of room for policies across a wide range of issues (e.g. immigration, economics, security, the very existence of the EU). (Additionally, it should be noted how convenient it is that the resolution included “… or abolished” at the end, since that can significantly help prevent constant devolution into “EU should (not) exist” debates, by making such counterplans topical—although the illegitimacy of this is certainly open to debate, as Ethos is well aware of.) In summary, the benefits are general/all-around: timely, interesting, educational, clashable, etc.
Cons: US-actor-centric resolutions are arguably better (more educational/relevant, easier to research/debate/judge, etc.) than those with foreign actors. Also, to nitpick some, there may be moderate judge bias (combined with factual unfamiliarity) and perhaps even some minor language impediments (e.g. numerous research articles being in French/German/etc.), among other things. However, I would be willing to get over those nitpicking cons if not for one major problem: there is no actor specified in this resolution, due to the use of passive voice. This allows for:
1) Abusive/unrealistic cases where the affirmative fiats that all the involved countries are supportive/acceptive of the reforms, undermining competitiveness/fairness and realism (educational value); and
2) A larger number of cases and case versions, which makes it harder for the negative to prepare.
Ultimately, this and the fact that the resolution’s actor is not the US (which is a tried and tested, educational practice especially since this is an American policy debate league) significantly weakens the resolution’s attractiveness in my mind.
Harrison’s Rating: C
Joshua’s Final Verdict: A>B>C
Harrison’s Final Verdict: B>C>A
Here is a link to a discussion/debate on the resolution choices, on Kialo—a platform for structured debate. You can participate in the discussion by adding your own arguments for and against the various choices (and reading others’ points, of course).