Two Cents: The January PF Topic Wordings

You’ve been waiting for it… it’s Briefly’s Two Cents! For the all-important January topic resolutional choices, Texas powerhouse Sam Bonham and Austin Meek reunite to offer their two cents.

Sam and Austin competed at Carroll Senior High School, and reached late outrounds at Yale, Emory, Upenn, ASU, Bellaire, Grapevine, and TFA State. They semi-finaled at Florida Blue Key, the Houston Round Robin, the Bellaire Round Robin, and The UT Longhorn Classic, with two qualifications to the TOC in Public Forum and receiving 5 TOC bids. Meek is a freshman at UT Austin and Sam is a freshman at The College of William & Mary.

Here are the NSDA’s topic choices:
OPTION 1 – Resolved: Spain should grant Catalonia its independence.

OPTION 2 – Resolved: NATO should not offer membership to any additional countries beyond those with current Membership Action Plans.

Austin Meek

This first topic is pretty good. I won’t go into the details (because you should learn about Spanish politics on your own time), but Catalonia is one of Spain’s 50 provinces. They currently enjoy a hefty amount of autonomy, but some Catalonians aren’t satisfied and want to be an independent state. The resolution simply asks us whether or not Spain should recognize Catalonia as such. On the PRO, I envision strategies that focus on the supposed unfairness of the current relationship between Spain and Catalonia. Catalonia pays more in taxes than Spain gives back in social services, and Catalonians have a distinct culture that may only be truly represented if it exists in a nation-state. On the CON, look into just how high support for independence really is and consider the possibility of this new nation not being able to sustain itself economically or becoming torn between Russian and Western influences that plague other European countries. While the topic is interesting and relevant, it’s pretty CON heavy because most teams have trouble weighing arguments about “fairness.”

Final Grade: B-

Option 2 is going to concentrate on Russia and the Cold War like tensions surrounding Eastern Europe. The way I see it, the PRO is advocating for an end to NATO’s “open door” policy, which posits that any European country is welcome to apply for NATO membership (don’t be fooled it’s a long application process). One stage of that process is having a Membership Action Plan and any European country without one would suddenly be denied accession to NATO in the PRO world (Finland, Sweden, and Georgia are a few states that are considering joining but don’t have Membership Action Plans). The PRO will likely argue that NATO expansion provokes Russia and escalates conflict, while the CON will stress the importance of a Western military alliance and the fact that turning away these countries that are “up for grabs” will push them toward Russia, altering the security balance for the worse. Also, expect arguments from both sides about whether or not enlargement affects how much money the US has to contribute to NATO, as this could possibly be a link into US withdraw from the organization.

While most people seem to be in favor of this topic (that means you should stop reading about Spain and prep this one), I don’t know if it’s much better. I will admit that it has more literature and is slightly more balanced, but there will be a lot of teams falling back on statistics like “alliances reduce war 28%” that are super vague and hard to evaluate. Debates may also get dry because most of the countries that could join NATO right now are on the fence about it, and wouldn’t necessarily join in either world. This just leads to rounds where neither teams have convincing offense and judges intervene harder than Russia did in Georgia! Don’t make jokes like that if I’m judging you.

Final Grade: B-

Sam Bonham

Right off the bat, option 1 seems like a clearer and more debateable topic. In my experience, long and wordy resolutions with tricky nuances can confuse judges and debaters alike (especially with the lay judge style common in PF). It seems like this is a resolution that will reward large amounts of prep and brute force, the more developed and well structured your arguments, the easier it will be to find a path to the ballot. Furthermore, I think that this topic gives a lot of room to argue with different points of view. For example, teams could take the path of what is in Spain’s best interest, Catalonia’s best interest, regional stability, or really any other type of weighing mechanism that you could think of. I think that these types of topics give the largest breadth and depth of argumentation on a topic.

Furthermore, this topic is definitely ripped straight out of the headlines, with a multitude of new articles being published on the hour. This makes for interesting debates, even into late outrounds of a tournament. Teams that get complacent and don’t use the most recent evidence are sure to lose rounds to teams that take advantage of the versatile nature of the Spain / Catalonia dispute. I don’t think that option 2 will have the same level and intensity of debates that this topic will have.

Final Grade: B+

This NATO topic seems to be less clear, and much more confusing / wordy than topic 1. I think that the scope of the topic arguments is very limited in that it focuses not just on NATO, but NATO expansion specifically. There won’t be any debate around what specific countries in NATO should do, or a particular policy action, but rather the simple addition of countries to Membership Action Plans.

I think that this resolution is also skewed toward the AFF because of the word “any” included in the resolution. If the affirmative can prove an instance in which just one country should be added to NATO, the debate is over. The NEG has the burden of proving that there is not a single instance in which any country should be added to NATO. If an affirmative team puts in enough research and argumentation into a very specific example, it will be very difficult for a negative team to refute every warrant and impact effectively in the debate.

Even though there might be some large impacts that either side could link into, I think that the link chains into these will be very convoluted and confusing. I see the debate coming down to very nebulous impacts that are difficult to weigh, and debates that really have no clear winner. Weighing impacts is hard enough, PF doesn’t need a topic that makes it even harder.

Final Grade: C+

What are your thoughts on these topics? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

  • Lexy Green

    I think Sam is right about the better topic, but he’s got the imbalance backwards on the NATO topic. The aff. burden is to prove NO additional countries. The neg. can grant the aff. with the exception of one country. Affs. will find it hard to match the neg.’s level of specificity, given the number of countries they may have to prep.