Two Cents: The March PF Topic Wordings

Briefly’s Two Cents is back with an installment on the March topic resolutions. For this round, we have staff writer Kyle Chong and coaching powerhouse Jack Ave to offer their two cents on the Separation of Powers topics!

Here are the NSDA’s topic choices:
OPTION 1 – Resolved: Congressional authorization should be required on any nuclear first strike by the United States.

OPTION 2 – Resolved: On balance, the current Authorization for Use of Military Force gives too much power to the president.

Kyle Chong

Kyle Chong is an Assistant Coach at The Nueva School in California. As a debater, Kyle was the President of Bronx Science’s Debate Team, where he won seven bids to the Tournament of Champions, ending his career at tenth in the country. His students have achieved success at both the local and national level, with just this year boasting championships at SCU, ASU, Berkeley, Kandi King, and TOC, along with final round appearances at Harker, Bronx, and MLK. Kyle is a junior at UC Berkeley.

At first glance, this topic seems incredibly one-sided. It doesn’t seem like authorizing a nuclear strike without any checks and balances from the legislative branch of the US government is an opinion that is widely held. That being said, I think such an opinion is quite marred by misinformation. The president cannot unilaterally launch a nuclear strike, but in reality there is little in the way for that to happen. Looking at that idea in a vacuum would almost always result in a win for the affirmative side of the resolution. However, looking at the pragmatic effects of adding congressional authorization may make for a good, substantive debate. Negative teams will probably argue that congressional authorization could eliminate the “surprise factor” of a nuclear first strike because such discussions are easily discoverable by our adversaries. Additionally, I think a lot of these debates will come down to “nightmare scenarios” in which either a very specific situation is being debated or a lot of assumptions about the context is made. Unfortunately for debaters, preparing specific answers for these scenarios will be really difficult.

Final Grade: B

This resolution is really tricky, because it’s incredibly difficult to define what “too much power” means. The debate isn’t about whether the legal protocol behind Authorization for Use of Military Force is a good option, but instead it’s a debate on how this protocol is skewed in favor of the president. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that debaters will ignore this distinction, skirting away from the “separation of powers” debate by arguing that the effects of AUMF policy are the extension of the executive branch without much contestation. I predict that the literature base on this topic will include a lot of hegemony backfiles, as well as interesting political and security theory, with probably not a lot of empirical analysis. Like the first topic, I think the resolution will likely be looking for a specific scenario, in which tensions are sufficiently high that we would be proposing this in the first place. This kind of assumption will also require some discussion of probability, or in extreme cases may advocate for some kind of military force in the very status quo. Overall, I think this resolution will refreshingly return some interesting framework arguments and will force debaters to really ask themselves of what power the president should have at the international stage.

Final Grade: B-

Jack Ave

Jack Ave is the head of debate at Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn, New York. As a student, Jack competed in LD at Okoboji High School (IA), making out-round appearances at Harvard, Blake, West Des Moines Valley, as well as being the first from his school to attend the TOC. Jack debated policy for the University of Northern Iowa for a year before coaching. As a coach, Jack’s students have seen success across multiple events. While at Poly, Jack’s students in Public Forum have championed tournaments such as Harvard, Lexington, and Blake, reaching the final round of Emory, while also reaching elimination rounds at Wake Forest, Yale, Georgetown, the New York City Invitational, and UPenn. Through private coaching, Jack has also coached students in Lincoln-Douglas debate to elimination rounds at Yale, Harvard, the New York City Invitational, Holy Cross, and the Sunivational.

In 2017, for the first time in 41 years, congress held hearings on the executive’s unilateral ability to launch a nuclear first strike. Given the timeliness as well as the potential constitutional problem of the resolution, if it is chosen, I believe debates will have a diverse number of interesting impact scenarios ensuring a well rounded March topic. There are a lot of cool ways to affirm the topic; a potential aff could prove that a potential conflict might spark U.S. nuclear first strike (i.e. North Korea) is coming soon. Then contending that a first strike in a specific area would be harmful to millions of people, trigger regional/global war, devastate ecosystem, etc. Only congress acting could stop this form of first strike. Framing this impact in terms of timeframe would allow affirmatives to pretty easily outweigh negative disads.

Alternatively, another potential affirmative could argue that the current nuclear launch process is unconstitutional (I’m sure this will also appear an a weird overview as well). Debaters can be equally creative when negating the topic. They could concede that a conflict could happen, but contest that a first strike would be the only way to save millions of Americans. Negatives could also contend that restricting the first strike power of the president could prevent effective retaliation to uses of non-nuclear WMDs. When researching wide topics like this, stay organized and map out which arguments you find on the topic as well as the arguments you hear from other debaters. In order to avoid getting stuck in a round with no prep to answer a oddly specific impact scenario, stay on top of the topic research. If this topic is chosen, I’m looking forward to some great debates.

Final Grade: B

The Authorization for Use of Military Force (or AUMF) is currently is use in over a dozen countries. Since its passage shortly after 9/11, AUMF has justified many military interventions and intelligence operations that some military experts believe were crucial to global security. Alternatively, certain AUMF provisions (executive first strike capabilities) could put the United States in grave danger. If this topic is chosen, I believe debates will all for current problems and historical precedent will play a huge role in how the round breaks down. While prepping for the affirmative side, current ‘nuclear hotzones’ where a first strike would be devastating will allow clear weighing against hypothetical neg disads. The focus of the affirmative narrative should be around the abuse of AUMF.

A historical take affirming the topic would argue that AUMF is linked to the created of international terror or other harmful backlash from U.S. militarism abroad. When prepping the negative side, clear offense can come from the success of past and current operations. Additionally, negatives could just sit down on the ‘first strike is good’ debate and explain how AUMF allows for executive flexibility. I suspect some interesting impact scenarios will come out of the woodwork on this topic. Try to work on a cohesive narrative in case, especially on this topic. Reading three or four radically different impact scenarios could make it hard for your opponent to respond, but even harder for judges to follow and stick with especially towards the end of the debate. Practice collapsing on one or two good impact scenarios to ensure clean wins. Out of the two topics, I’d prefer this one because it has a wider scope of impacts and posses a larger historical question that I would like to hear answered.

Final Grade: A

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