Two Cents: The February PF Topic Wordings

Happy Holidays! Two Cents is back with the February topic wordings under the area of International Conflicts. This month, we have another classic partner contribution – Bronx Science’s very own Chong-Delsol!

Here are the NSDA’s topic choices:
OPTION 1 – Resolved: The United States should end its arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

OPTION 2 – Resolved: The African Union should establish a transitional government in South Sudan.

Gabe Delsol

Gabe Delsol competed at Bronx Science with Kyle, graduating in 2015. He has taught PF at Walt Whitman for the last four years. He’s in his senior year at American University, where he’s majoring in International Relations and Economics, with a focus on peace and conflict studies.

Saudi Arabia is one of the United States’ closest allies in the Middle East, along with Israel. U.S. arms sales to the Saudis include mostly munitions and spare parts to keep American-sold weapons systems running, as well as a number of aircraft and missile defense systems and training for the Saudi armed forces. The war in Yemen will be the central focus of this resolution, where the Saudi-led military campaign against the Houthi rebel movement has caused a massive humanitarian crisis. AFF can make arguments about the dangers of supporting war crimes in other countries, both moral and practical (backlash impacts will work well here too, as will spillover arguments). By proving that continued support for the Saudis makes the war last longer, the AFF can impact to greater instability encouraging the growth of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) with implications for the Gulf states and East Africa. I really hope to see AFF teams engage with how peace is possible in Yemen, and why peace solves for most problems (terrorism, Iran expansionism, and war crimes). In general, AFF teams need to show why their impacts control for the possibility that other major arms dealers, both allies (France, the UK, Canada) and foes (Russia), will step in and supply the Saudis. NEG will also have some interesting arguments to work with. NEG can bring up some (realistic) alternative ways to condemn MBS and limit the impacts of the war in Yemen without halting arms sales (sanctions, signaling displeasure so that King Salman reduces MBS’ power), and can mitigate much of AFFs impacts given how many other arms dealing countries could step in (some with even worse implications, like Russia and China). Maybe continuing arms sales can even provide leverage for the Saudis to reform their foreign policy and better protect human rights at home. It seems like there’s a lot of support for this topic, but please don’t vote for this just because you want to reuse LD files. Be creative with your arguments and make your links strong, as always. The circuit may have an AFF bias, and the judges may tire of generic US heg arguments so be creative, and keep in mind the United States’ strategic goals in the Middle East, and the potential for great power conflict. If you like discussing US foreign policy and want a pulled-from-the-headlines topic with traditional foreign policy impacts, pick this one.

Final Grade: B+

I absolutely love this topic area for lots of reasons. We don’t often get conflict topics where the US isn’t the actor, and more importantly, where we talk about non-military solutions to conflict which deal with political and economic development and social healing. I think this topic is less discussed in the news, and will have less judge bias although may require a little more (but not a lot) of research. I think this topic is fascinating but will require a lot more creativity than option 1 as to what the AFF and NEG actually entail. Like the peacekeeping topic from January 2015, it deals with an ambitious new tool for a major international organization to solve entrenched conflict. On the AFF, the resolution is pretty clear once you establish what the transitional government would look like. Most generic arguments can attack the current power sharing agreement as essentially rewarding warring parties and absolving them of war crimes, essentially paving the way for the deals’ collapse in a few years. It also has some really interesting arguments as to what an externally managed government can look like, with major potential reforms for economic and political institutions that didn’t take place when South Sudan first became independent. These reforms are much more likely when current elites are sidelined, and can impact to economic development, democracy, and reduced risk of conflict (which means so much for South Sudan and the region). Most of AFFs stock args will stem straight from the transitional government, and involve good use of conflict and peace building theories. The NEG has a lot more interesting ground, given that it will first have to decide whether or not it wants to defend the current peace deal which is being overseen by the regional organization for East Africa, IGAD (made up of Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia, notably). It can also draw on plenty of indicts to externally managed transitions and why they fail, whether they’re specific to the AU’s major challenges (a lack of funding, significant corruption, and more reluctant African heads of state who don’t want to see the organization interfering with sovereignty so much) or about the failures of externally managed state building in general. I think this topic will need some more work to approach, which for me is all the more reason to embrace it. It gives AFF a wide range of impacts to go for from state building, and encourages creative arguments on the NEG. If you want a more unique, if more challenging topic, pick this one.

Final Grade: A-

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, and is a senior at UC Berkeley studying Political Economy & Entrepreneurship.

This topic is certainly ripped from the headlines, as though our news cycle is currently fixed on the domestic issue of the US-Mexico Border Wall, the ongoing debate on our involvement in the Yemen Civil War is still going through the Senate. This proposal is coming as a direct response to the murder of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy, a decision that the CIA has attributed to Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS, for short), the Saudi crown prince. That said, the debate at first glance seems very much skewed towards the AFF, but US involvement with the Saudis has stretched back since the 1970s and the partnership between the two countries has been a mainstay of US foreign policy along most presidential administrations. This resolution is a major departure from this, and as the AFF would argue, should be revisited given the changing circumstances of domestic demands, regional politics, and humanitarian crises. This topic could go a few ways – a discussion of US hegemony, a solvency debate on humanitarian crises in the Yemen Civil War, or even a political response debate in the Middle East. Given these paths, and the other paths that a first pass at this topic will inevitably miss, I actually think that the side skew will not be that heavily favored for the AFF. That said, I think that this is in comparison to Option 2 is a particularly cookie cutter topic – though the topic area of Saudi Arabia has seldom seen the light of day in a PF round, there are plenty of thematic arguments that will appear in these debates. I don’t particularly see that many ways in which this topic can be all that innovative in terms of out-of-the-box arguments, nor do I really think tournaments on the national circuit this month will allow you to do so.

Final Grade: B

This is one of the most interesting topics I’ve seen in many, many years. This is the kind of topic that could inspire someone to completely change their interests because it exposes debaters to a ton of new ideas and concepts. In some ways, this is a resolution that we have seen before (in terms of the thematic issues debaters will need to wrestle with and the necessity to have multiple debates within one resolution), and in other ways there’s completely uncharted territory in this PF resolution. Though this topic isn’t as “pulled from the headlines” as the other resolution is, I think this actually works to the advantage of the February topic. Since this month is such a marathon, what is necessary is a deep base of literature, and this topic is both timely and well-researched given its link to development studies, conflict studies, and international law. Debaters will have to understand both the “facts on the ground” and the theories behind the scholarly arguments being made. Since its independence from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan has been rife with ethnic and religious tensions, has been caught up in a civil war since 2013, and faces significant economic development challenges. Complicating this issue is the influence international institutions (the African Union, the United Nations, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development) have been attempting to place on South Sudan’s government, which is also the driver of these challenges. Most AFF cases will need to center themselves on the advocacy of state-building in the face of multinational influence and the solvency of humanitarian issues in the country. The key to good cases on the AFF will be finding the right pieces of evidence as to how international authorities (in this case, the African Union) can better address the situation relative to the status quo. Given the multiple levels of argumentation in this resolution, the NEG side will have plenty of routes to critique the AFF’s thesis. There are plenty of ways to challenge the claims that the African Union would be able to solve it in the first place, let alone cause more problems than the status quo would solve. I also think there’s plenty of room for more progressive, nuanced, and strategic arguments for NEG to run on this topic. Overall, this is a very balanced topic with plenty of opportunity to welcome many styles of debate, an incredibly rich evidence base, and excellent educational value.

Final Grade: A

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