Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Debate after START?

I know everyone in the (debate) nation either rejoiced or tore their clothes and put ashes on their heads at the ratification of the START treaty. It's Christmas, and the senate has filled our stockings with heaping piles of nuclear security. But if you feel like your year has been ruined by the passage of your plan, fear not. Here are some tips for how to turn the START ratification into victory all year long. 

1) Treaty = Solvency binds
The START treaty being ratified now puts new restrictions and obligations on the US regarding Russia. These obligations become solvency binds on other cases. Take the BMD case, for example. Take all the cards you had against START which said "START restricts missile defense." These cards are now useful as solvency against BMD. Or take the cards you had which said "Russia START doesn't bind tactical weapons." These cards can now be used against the "remove tactical nukes from Europe" case to show that Russia won't remove their TNWs. The bottom line: APPLY APPLY APPLY. Foreign policy is a tightly woven fabric in real life, and your arguments should be too.  

2) Other cases are gone besides START
The biggest example here is Minimal Deterrence. For real. We just signed a treaty agreeing to limit our nukes to a certain number. Now the MD affirmative comes along and wants to reduce our nukes EVEN FARTHER?  Plus, take your cards from the neg START brief that say "START reduces nukes too much" and extrapolate. Other cases that are severely effected by START include Remove TNWs  and Cancel 123. 

3) Politix
START being ratified completely changes the political capital arrangement in DC. If you are a fan of PX DA's, be sure and cut "Obama victory cards." This specifically effects Obama's political influence with Russia, and his ability to get things done on that front. 

4) New and better affirmatives
Remember: policies are connected. The passage of START will create new opportunities for affirmatives. Think of the needs and opportunities that START creates. Then fill them. For example, START has created a climate of cooperation on nuclear security issues. This strengthens the Missile Defense Cooperation cases, as Medvedev himself has said. Remember to think logically and objectively about the new face of US-Russian relations.

And, lastly:

5) DO NOT run "Abandon START"
Please. For the love of all that is good and decent in society. For the love of CHRISTMAS! This case will be a dead end all year. First off, the hundreds of START teams out there are going to smell blood in the water and be all too happy to defend their (former) case. Secondly, you run into all these problems with pulling out of treaties. Soft power DA's will be insurmountable. Link it all out to Iran sanctions, North Korea, afghan basing, etc, and you will have a soft power crisis that will quickly mangle you to the brink of death as the round progresses. 

And if anyone does happen to hit a "stop START" case, this video should be your 1NC. 


It was a great case. Nevermind.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Affirmative idea: Infrastructure

This could be an interesting case idea this year. Russia has huge infrastructure issues. Their railways, electrical grid, telecommunications, and roads are generally in disarray. The Russian government has laid out some ambitious plans for improving in these areas, which could total over a trillion dollars in the next several years. That's a serious stack, kids. 

What's perhaps even more relevant is the fact that Putin has repeatedly stated that they will be looking to foreign investors and companies. It may very well be worth looking in to solvency mechanisms (loan guarantees, etc.) for American companies to get in on this. There are some intriguing articles from the Russian government talking about the need for American investment. You can claim traditional short term economic advantages, but also long term economic benefit along the lines of helping emerging markets. 

Check it out. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I judged a round in our club last week and was absolutely appalled at what I saw. During the cross examination of the 1ac, the 2nd affirmative speaker was sitting at the table playing with his pen. He didn't even look up or register that there was  CX going on. For the love of all that is sacred, pay attention during every cross examination!

Even if it is your partner being cross examined, pay attention. Cross examination is the only time that there is direct interaction between debaters, and is thus the best time in the round to understand your opponents. 

Understand how they think!
Cross examination tells you how a person thinks. An affirmative speaker will always try to answer questions by jumping to the strongest part of their case. A negative speaker tries to answer questions by linking things to (what he thinks is) his strongest argument. Never think of CX as a simple matter of Q&A. Think of it as an opportunity to see firsthand how your opponent views the round and the issues. 

Understand what they are afraid of!
Perhaps the most revealing thing in the round is what the examinee avoids talking about. Have you ever had a CX where you ask them a question, and they answer with a random and unrelated topic? You might think that they just don't understand, but trust me. They understand, and are deliberately avoiding it because they understand that it's a weak point for them. Does the affirmative avoid discussing their solvency in CX? Hit them on solvency. Does the negative team avoid a discussion on your harms? They probably don't have a response to the harms. Once again, all of this can be deduced from paying attention. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Understanding Russia: Basics for every debater

A lot of the discussions and cases that I've seen this year have shown a strange and distorted understanding of what Russia is and what it wants. I heard a young debater earlier this year refer to Russia as an "evil empire". Others have referred to it as "communist", a "dictatorship", and our "enemy." It's important to have a proper understanding of what Russia is, what it wants, and how it thinks. Here are a few of the more critical things to understand.

1) Russia is not evil
This is the most basic thing to understand about Russia. Russia is neither evil nor communist. It is a country that lacks the power to effectively project its agenda beyond a few weak neighbors, and that feels threatened and encircled by US allies and Islamic states. It's important to understand all of Russia's aggressive actions come out of fear, not true aggression.

2) Russia is not a military threat
It's important to understand Russia's military, and thus how they view security related matters. Russia is a wimp, militarily. We think of them as a world power, but they are quite weak in this regard. They lost a huge chunk of manpower when the USSR collapsed, and now they lag significantly behind the US and our allies, both in numbers and technological sophistication. If we randomly ended up in a conventional war, it would be over very quickly. This means that Russia views their nuclear weapons as their security blanket. They can't match anyone in conventional capabilities, so they use their nuclear weapons as their "big stick." Quite honestly, nukes are the only thing they have. Cut them some slack, kids.

3) Russia lacks true power
Russia's economy is a mess, and they lack the soft power to project their agenda. Russia is, in all fairness, not a hegemonic power anymore. They have only two mechanisms for projecting power: oil exports, and nuclear capability. This is critical to remember in round. When you evaluate a claim about Russian motivations or capabilities, remember that Russia doesn't really have a way to project its agenda. 

4) What Russia wants
From these basic principles, we can remember that Russia has a few basic motivations and desires in their foreign policy.

First, they want to be Taken Seriously! Russia has been beat around and ignored since the fall of the USSR. It's rather tiresome for a country that was once a hyper-power to now be treated like a cranky teenager that is scolded and yelled all the time. If your plan (or the aff's) doesn't treat Russia like a legitimate ally or world power, you won't get anywhere with them. 

Secondly, Russia can't be expected to make nuclear cuts or limit its conventional military capabilities unless it can be assured of reciprocal cuts or limitations on the US. Remember that this supposed belligerence is the result of Russia feeling threatened; not their own aggression. If the policy is not reciprocal, Russia will never accept it.

Third, any sort of economic pact or integration with Russia is going to be the victim of Russian protectionism. Russia is, as I already mentioned, in an economic shambles. This is to be expected based on the fact that their economy literally collapsed with the dissolution of the USSR. This means that Russia is extremely suspicious of US attempts at economic integration. Their policies are decisively protectionist. 

Fourth and finally, Russia is going to resists US policies that infringe on their very limited sphere of influence. This is essentially the Balkan states (sort of) Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. They view military involvement here from the US as an attempt to further eliminate their already limited and rather toothless power projection. Respect Russia's boundaries, or the policy is a dead end. Personal bubble, guys.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Terrible Advantages, Awesome Kritiks, and Warm Fuzzy Feelings

If I hear one more case this year that is justified with "relations and coziness" I am going to break down in tears and slowly cry myself to sleep at the judge table. A lot of teams this year attempt to solicit better relations with Russia as their justification or advantage. This, quite simply, is a terrible way of going about it. I thought I'd provide a few thoughts on this advantage, and a potential kritik that can be run on such a case.

1) Better Relations are NOT a good advantage
For a few reasons. Let's go over them now.

A) Impact linking is sketchy at best, downright funny at worst
It is extremely difficult to try and link better relations to any specific impacts. This is because the vast majority of cases can't actually link the action of the case. For example, I saw a Jackson Vanik amendment case where they tried to link JV to basing rights for Afghanistan. They linked JV to relations, and relations to basing, but there is no way to link JV directly to basing. 

To try and make links like this is a very simplistic way of viewing relations. It treats soft power like a money. E.g, "We have 76 soft power, but JV will give us 12 more. If we get 85 soft power, we can cash it in on Afghanistan. " 

Bottom line, if you can't link the plan directly to the impact, don't run it.

B) Better Relations are not an impact unto themselves
Because they have no value. A lot of affs do the whole "Well, Russia can help us here, or do this for us, and they have this to offer" and act like improved relations gives us access to the wealth of resources and assistance that Russia can offer. This is blatantly false. Once again, better relations with Russia are not a linear numeric thing. It can't be quantified, linked, or put in a box and gift wrapped.

C) Spare me the "Russia will feel better about us" jargon
This is the third thing that affirmatives try to do. How many times have you heard this?
"Well, if we pass this plan, Russia will trust us more and feel better about us and be more likely to negotiate fairly etc."

This is so overly simplistic it boggles my mind. It makes it sound like international leaders are little kids hanging out and swapping lunch by the sandbox. "Well, you did lift Jackson Vanik, so I'll exempt you from my textile tariffs." International relations are much more complex than that. 

In other words: Soft Power =/= being pals.

BOTTOM LINE: Don't run better relations as an advantage unless you are able to directly link your policy change to a terminal impact.

2) A Relations Kritik 
I would legitimately vote neg for a kritik on using relations as the justification for a policy change. The argument here is that a policy aimed entirely at relations is essentially an attempt to appease Russia, and given any disadvantage of any type, the policy becomes nothing more than the sacrificial destruction of American interests in an attempt to gain nebulous, volatile, and unimportant soft power. I would honestly spend an entire speech on this, and lay it out something like this:

Background/Solvency points:
1) Soft power results in only short term gains
2) Soft power is not a solution to any long term problems

KRITIK: Appeasement
1) Link: Attempts to gain soft power are based on short sighted coercion and appeasement.
2) Link: Sacrificing long term stability for uncertain short term gains.
3) Impact: Coercion encourages aggressive action from Russia and puts America at a growing disadvantage.
4) Alt: Value lasting stability and policies over short term soft power. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Case Analysis: Missile Defense Cooperation

One of the big cases this year seems to be the case to cooperate with Russia on our European missile defense system. At first glance, this case seems pretty good. However, most of the affirmative advantages and solvency seem to be pretty shoddy. Here's some ideas for taking this one down.

Solvency/DA Bind: Russia Radar =/= Substitute
A lot of the affirmatives want to rent a radar station that Russia has offered us, claiming that getting them involved in the BMD project will improve relations. The problem is, Russia views the radar as a substitute for the missile interceptors in Europe. Quite frankly, this is false. Radar in no way substitutes for interceptors, and the DOD confirms this. This means that the entire affirmative case is based on a misunderstanding of what Russia wants This creates a solvency/DA double bind:

Solvency: US does radar and interceptors, and Russia stays angry. 
DA: US does only radar, Russia likes us, but we have a severely damaged missile defense.

The bottom line is that there is literally no way that we are going to get a BMD in Europe without making Russia at least a little angry.

Significance/Solvency: Russia nuke build up not linked to BMD
They will claim that Russia will build up their nuclear stockpiles and weaponry as a response to the BMD. The problem with this claim is that Russia threatens to build up nukes as a response to pretty much everything we do. It can't be reasonably claimed that a Russian nuke build up would be caused exclusively, or even primarily by the BMD. Cut cards showing other policies that have prompted Russia to threaten a buildup.

DA: NATO Allies
This could be one of the strongest arguments against the case if the affirmative cancels the interceptors in Europe. Link the rejection of the European plan to a general rejection of NATO in favor of Russia. You can link this and reasonably impact this out to the general collapse of NATO.

Here's how I would lay out a neg. Shelling and Extending of course, like a boss. 


1. Significance: BMD not the cause of deteriorating relations

2. Solvency/DA Bind: Not a substitute
   A) Russia views Gabala radar as a substitute for BMD
   B) Gabala radar cannot replace European BMD: only compliment
   C) Impact scenario 1: Both plans go, no solvency
   D) Impact scenario 2: Only radar; Europe vulnerable

3. Solvency: Can't solve nuke buildup

4. DA: NATO allies
   A) Rejection of NATO BMD = Rejection of NATO as a defense mechanism
   B) Impact: Collapse of NATO confidence and operations

2NC: Extend Solvency/DA bind and Solvency
1NR: Extend NATO DA and Significance

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Better Impacting, Better Debating

Nowadays, it seems like there is an endemic problem with impacting. Half of the debate rounds I see these days become bogged down in mindless debates about evidence, context, dumb inherency, and little workability points. I'm not blaming negatives here: they run bad arguments, but affirmatives allow the round to be dumbed down to these issues as well. To get your debating back on track, start impact better. The wins will follow. Here's a short guide to impacting properly.

1) Know what an impact is!!!!
This is not an impact:

C) IMPACT: Russia Angry

REPEAT: This is not an impact.

Too often, I see debaters who think that a blanket tag like that is an impact, often when it matches the tag of the DA. Example, disadvantage: Angry Russia. Impact: Russia gets angry. The result of the plan is the advantage or disadvantage. The impact is the scenario that gives value to that result. Saying "Russia angry" has no intrinsic value.

Consider, even, human life. Saying that "people die" is not an impact. That's a disadvantage. An impact would give a value to this fact. The value, obviously, is that human life has an intrinsic value and must be protected.
Next time you think you are impacting, ask yourself this: Does your impact give a value to the argument? Does it present a reason why the plan should be valued or not based on the result? Break it down. Show the value, or the judge is left wondering why they should care about the argument.

2) An Impact doesn't win!
There will never be a debate round where your opponent is wrong about everything. I guarantee that a remotely competent negative team WILL win a few of their arguments, and a remotely competent affirmative team WILL have a few cool parts of their plan. You won't win just by saying "Hey! I have impacts! So, vote for me. Kthnxbai." 

If you stop impacting at the impact, you will lose. Assuming your opponent read this blog and does number 3.

If there is one thing that I could drill into everyone's head and make them do every round, it would be weighing, or comparing the impacts of each side's arguments. Think of it just like actual weighing. Pile each side's impacts up, and see who wins. Here are the things to remember when weighing:

A) Magnitude/Severity: To begin, straight up compare the size of the impact. If the advantage is making friends with Russia, but the DA is losing all of our other friends in Europe, the DA is bigger and outweighs the advantage.

B) Timeline: Look at long run versus short run impacts. Here's an example:

Advantage: Stable Russian partnership on Iranian nuclear sanctions.
Disadvantage: US loses leverage on Afghan basing rights.

These are two legit impacts. However, in this case, the affirmative wins because of short run versus long run. Losing ground on Afghan basing rights is a short run impact that we can find solutions to. It's not going to be a major issue five years down the road. On the other hand, a long term framework for Iranian sanctions has impacts way down the road as we work to deny Iran nuclear materials. Aff wins on long term impacts.

C) Probability: This is straightforward. Which argument is more likely to happen? If the argument with a slightly large impact is less likely to happen, it may not weight as strongly.  Think of something like this:

Advantage: Better missile defense
Disadvantage: Russia abandons START

While START may be a large Impact, Russia has expressed a great commitment to the treaty. Thus, the risk of them withdrawing is quite small compared to the sure thing of a missile defense system. 

D) Solvency: This always goes affirmative. Does the advantage solve the disadvantage? For example, if the Aff claims that we will lose a military supply line through Turkey, but the affirmative team provides a better supply line through Russia, the DA is shot. If the affirmative provides an alternative to the loss from the DA, the Advantage always outweighs. 

E) Morality: A moral imperative can outweigh a pragmatic one. This is a pretty easy thing to grasp. If the aff saves a bazillion dollars, but they do so by killing millions, it's probably a bad idea. Just saying.

Use these concepts and guidelines to place the arguments in a framework that will matter to the judge. The arguments need to have a value for anyone to care about them. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Juggernaut #1: Bio-terror Warning

Aight. My favorite case of the year. The basic premise is that biological attack is an international threat because diseases transcend borders. If you don't nip an attack in the bud, it spreads and impacts other countries. Protect Russia, protect America. 

Juggernaut Rankings:
  • Significance: 10
  • Solvency: 9
  • Judge Appeal: 10
  • Topicality: 10
  • Researchability: 10
  • In-Round Debate:10
  • Composite Ranking: 9.83

Russia has a little problem with terrorists. They actually have more terrorist attacks than we do. Moreover, their terrorists are substantially more sophisticated and thus dangerous. There have been chemical attacks, terrorists caught with or attempting to steal WMD materials, and known biological operations. These guys are nasty. The problem is that if Russia is ever attacked with biological agents like Small Pox or Plague, the disease would spread to America within a matter of days. We would become collateral damage of an attack. The plan expands an early warning program under CTR to monitor Russian nodes of transportation, commerce, and population in order to provide the US with early warning. 

You have access to 1 harm. Fortunately, it is the biggest harm there is: Biological attack. Quite simply, biological attack is the biggest threat in the world. A terrorist with a nuke, crazy Iran with a nuke, full blown World War 3 would not be as bad as a smallpox attack. The disease would spread, killing millions, and leaving the survivors sterile. It would be undetectable: as simple as opening a vial in a subway or coughing on someone. The attack is silent, deadly, unstoppable, and has the potential to kill in the order of billions of people if it got going. 

Solvency Mechanisms
Here's where the case becomes really good, IMO. The US has an epic program called Bio-Watch, which is a system of integrated sensors that can literally smell the disease in the air. This might not sound big, but it is. It's the difference between diagnosing and understand the attack as it happens, and waiting until people check in to the hospital and die. As it stands, if Russia was hit with smallpox, they wouldn't even know until someone was diagnosed in the hospital a week after the attack. Bio-Watch lets us know as it happens. Real Time vs 1 week delay. That's big because it allows us to begin vaccinations, quarantines, and other programs to counter the spread right away, instead of once it's too late. 

It's specific to Russia because Russia is the only country that faces such a high-tech and developed terror threat. If a bio-terror attack happens, it will happen in Russia. 

Possible DAs
I haven't heard any yet. No joke.

Small Pox. It floats into Mordor. 
Scared yet?