Jan 20, 2008

tricky phrases in the nuclear weapons resolution

What does it mean to "pose a military threat?"

That's a question I mulled over this past weekend, as I listened to affirmatives and negatives try to parse the complexities of the nuclear weapons resolution.

There's no easy, or good, answer, for either side.

1. In one view, "pose a threat" and "threaten" are semantically distinct. To threaten is to demonstrate intent to harm. The locus of agency is the person or entity making the threat.

To "pose," in the context of "posing a threat," (or its semantic cousin "posing a risk") is to come to one's attention. The locus of agency is the person or entity who feels threatened.

2. This would make "pose a threat" a more subjective concept. It would be up to the threatened to show why, say, France poses a military threat, even if France hasn't made an express warning or action against a particular nation.

3. But an affirmative might say that this reading of the resolution takes away too much Aff ground. If, as many seem to be assuming, "pose" means to "present," the locus of agency returns to the threatener. "Pose a military threat" and "militarily threaten" would mean the same thing.

So, as I see it, Affs want a narrow view of "pose a military threat," or else they are stuck defending military force in response to another nation's mere possession of a military.

What does "prevent the acquisition of" imply, if anything?

An affirmative could also narrow the resolution by arguing that "prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons" implies that the nations in question are not already armed with nukes. Two reasons:

1. The word "prevent." As Webster's notes, "prevent implies taking advance measures against something possible or probable." If a nation already possesses nukes, prevention is too late; nuclear weapon acquisition is already "actual," instead of "possible" or "probable."

2. The ever-shrinking Affirmative ground. Saying that the resolution encompasses nations that already possess nuclear weapons gives the Neg too many angles of attack in a resolution already heavily Neg-weighted, because of the ridiculous number of words and phrases that require Aff definition.

Your thoughts and comments, as always, are welcome.


LD n00b said...

I think its importand to focus on pose a military threat to what? Pretty much everyone poses a threat to keeping everyone in the military alive, because anyone could kill at least 1 american soldier if they really wanted too. Likewise, noone poses a threat to the existance of american armed forces, because no one (at least before aquiring nukes) could hunt down and kill every last American soldier. Obviously, the reality is somewhere beetween the extreems, but figuring out where could be key. Proublem is, I don't know where to start.

I wonder if someone could do a kritik based on posing a threat being subjective? A neg could say that, because of this, an aff is justifying the invasion of any nation, and an aff could say that justice is also subjective and justice concerns itself with the judging of subjective values.

Anonymous said...


appreciate the work youre doing, as always

but i was wondering about my neg... i have a value of justice and my whole case is based around the charter of the UN and i explain how it is the ultimate authority of just matters in the world... but i had trouble coming up with 2 contentions... i have one solid one but i was wondering if you had any ideas for another one?

Jim Anderson said...

anonymous, it's tough to know without actually seeing your case. Email?

le radical galoisien said...

Doing a scrimmage run tomorrow.

I am going to base my case on the criterion of self-determination with justice as a value (would it be risky to have it the other way round?)

Using the concept of the international social contract, it has become unjust for one nation to violate another nation's right to self-determination, drawing an analogy to the domestic social contract where we agree not to kill each other so that we may be mutually assured of the security of our lives for mutual benefit.

I am going to argue some quirky things I am concerned about: (these points are not organised by contention -- which is something I am worried about -- since the divisions of my argument into contentions seem rather arbitrary.)

I will define self-determination beyond the general idea of ethnic independence: it sounds a bit libertarianish: "the ability, whether collective or individual, of an entity to pursue its own way of life (pursue happiness, pursue prosperity, pursue its own defence policy...) as long as this does not infringe on the same ability of others.

A major component of international justice is the guarantee of self-determination -- i.e. it is unjust to violate it. The justness of an international action by one or more nations upon another can be evaluated by whether the right to self-determination is upheld.

1) Nations under a dictatorship, various abusive or genocidal regimes and so forth, have not respected their own citizens right to self-determination ("democracy"), and hence can hardly be trusted to abide by the same principles which constitute international law

2) Nations which have not respected the right to self-determination (e.g. those who have rejected it internally) enjoy reduced or no protection under the greater international law in terms of being guaranteed their right to self-determination; how can a State which has not granted its own people the right to self-determination be trusted to abide by the same principle in international law?

3) [This point came out as a revised rebuttal from a round, initially arguing that the US would be less prone to rash or irrational action] Nations with internal self-determination are more predictable, stable and internally just -- they can be trusted to respect the self-determination of others. (Kant's Democratic Peace Theory: democracies will rarely if ever attack other democracies)

[4.5? -- a point that can be used for both aff/neg) Decisions made by many entities tend to more accurate than decisions made by one (or a few) persons -- hence the inherent rationality of the world's democracies. This also supports the idea of the greater accuracy of a law formed by many nations instead of just one -- Neg can capitalise on this, but Aff I have chosen to say that the US can simply act on the behalf of international principle.]

4) Whereas in a dictatorship, the insanity of one person (*cough* Kim Jung-Il *cough*) or an oligarchy [including a theocratic one] can drive a non-respecting nation to war. Such nations that do not respect their own citizens' right to self-determination pose such a grave and general military threat on other nations' right to self-determination if sufficiently armed, and will pose an especially grave threat if allowed to acquire nuclear weapons.

5) It is just to intervene in such nations' affairs because these nations themselves do not respect the right to self-determination -- they have rejected the social contract idea of mutual self-determination. At the same time, intervention will remove major threats to other nations' self-determination.

This is analogous to not trusting felons with firearms; most people are allowed to own firearms, and most countries are normally not forbidden from owning nuclear weapons -- however just like felons' past histories make their ownership of guns risky and dangerous to other peoples' rights (to life, especially), nations who are known (from history to present) to rampantly trod over their citizens' right to self-determination [e.g. through repression and having an unfree society] cannot have firearms because past or present record have shown them to be an especial risk for nuclear weapons possession.

6) general contentions about using proportional military force; special forces may be used instead of invasions; it may be as simple as seizing a cargo ship en route to the non-respecting country

7) the US is not the only one allowed to enforce international law, but it is the one most capable; with prudence, it may choose to act unilaterally within the principles of international law, just like an able runner may choose to chase a snatch thief unilaterally (within the context of the laws of greater society) without waiting for the police to arrive.

Right now my main concern is the pre-emptive part: is it just to intervene in nations that have a high chance of breaking the social contract and say they gave up the right to be part of the social contract even though they haven't made a move on another country -- even though they might secretly desire to?

I am also trying to argue that nations that pose a military threat (which I have defined as "threatening to militarily infringe upon other nations' right to self-determination [i.e. "sovereignty"]) to other nations will be nations that themselves do not respect self-determination.

("World policeman" countries do not infringe upon self-determination in an invasion because the target nation failed to respect the principle -- please ensure I am not making a "No True Scotsman" fallacy here.)

Because these nations do not themselves respect self-determination, it would be just to intervene in them (they do not enjoy the same right) to deprive them of a weapon which pose such a grave and general threat to other nations' self-determination, often because of the very fact of lack of respect. (point 3) The right to self-determination, and thus justice, is upheld in situations where military force is required to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons of a non-respecting nation.

(Is my reasoning clear enough, or do I need to work on it? I am typing my case's principles from memory -- I fit many of these points into one contention. )

Jim Anderson said...

I wish I had more time to respond tonight, before your scrimmage, but I don't. I like the overall framework (for obvious reasons). The weaknesses are apparent, but surmountable.

"Right now my main concern is the pre-emptive part: is it just to intervene in nations that have a high chance of breaking the social contract and say they gave up the right to be part of the social contract even though they haven't made a move on another country -- even though they might secretly desire to?"

Use the Zupan analysis here: it would be morally irresponsible to wait until they possess The Bomb. Their track record (they're a threat, after all) ratchets up the probabilities so that inaction is criminal.

As you point out, there's a difference between justice and prudence. You don't have to prove that the U.S. *will* intervene in any pre-emptive situation, only that it is *just* to do so. Prudence dictates the level of threat analysis.

The one thing I'm wary of: the US's own poor track record at respecting international law.