Jan 10, 2010

economic sanctions as politics by other means

Regarding the economic sanctions resolution, I'm amazed by how many Affirmatives cite the definition of economic sanctions without considering its consequences--and, for that matter, how many Negatives get away with framing sanctions as a moral response to tyranny or proliferation.

For instance, I've heard sanctions defined as "economic penalties imposed for political purposes," or as "Restrictions upon international trade and finance that one country imposes on another for political reasons." These are great definitions for the Aff. Consider that the resolution says that economic sanctions "ought not be used to achieve foreign policy objectives." (And remember that the burden is to prove the resolution true, or false, as a general principle.) This means the Aff can lay a burden on the Neg to prove that foreign policy objectives, as a general rule, justify the use of economic sanctions. Yet I've seen few Negatives that address the overall objectives of foreign policy, other than preventing human rights abuses and nuclear proliferation.

Surely these are not the only objectives of foreign policy; not only is foreign policy a vast entity, but no single nation is implicated! In fact, it might be argued that for most nations, sanctions, for the most part, are a means of keeping their enemies in check. There are no guarantees that political goals are either legal or moral, especially when the Neg cedes to an Aff definition like the one cited above.

It gets worse for the Negative if trade sanctions aren't distinguished from economic sanctions. Then we have a much broader debate about how powerful players keep weaker countries in line. Then sanctions become a tool of economic oppression. (This also makes the free trade argument that much stronger.)

Much better definitions of sanctions, for the Negative, include...
* International Law. action by one or more states toward another state calculated to force it to comply with legal obligations.

* A penalty, specified or in the form of moral pressure, that acts to ensure compliance or conformity.

* A coercive measure adopted usually by several nations acting together against a nation violating international law.
The first and third make it a legal matter, rather than a political matter; the second makes it a moral matter. Either way, you're at least working to avoid the charge that sanctions are, like war, in Clausewitz's famous formulation, merely "the continuation of politics by other means."


Kit said...

Does the sanctioning country restrict all trade to the target country (excluding food and medicine, of course), or on a specific group of goods or people (ex: arms embargoes)? Or can economic sanctions be both cases?

Jim Anderson said...

Kit, that's one of the biggest questions about this resolution. Nothing in the resolution limits the Affirmative to discussing only "targeted" sanctions (or to the Negative claiming only "targeted" sanctions are up for discussion). You can make an argument that to do so is "conditional negation," an unfair way of limiting the Aff's ground. (On the other hand, the Neg can argue that "targeted" sanctions are the way of the future--that broad-based sanctions are essentially obsolete.

Anonymous said...

Actually, it's probably much more useful for the negative to avoid defining sanctions as an affair between states and leaving it open as to who may be sanctioned - state definitions can be exploited by affirmatives to keep many targeted sanctions out of the round... such as those against front companies for terrorist organizations or specific state regime officials.

Jim Anderson said...

anonymous, that's a good point. Define your terms carefully, everyone.

Opal said...

I asked my coach about this "do the objectives justify the sanctions" point, and she said that there would be hardly any debate if you didn't have to assume the foreign policy objective was desirable. What do you think?

Also, are there any examples of effective, non-innocent-harming alternatives than sanctions?

Jim Anderson said...

Opal, I respectfully disagree. It isn't whether the objectives are desirable that matters; it's the nature, scope, and range of the objectives.

Remember that we're attempting to establish the resolution's truth as a general principle. In other words, if we look at the general range of desirable foreign policy objectives, and line it up with the range of sanctions, we might find a small subset of objectives that justify sanctions--genocide or proliferation, for instance. But how many desirable foreign policy objectives involve preventing genocide? By letting the Negative frame the debate entirely in terms of extremes, the Affirmative cedes too much ground.

Consider an analogy:

One ought not use trepanation to achieve medical goals.

There may be an instance or two in which trepanation is medically useful, but, by and large, the practice is dangerous bunkum. Even if all medical goals are desirable, the vast majority of them to not justify the practice. Hence, the resolution is false.

Or perhaps my thinking is fuzzy and I need to bore a hole in my skull. Is that a known cure for fallacious reasoning?

anonymouse said...

If you ran a Neg with a value of morality (or somesuch) and a value criterion of maximizing human life, would you get assaulted by Iraq statistics and have to hide under the iffy-ness of targeted sanctions? Same for effectiveness? I can't find very much on them--all I have is excuses for rebuttals, and I'm pretty worried.

Jim Anderson said...

anonymouse, there are several responses here, with varying degrees of evidentiary support.

1. There is the "targeted sanctions" reply, which you can warrant as the present and future of sanctions, the lesson learned after Iraq.

2. There's the argument that Iraq's authoritarian government inflated statistics to make sanctions seem worse, or used sanctions as an excuse for its own failures or oppression of its citizens.

3. There's the argument that sanctions are the only efficacious alternative to war, which is generally far more destructive.

There may be other responses out there, too. Those are the first three that spring to mind.

Jayme said...

I've found the Neg very hard to argue... This weekend (@ Federal Way), I lost 2/3 of my negs and won my Affs. The Negative has such a burden, because it's so easy to prove that Economic Sanctions are unmoral.

I'm thinking about changing my case to more philosophy.. but I don't know how to run a Neg on it. Do you have any suggestions?

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking of running multiple cases due to the fact that ohio's state and national qualifiers use the same resolution and we have a rather tight and I was wondering what peoples thoughts where on this Value/ Value criterion pairing

Value: Human Worth, the qualities that distinguish humans from objects

VC: Limiting State Power

thus I'm arguing that economic sanctions offer inherent limitations of human worth for three main reasons that will be my contentions, once I write them.

Contention 1
Economic Sanctions treat people as a means to an end denying them of their humanity (I'm thinking thoreau, emerson, or kant on this)

Contention 2
Economic sanctions deny people of their economic rights which are part of a humans worth as an individual

Contention 3
Economic sanctions have the perverse effect of bolstering totalitarian states which are themselves inhibitors of human worth(eg Cuba, N. Korea)

I was wondering what people thought of this as a case in general

Any comments are appreciated

Jim Anderson said...

Jayme, there are several directions the Neg can go, and I'm curious which you took--that would help us know why it wasn't effective.

For instance, a consequentialist case can be made that sanctions are morally preferable to war. (The key here is to get the Aff, in CX, to either admit that war is moral, or face the consequences of a pacificist position.)

Anonymous, your contentions seem fine; but I'm not sure how 1 and 2 link into your criterion. Especially since the Neg could turn the argument by arguing that sanctions can definitely limit state power--of another (totalitarian?) state, at least.

Jayme said...

I took the consequentialist approach. Thanks for the CX pointers.

But, couldn't the Aff argue that the resolution is only arguing E.S., and not the morality of war? So therefore, a consequentalist approach would be irrelevant and ineffective.(?)

Jim Anderson said...

Not at all. Foreign policy objectives and economic sanctions don't exist in a conflict-free vacuum.

Consider the UN Security Council's own reasoning on the matter:

The use of mandatory sanctions is intended to apply pressure on a State or entity to comply with the objectives set by the Security Council without resorting to the use of force. Sanctions thus offer the Security Council an important instrument to enforce its decisions. The universal character of the United Nations makes it an especially appropriate body to establish and monitor such measures.

The Council has resorted to mandatory sanctions as an enforcement tool when peace has been threatened and diplomatic efforts have failed. The range of sanctions has included comprehensive economic and trade sanctions and/or more targeted measures such as arms embargoes, travel bans, financial or diplomatic restrictions.

Even within the human rights framework established by the UDHR and the UN charter, economic sanctions are viewed as a legitimate tool to coerce states.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I'm new to this blog, and love LD!
For my neg case for this topic I'm using Nietzsche's philosohpy on morals, but I can't think of a good criterion other then utilitarianism, and I really don't like using that one.... do you have any ideas? (I have a debate at 2:00 today :D)

Anonymous said...

I was wondering how one goes about placing a burden on the negative side in their Aff case. I like the idea, but have no idea how to do it--Im the captain of my school's LD team and we have no help from the school's debate coach because she only does Policy.

Jim Anderson said...

Anonymous 1, sorry I couldn't get to your question in time. (I teach during the day.) How did Nietzsche treat you?

Anonymous 2, usually burdens are placed at the top of the case, as an observation. "Observation: the negative has the burden to prove..." What sort of burden(s) did you have in mind?