Jan 3, 2010

the sanctions dilemma

Regarding the 2010 Jan/Feb resolution, the U.S.'s potential response to the ongoing crisis in Iran is a perfect contemporary example of the sanctions dilemma.
U.S. and allied officials have been in discussions for months about how to impose economic penalties on Tehran to discourage it from continuing with a uranium enrichment program that the West believes is aimed at developing a nuclear bomb.

But as the Iranian government's crackdown has taken a growing toll on the opposition movement, officials are increasingly concerned that broad sanctions harming ordinary citizens would appear harsh to the outside world and would risk alienating parts of the population with which the West seeks to establish common cause.

The discussions are now aimed at making the sanctions "as narrow as they can be," said a senior State Department official who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the talks.
This points to a potential Negative line of argument against Affirmatives who base their advocacy on the harms of broad sanctions. (In fact, much of the literature against sanctions assumes broadly-imposed penalties--a fact that might be quite important to raise in CX.) How I've seen it done:

1. The Aff's harms are based on wide-ranging, broad sanctions.
2. 21st century sanctions, however, are targeted and narrow.
3. Thus the primary reason to deny the use of sanctions is obsolete.

The problem, though, is that narrow sanctions have a much lower chance of success (and, it could be argued, less valuable as a deterrent), not only because they are narrower, but because of a critical lack of information. Going back to the Iran example:
Ray Takeyh, who was an administration advisor on Iran earlier this year, agreed that it was now desirable to make the sanctions as "discriminating and selective as possible."

But Takeyh said that doing so would be difficult because the world has so little information on the inner workings of the Iranian economy that it is difficult to calculate the social effects of any economic sanction.

Targeting "surgically... may just not be possible," he said. "And if it isn't, you might want to rethink how you do it and whether you want to do it at all."
This is not an in principle objection, however; is there another line of attack?

One way is to argue that since the resolution doesn't specify "targeted" sanctions, that the Negative must defend broad sanctions as well, or otherwise they're "conditionally negating," adding words to the resolution and ignoring the general principle. After all, nothing limits the use of broad sanctions in the Neg world--especially if they're seen as a moral (or less immoral) alternative to war. (Usually it's the Aff who's accused of "conditional affirmation"--but this is one of those "ought not" resolutions where the Neg is really affirming the morality of sanctions.)

Another line of argument for the Neg is the "toolbox" argument: that the Affirmative would remove critical tools, including targeted sanctions, from the government's disposal. This would lead to a second dilemma, this time for the Affirmative: without the carrot and stick of economic sanctions, the government is left with a feather of noneconomic sanctions and the bloody spike of war.

8 comments:

Lucia said...

An experienced debater I know said to mention in my Neg. case that sanctions were often placed on Communist countries & tried to promote democracy. Would that really be a strong enough point for a Neg. case?

rockrgirl said...

@Lucia The problem is sanctions have often not worked in creating democracy. This argument is easily turned, because sanctions often have had the effect of creating more repression. Try a Durry paper titled Economic Sanctions and Democracy. If you post your email I can send you this and another for some other evidence.

Oregon Debater said...

There's a pretty large hole in the toolbox argument that would take it out entirely; if "ought" is defined as a moral choice, then the policy on sanctions would stay the same, they'd just me immoral if proved so. They're not necessarily going to be banned or somesuch.

Jim Anderson said...

Oregon Debater, I'd probably respond by arguing that, historically speaking, governments do bend to moral pressure. After all, they are human institutions, for and by humans, who make decisions in part based on morality. (The existence of international humanitarian law / the laws of war is evidence enough.)

So affirming the resolution leads to an "affirmative world" in which the use of sanctions is reduced, if not eliminated.

Anonymous said...

I fail to understand this response. In what cases have dictators bended to pressure based on their own moral issues? Dictators aren't necessarily concerned with the welfare of the populace. If we use sanctions on Iraq as an example, it is obvious that Saddam cares little about his citizens. Humans are not always going to act in the way that is most moral, despite the fact that most governments do.

Jim Anderson said...

anonymous, the point isn't whether dictators make decisions based on moral concerns--obviously the point of sanctions is that some folks require punitive measures to engage their self-interest. The point is that some nations / governments operate out of a moral calculus--and that *they* would stop using sanctions if sanctions were declared immoral.

(Now, if you want to make the argument that morality is a mask for self interest, and that nations will do whatever they please, despite the demands of morality--one strain of realpolitik--that's fine. But that seems like a self-defeating move for an affirmative trying to take down the toolbox argument. It makes "ought" essentially empty, and the Neg could argue that it would effectively falsify the resolution.)

Koreena said...

Hey Jim, it has been a while since I have talked to you but i need your help.

I know you bring up Broad and Narrow sanctions, but what EXACTLY is the difference. I think it is a good block for a conditionally negating neg but i cant do so until I really know what I am talking about

Jim Anderson said...

Koreena, the UN Security Council's Sanctions Committees website usefully distinguishes the two. As the website notes, targeted sanctions were developed out of humanitarian concerns--but again, the resolution doesn't limit "economic sanctions" to only targeted sanctions. (Plus, most of the evidence of the efficacy of sanctions is based on comprehensive sanctions.)