Aug 22, 2010

some thoughts on the (new) nuclear weapons resolution

The Aug/Sept 2010 resolution asks us to consider whether states (meaning national governments) ought to possess nuclear weapons. After mulling over some of the arguments, here are a few of my thoughts.

The AFF: Why shouldn't states possess nuclear weapons?

1. If states possess them, they will be tempted to use them, which leads to...
* Unjustifiable deaths of noncombatants--both now and in the future (thanks to fallout, "nuclear winter.") It doesn't take a sophisticated theory of Just War to argue that horrific civilian casualties are beyond the pale.

* Horrific environmental destruction, which is unjustifiable even if military use could somehow be justified.

2. Even if the nuclear weapons are not used...
* The potential for accidents, theft / terrorism, associated development and maintenance costs, future Terminator-esque robot uprisings (seems silly now, but wait a decade or two...) make the risks of possession too great.

* Possession leads inexorably to an arms race, increasing the risk and raising the stakes should conflict ever occur

* Possession increases fear and intimidation, not only of one's enemies or neighbors, but of one's own citizenry. This kind of fear is not only psychologically damaging, but fosters and empowers repressive governments.

*Possession sustains the perpetual hegemony of existing nuclear powers--hypocritically, they keep other nations from developing the technology they possess.

The NEG: Why shouldn't states not possess nukes? (I know, it's awkward--but the Neg doesn't have to make the case that states *ought to* possess nukes--only that it isn't wrong for them to possess nukes. Be sure to make that clear at the top of your case.)

1. There is no in principle objection.
a. Social contract theory at best offers flimsy grounds to prohibit powerful weaponry. Nuclear weapons are certainly frightening, but, historically, no more destructive than conventional weaponry. (Think about it for a moment: which has killed more civilians in the past 50 years?) Further, the social contract doesn't apply to non-citizens, which is sad, but necessary to a state's maintenance of its sovereignty and moral responsibility to its own citizens.

b. Another option: individual morality doesn't apply to states, which operate out of pragmatism and self-interest. (Call this "political realism" of a sort, or a Hobbesian view of sovereignty.)

2. Self-defense in a nuclear world requires nukes.
a. States need to defend themselves against other nuclear powers.

b. The only way to be safe without nukes is if no other country has them. That is an impossible scenario, pie-in-the-sky utopianism. "Mutual Assured Destruction" has worked, and will continue to work.

3. Similarly, smaller states need to level the playing field with more powerful nations--in their overall national security strategy, which includes more than just military might.

4. Nuclear weapons are an unfortunate side-effect of nuclear power, which is necessary to stave off global warming.

5. States have to be ready to protect themselves (and the planet) against existential threats (asteroids, space aliens, and the like). Right now, our best hope may be our most powerful weapons.

Some tough questions:

1. What moral rules bind states in the first place? It's likely that a strong debater can make the entire debate hinge on this question. It's the sort of thing that can be given away in CX if a debater isn't paying attention or hasn't thought their case through. If it's "the social contract," which social contract? A hypothetical or constitutional contract? Lockean or otherwise? If it's an absolute morality, is this morality consequentialist (utilitarian even) or not? Or do states even have to follow moral rules? (And if not, can the Aff still argue that "ought" need not necessarily be moral--that it can be pragmatic, and still to a state's advantage, to be nuke-free?)

2. What is an acceptable level of risk? Let's say that possessing nuclear weapons means a 1-in-a-something chance of starting World War III, and wiping out most of humanity. When is that risk too risky? One in a million? A billion? And how does the risk change when another nation proliferates, or disarms? Is such a risk even calculable? The Neg can hammer this question in CX. Without a bright line for risk assessment, even apocalyptic scenarios may lack argumentative force.

3. We also have to determine what the scope of affirmation must be--in other words, what the "Affirmative world" looks like. The Neg might try to press the Aff to support universal disarmament (see below), while the Aff might say the general principle of the resolution doesn't require all countries to abandon nukes--just that being nuke-free, as a general principle, is morally superior.

The NFL's LD rules are helpful here:
Each debater has the burden to prove his or her side of the resolution more valid as a general principle. No debater can realistically be expected to prove complete validity or invalidity of the resolution. The better debater is the one who, on the whole, proves his/her side of the resolution more valid as a general principle.

No absolute defense of total disarmament is necessary to meet this standard.  (If you're worried about this, you could include this language as a resolutional analysis at the top of your case.)

Coming soon: value and criterion pairs based on some of these arguments. As always, your comments, questions, and criticisms are welcomed.


Samuel said...

The neg can argue that there is no brightline to show what the actual risk of nuclear possession is, but can't the aff argue that the neg lacks a brightline to show that nukes actually have deterrence? Has it been long enough that the we can make that distinction, or should we (from the neg's position) just say that we have no choice but to use history as our reference?

As for the scope of the aff's world, is it possible to force the aff to verify the plausability of a universal disarm? From the NFL rules and your analysis, it seems that the aff wouldn't have to, they would just have to prove that a world with no state possession of nukes is better than a world WITH state possession of nukes...

Anonymous said...

3. Similarly, smaller states need to level the playing field with more powerful nations--in their overall national security strategy, which includes more than just military might.

So by this argument you mean running something like hegemony bad, nukes change system to multipolar right?

LA Coach said...

As a third subpoint to Negative 1, it could reasonably be argued that possession of any technology is a morally neutral issue. Consider the related question of "Are nuclear weapons morally wrong?". There is no real answer, since only the use of technology has a moral implication. There may be ample reasons not to use nuclear weapons, but the question of possession has no moral dimension and the resolution cannot be affirmed.

You would have to win a substantive argument separating possession from use, but that's not a bad argument to have to focus on.

The Observer said...

LA Coach. If you are denying any intention of use whatsoever, than why spend billions of taxpayer money to create the nukes?

Jim Anderson said...

Samuel, it's a bit of a fork for the Aff. If they say, "I don't have to advocate universal disarmament," then the Neg can say, "And that's exactly the problem: if nukes still exist, we need deterrence." But if the Aff says "All I have to prove is that a world without nukes is better...," then the Neg can plausibly argue that such a world is impossible. There's no "putting the genie back in the bottle," as the saying goes.

Anonymous, that'd be about the size of it.

LA Coach, going along with The Observer, I'd also say that it's not the technology but the possession. Possession requires making or buying a nuke, and in either case, using resources that could be allocated elsewhere, which, for states, is a moral question.

Matze said...

Hello Mr. Anderson,

Couldn't the case also be made in aff that if you negate and allow nukes as a moral option, then you must allow it to all states. The resolution doesnt distinguish between democratic states, totalitarian states or theocratic states. Therefore, if you negate, you are allowing for theocratic nations such as Iran to possess nuclear weapons. This throws the whole MAD theory out the window because states controlled by religious leaders often do not act rationally. (see medieval europe: crusades)

Jim Anderson said...

Matze, I think you can make that argument, although I'd only emphasize that irrationality is by no means confined to theocracies.

Matze said...

Okay thank you. I appreciate your blog very much btw... Im a high school debater who doesnt have a coach or any LD team mates so your help is appreciated.

As for your first point in affirmative: "If states possess them, they will be tempted to use them, which leads to..."

Is this a good assumption to stand upon? I mean, how do i go about proving that possessing nukes inevitably leads to the use of nukes later on? It would seem that I would have nothing to stand on if the negative pointed out I have no warrant for the above claim.

Do you think judges will buy my argument that possession -> use/temptation of use, regardless of what the neg says?

Anonymous said...

Where is a good place to find heg bad evidence? I checked policy stuff, and JSTOR but it was all US specific, so I couldn't really use it.

La Coach said...

I think we've just stumbled on one of the underlying issues in framing this resolution: Are we talking about proliferation, disarmament or both? Since the US has been in possession of nuclear weapons for the entire life of all current debaters and the majority of judges and coaches, I assumed that we're going to see more debates about disarmament. In asking about the pragmatic trade-off between acquiring/producing nuclear weapons and other state activities, you put the focus on proliferation.

To possess nuclear weapons (in a frame of US disarmament) is to do nothing. Even if the arsenal isn't maintained, active disposal is required to end possession. That's why we supported the Nunn-Luger program, which required a material trade off with other things that the state could be doing.

Thus, possession remains a separate question from use and production. The resolution does not ask whether states ought to use nuclear weapons or whether the state should use its resources to acquire them. It asks about possession. Google "Nuclear weapons are immoral" and you'll get more than 15,000 hits. The distinction between possession and use may seem like splitting hairs, but there is a distinct value to placing the moral importance on one rather than the other. We need to raise the public consciousness about morality and decision-making. We ought not let the large impacts of this resolution to lose sight of our analytical abilities.

A moral argument against possession precludes all possible use, under circumstances foreseen and unknowable. An argument for the moral neutrality of the technology suggests that there is no harm in non-disarmament as such (or armament, setting aside the question of appropriate use) and retaining the possibility of appropriate use under some future circumstance. The Observer asked if the moral neutrality argument could foreswear any possible use, and I would ask the same of the moral disarmament. Can we assume, in such a totalizing fashion, that there will never be a circumstance in which the deployment of nuclear warheads is right?

The possibility of deploying a nuclear weapons against an incoming asteroid may see like an unlikely possibility, but would the affirmative give on the infinite number of possible scenarios that might raise the question of use? I doubt any rational person would do so, and thus see more value in focusing the moral question on the use of nuclear weapons, rather than their simple existence.

Anonymous said...

Hi, this is my first year in varsity LD and I have run into a question that I am having trouble answering. When valuing morality, how would one answer arguments saying that "a government is not a moral actor" or that "states only act in self interest"

Thanks in advance

Addictedtocoffee said...

Hi new anonymous. I'm new to varsity too, and super nervous about it. From my experience running realism with the sanctions topic (which also had ought) the idea is you don't have to value morality. Ought isn't inherently moral. If you define it as desirability you will have much more ground as neg, and then you can run realism and other positions like that. :)

Jim Anderson said...

LA Coach, thoughtful analysis.

I think it is absolutely critical to parse the precise meaning of the word "possess." It can indeed be argued that the only two ways to fulfill the resolution are to refuse to proliferate (for those states that don't currently possess) and to disarm (for states that do).

I quibble a bit with your claim that to possess for the U.S., at present, is to "do nothing." It is indeed a "status quo" situation, but it requires a highly skilled workforce to secure, maintain, and keep on alert the warheads that hibernate in silos and submarines. Nuclear warheads degrade over time, so to literally "do nothing" is itself a form of de facto disarmament.

And that's presuming a lot about the nature of the states in question. The resolution isn't limited to democratic, fairly stable, technologically advanced nations with developed security structures and membership in international organizations.

Anonymous, great question. If you're defending a value of morality against realism, you can use many arguments, including some based on the social contract (that governments are beholden to their citizens), or by arguing against a corporate definition of morality. In other words, in CX (or wherever you make the argument) point out that states aren't magical entities, but are made up of citizens and government agents. Those are people, and people have moral obligations, whether acting individually or as a member of a group.

Anonymous said...

I thank you very much for doing thi blog because it helped me as a first year debater make to NCFL Nationals. What I basically saying is that you are a genius and keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking of using defense as my neg value and arguing that a states only moral obligation is the protection of its people. Would this work along side a realism case?

Anonymous said...

I am having trouble with the aff because it seems that in order to affirm, you must concede that the country is leaving itself completely vulnerable. At that point, how can it provide for it's citizens? Any thoughts?

Jim Anderson said...

Anonymous 1, that's fantastic! And, you're welcome.

Anonymous 2, sort of. The supreme value of a realist, if such can be said, is "prudence." It means acting cautiously to preserve the state's power in a Hobbesian "war of all against all." It's not really in terms of a moral obligation, though, but rather self-interest. (Those can sometimes be coextensive, of course, but to a realist, moral concerns are, at best, instrumental to power concerns.)

Anonymous 3, nothing in the resolution would prohibit non-nuclear states from possessing powerful weaponry (frickin' laser beams, anyone?) to defend against, or even pre-empt, nuclear powers. (And who knows what kind of weapons will be developed in the future.) There are all sorts of reasons for nuclear states to be very, very cautious about using them--especially in our globalized time.

Anonymous said...

What would be a good vc for a deterrence nc with a value of national security?

Anonymous said...

Couldn't you run something on the Aff saying that the world is already moving towards disarment, so obviouldy its the right direction. And you could maybe bring up the treaty that the US and Russia signed saying they had to reduce their nuclear weapons by a third.

Anonymous said...

what can be an actual and precise definiton for 'governmental legitimacy" as a value for the AFF

Rainey said...

First Jim, I just want to say thanks for all of the work you do to help people like me. Literally, you're website is one of my biggest thought provokers.
Now two things debate-related. One: What the heck do you say to people who spend their entire six minute case talking about why Wyoming shouldn't have nukes?
Two: Do you have any AFF point of views? Like, some positions I could take? There are a lot for Neg in this post, but I've noticed Aff is a lot harder.

Jim Anderson said...

Rainey, in response to your first question, perhaps you should start your CX with "I am so sorry for you..."

Kidding. It is a potential interpretation of the word "states," in which case you had better either have a better one with warrants to defeat it, or you had better have arguments for why Wyoming can possess nukes.

It's not inconceivable, either. Consider the fact that the Ukraine inherited Soviet nukes after the fall of the USSR, by virtue of the fact that the nukes were stored in the Ukraine so they could more easily reach European targets. What would happen if the U.S. were to split into smaller nations, and the new country of Wyomingland was stuck with a small nuclear stockpile? It's not so farfetched. Or maybe I watch too much television.

Secondly, I think there are all kinds of AFF perspectives. Utilitarianism (nukes, whether through war or accident, will destroy more than they could ever save). Pacifism (war is wrong, and nuclear war is the worst kind of wrong). Environmentalism (nukes are just too dangerous). Libertarianism (nuclear weapons make the State too strong). Feminism (nukes are masculinity run riot).

Anonymous said...

I'm having a really hard time with my neg case. Can you give me some advice about how to elaborate more on "self-defense in a nuclear world require nuclear weapons" ? I can't seem to get any more information than just the straight-forward "every state should have nuclear weapons for defense"-kind-of-thing. Thanks for everything.

Jim Anderson said...

You might hit up Google Scholar or Proquest (or another database) with the search phrase "nuclear umbrella." It'll give you info on the various alliances of nuclear and non-nuclear states, where one state guarantees protection to another in the event of nuclear attack. It's a way to expand deterrence without proliferating, and another angle on the Neg.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't number 4 for the negative raise a topicality argument?

This is about nuclear weapons, not nuclear power.

Jim Anderson said...

If nukes are an inevitable consequence of nuclear power, maybe not. But it's a tendentious argument, and easily the weakest of the bunch.