Feb 24, 2011

value and criterion pairs for the Private Military Firms resolution

The Private Military Firms resolution presents plenty of framework options for the Aff and Neg.
Resolved: The United States is justified in using private military firms abroad to pursue its military objectives.
The following list of Value and Criterion pairs is neither conclusive nor comprehensive. Rather, it's a set of suggestions to spark your thinking. Feel free to share your bright ideas, constructive criticism, and questions in the comments.

A work in progress.

Trending Affirmative

V: National Security
C: Pragmatism / Bolstering defense forces
We ought to value national security because the resolution concerns whether PMFs can reasonably or legitimately be used to attain military objectives. Hence the oft-used "toolbox" metaphor: to maintain security, we have to keep all the necessary tools at our disposal. Limiting our options could be expensive, counterproductive, or disastrous to our military efforts. This position will likely clash with advocacies based on freedom or human rights, since valuing security as paramount tends toward oppression.

V: National Security and/or International Stability
C: Preserving Hegemony
If PMFs help the U.S. maintain military superiority and economic clout--and thus the global balance of power via American hegemony--then they're warranted. The hegemony argument suffers from a couple pitfalls: first, it may not be true (in a multipolar world full of dangerous nonstate actors and nontraditional, asymmetrical conflict, can the U.S. even stake claim to be a hegemon?), and second, even if it's true, whether hegemony is good is another matter entirely--racism, ethnocentrism, or patriarchy, anyone? Benevolence is often solely in the eye of the benefactor.

V: Prudence (defined as carefully weighing political options; see Morgenthau)
C: Political realism
The idea here is that the US must act in its best interests, which are independent of overarching moral considerations. Rather, the U.S.'s goal is to preserve its own power, charting a careful course in a chaotic, Hobbesian world. Realists generally denounce grand state-building / democracy-spreading schemes, however, so there may be a "turn" available: that realism demands a massive scaling-back of American military activity abroad.

V: Justice or Governmental Legitimacy
C: Constitutionalism
The Constitution not only provides a justification for national defense, but seems to permit the use of Private Military Firms. So far, I have yet to see a compelling analysis that PMFs are unconstitutional; if you've found one, pass along word.

V: Societal Welfare or National Security
C: Capitalism / Free Market
PMFs, like any other business, provide jobs to hardworking Americans (and foreign nationals). Further, PMFs are constrained by market forces, which keeps them from acting too recklessly or abominably (lest they lose clients). If you're debating in a progressive region and run this type of argument, expect to face the "Cap K."

Trending Negative

V: Peace
C: Reducing "Warism," Preventing Future Conflict; Pacifism; Isolationism
Duane Cady describes warism as "the uncritical presumption that war is morally justifiable, even morally required." PMFs incentivize conflict, since they have a financial stake in providing security or goods in war zones. When the war ends, PMFs have to move on to the next opportunity. Eisenhower's warning about the "military-industrial complex" anticipated this sort of perpetual conflict machine.

V: Justice or Morality or Governmental Legitimacy
C: Social Contract
The resolution uses the phrase "is justified," which may be defined in moral terms. The moral obligation of the State is based on its contractual duties and limits--and its monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Subcontracting this to PMFs is a dangerous policy, since PMFs are accountable to stakeholders who may not even be U.S. citizens or have the U.S.'s best interests in mind. In contrast, the U.S.'s citizen-soldiers have strong commitments to the U.S's military objectives; it's the focus of their recruitment, their training, their everyday life, and the entire command structure.

V: Justice or Morality
C: Just War Theory
If PMFs don't meet the criteria of jus in bello, we negate.

V: Freedom
C: Reducing the power of the state and/or corporations
The seemingly ever-expanding influence of corporations and states on individuals--and of corporations on states--means that we risk becoming a paternalistic plutocracy that defends its own interests in the guise of national security. Globalization, corporate welfare, financial bailouts... and PMFs, all in an unholy alliance.

V: Justice or Morality or Human Dignity
C: Protecting Human Rights
Thesis: If protecting human rights is essential to justice (or morality), and if PMFs (especially security firms) violate rights with impunity, then we must negate.

Could Go Either Way

V: Societal Welfare (or Morality or Life or National Security)
C: Consequentialism (or Utilitarianism, Act or Rule)
Any case predicated on a body count, a dollar figure, or any other quantifiable metric of success is essentially consequentialist (and perhaps utilitarian). Not that there's anything wrong with that.


Josh N. said...

Hello Mr.A,

First off I would like to thank you for this blog and the great blogging it has. Second of all let me tell you can drag first blog lookers like me. Now to the stuff I have 2 questions on. My questions are What is the Hegemony argument? and how can you run it effectively?(can you please attach some evidence)

Anonymous said...


What exactly does it mean that the affirmative has to prove the resolution true? Because truth can have various implications, and thus be proven differently. Also, truth can be abstract. So, considering all these various definitions, what exactly does it mean to prove the resolution true?

Jim Anderson said...

Josh, Niall Ferguson offers a decent summary of the concept here. Essentially, it's the capability of a dominant state to impose its will on others, through a combination of "hard" and "soft" power (in Joseph Nye's famous phrasing).

Anonymous, that's a surprisingly tough question, and the answer deserves a post of its own.

C said...

Jim do you see any potential arguments for purposes PSC's can serve in the United States? I was thinking about an Isolationism CP that keeps these firms in the US, but wasnt sure exactly what they could do to benefit the US without going overseas.

Anonymous said...


The resolution explicitly says "abroad", so I don't think that kind of argument would be topical.

Nick said...

Could you please explain Offensive Realism for me?

moriahjayy said...

What do you mean by the Cap K argument?

Jim Anderson said...

C, if an isolation CP is topical, it still must hurdle the objection that the PMFs that currently depend on the U.S. for contracts will now have to either radically reorganize their business model, or, worse, seek unsavory clients.

Nick, "offensive realism" is similar to Morgenthau's classical conception realism, with one major difference: the idea of "power maximization," that states are inherently unsatisfied with the status quo, and will always seek to further their advantage.

moriahjayy that would be the oft-cited "capitalism Kritik."

josh nigel said...

Ok i only have a basic understanding of jus in bello, but i dont really see how PMF violate it.

Jim Anderson said...

There are at least a couple ways to argue it:

1. PMF security groups are mercenaries, which are illegal under the laws of war.

2. PMFs aren't held accountable in the same way that soldiers are, so they're more likely to violate rights / the laws of war.

PJ said...

There are many arguments that PMFs are justified, but that they need reform, namely government regulation. My question is that: If a private company is subjected to heavy government regulation does it cease to become a private company but rather a public one?

C said...


The Iso CP is for the neg, saying that using PMF's abroad is bad, but using them in the US is good. So its topical for he neg. Just wasnt sure what purposes they could serve.

Jim Anderson said...

PJ, I'm not sure where the brightline between public and private lies, especially in these days of corporate bailouts. I'd like to say it has to do with who sits on the board of directors, and that regulation isn't quite the same as oversight, which itself isn't quite the same as outright control. But these are gradations on a spectrum, rather than well-delineated steps. (That said, while blue blends into green, no one normally confuses it for yellow--so the lack of a boundary doesn't have to mean there's no appreciable distinction.)

C, the vast majority of PMFs provide things like food, maintenance, etc. Their major advantages are flexibility and cost, and that they free up the military to focus on military matters / training / readiness.

Alex said...

Actually, the distinction between private and public corporations depends on whether or not they sell stocks to the general public.


Jim Anderson said...

Alex, to clarify PJ's argument (and my answer), both of us should've used "state-owned" instead of "public," since the latter word has multiple meanings in a corporate context.

Alex said...

Well if we use the phrase "state-owned," it makes sense that the only real way to say a state owns a corporation is probably whether or not it receives funding from the government, and not necessarily the amount of regulation that goes on. I feel like this opens up the argument that PMF's CAN'T be regulated too harshly because doing so could violate the rights of business owners as they try to run their company.

Jim Anderson said...

I'm certainly not helping clarify things, am I?

State-owned is one thing; state-run or state-managed another. Probably should have used the latter wording. (Or should I? After all, how much of a financial stake in a corporation is enough to be considered ownership? A majority? Tell that to partners who split 50-50. 10%? And when the government expects payment on a loan--as in the case of the auto bailouts--what then?)

And PMFs take it a step further.

When a corporation not only has to follow government regulations, but is completely dependent on government funding, and working for government aims (furthering military objectives), we have blurred the boundary between government entities and private corporations.

Or have we?

This reminds me of the corporate personhood debate from a few years back.

Anonymous said...

In terms of arguments for the aff, how feasible would it be to run an argument about how the use of PMFs would make the liklihood of a government instituting a draft decrease? And then you could argue on grounds of how a government instituting a draft is a violation of rights, or doesn't achieve Justice, etc. and the use of PMF decreases the probability of a draft

Anonymous said...

On the Neg, could you say that PMF's aren't justified because the United States' objectives abroad aren't justified?

Jim Anderson said...

First Anonymous, it's fairly feasible. Not to mention that the draft can be a grossly inefficient / ineffective way to augment a fighting force.

Second Anonymous, you could, but you'd have to be ready for the Aff response that the Aff doesn't have to justify the objectives--which are unspecified--but the use of PMFs as a general principle, irrespective of specific objectives (which could change at any moment).

Kepper said...


So, first off thanks sooooo much for doing all of this, you are awesome. I was wondering if you could help me out. Now for my Neg I have settled on V - Justice and for now a VC - Protecting Human Rights. I would prefer though to have it be like maintaining US's belief of what justice is, i know this would not fly thou. I was wondering if you could think of another VC along those lines, thats particular to the US. The big unaccountability argument, like half my case, has a big draw back with this Human Rights VC - the UN council would be brought up. Thanks again.

Jim Anderson said...

Kepper,just to be sure I correctly understand you, you're concerned that the UN can't hold PMFs accountable? That's the "drawback" of a case based on human rights?

jjcat10 said...

I was thinking of running a value of "government legitimacy" with a criterion of "increasing the efficacy of the US military," arguing that a more effective military better protects american ideals and thus would better legitimize government authority... do you think this would work out?

Jim Anderson said...

That could work; it could also be enough to have national security as a value in itself (warranted by the legitimacy argument--that a government is morally obligated to provide its citizens' security, because they have ceded some of their rights to it).

C said...

First, thanks for answering all my questions, this blog has been a great help. I have one more Q, how can US hegemony be a bad thing?

Jim Anderson said...

It could be viewed as ethnocentric or racist; it could foment global conflicts (because the U.S. then feels obligated to send troops into nations where it has no business being); it causes overreach; it overstretches our military; it puts troops at risk; it increases globalization / the spread of capitalism; it hurts the environment... and there are many other reasons, I'm sure.

Kepper said...

Maybe I was not clear. I am worried about running a human rights VC for neg case because I believe that my opponent will counter it by saying that the UN Human Rights Council stops human rights violations, so PMFs will not commit. I thought that I could get around this by making a VC like Promoting Human Rights but somehow specific to the US or just essential not saying human rights. I was wondering if you had any ideas.

Anonymous said...

Kepper- just find some 'UN (or any other organization) inneffective) evidence and you should be good.

Josh N said...


I was wondering if they're are any arguments that no-one has attacks against on aff.

Jim Anderson said...

Kepper, I agree with Anonymous. The UN's track record of protecting human rights isn't exactly stellar.

Josh, pretty unlikely. Even if such a thing were possible, folks would be a little hesitant to share it in public!

pmay14 said...

What are some hegemony arguments?

Anonymous said...

PMay14... hegemony creates world stabiklity, is necessary for peace, etc. Then, give resons why PMFs increase/are necessary for hegemony.

N said...

Hello! First off -- your blog is always so helpful, thank you. Secondly, Does this line of reasoning work with a value of peace and a criterion of preventing future conflict/pacifism?

War is bad (I'll elaborate on this, of course).

1. PMFs are businesses in a capitalist economy (the US).
2. The primary objective of businesses in a capitalist economy is to make money.
3. Therefore, the primary objective of PMFs is to make money.

4. The gov't employs PMFs most often in times of war.
5. So, in order to make the most money, PMFs will encourage (wc?) war.
6. War is bad (as I will have mentioned in my Value by this point), so PMFs are bad b/c they instigate (wc?) war.

Any feedback is greatly appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jim,

The Mark Cancian Paper said that the vast majority of PMFs are logistics based, like chefs in the cafeteria, what is a neg argument against those types of PMF's, in case the Aff argues for the justification of those PMFs in pursuing military objectives. Could the argument be made that those firms are not actually used to pursue military objectives, so it is irresolutional to worry about them, I feel like that is a weak argument.

Anonymous said...

Do you possibly have a definition for private military firms that would emphasize that their mercenaries? Thanks so much! you are a debate genius!

Jim Anderson said...

N, whether PMFs have the kind of power to encourage or prolong conflicts will be what you'll need to demonstrate most convincingly. It's one thing to say that they benefit from conflict--that's obvious--but if you can find evidence that through lobbying / political maneuvering, they have actually helped draw the U.S. into conflict (or extend present conflicts), you'll have a solid argument.

First Anonymous, you can make that argument, but that'd be similar to arguing that the Army's own logistics / supply corps aren't used to pursue military objectives. It's such a narrow reading of "use" and "pursuit" that I fear it won't be terribly persuasive.

Second Anonymous, Brooks and Shevlin's analysis seems to point to a definition that makes PMFs (in their terms, PMCs) a subset of "battlefield contractors" with a focus on direct conflict engagement. There are probably other options out there, too, if you do a little digging.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mr. A,

Can you explain the toolbox argument? How can we judge PMF's to not be moral in themselves, and if we judge them based on the intents behind their use, what if they're just inherently immoral tools?

C said...

N, I think you're using too many links. All you need to say is 1. PMF's operate for money, which is generated from wars, and 2. Thus, PMF's exacerbate war. That is faster and gives you less to defend.

Jim Anderson said...

Anonymous, the question should be turned around: how would you prove that PMFs are inherently immoral? And, more broadly, how would you prove that a tool has an inherent morality to it? For instance, a hammer can be used to build a house or to bash in a skull. Furthermore, it can be used to build a house for a genocidal dictator, or used to bash in the skull of an oncoming rapist. So... what is the inherent morality of the hammer, if there can even be such a thing?

Bob said...

can you give an example where PMFs violate the laws of war or jus in bello?

Olivia said...

How should I define morality if I'm using the Morality/Just War Theory combo?

Anonymous said...

my name is carlee, whats a good value to pair with efficiency

Jim Anderson said...

Bob, Google "Blackwater Baghdad" for the most infamous example.

Olivia, you'd want to define it as "right conduct" using some kind of objective standard like deontology. JWT, traditionally, is based on moral absolutism.

Carlee, national security.

Anonymous said...

What part of the Just War Theory do private military firms actually violate?

Jim Anderson said...

In the Bagdhad case, it was the unjustified killing of civilians. If PMFs (especially PSCs) aren't mercenaries (which is itself debatable), then the question isn't so much whether PMFs will violate the laws of war--because there's no guarantee they will--but if/how they can be held accountable when a violation happens, under the regime of international and/or domestic law.

Bob said...

wait I'm confused about the being held accountable stuff for the vc of just war theory. Could you clear it up a bit or give an example?

Anonymous said...

Would game theory be a viable option as a criterion? I've only actually heard it used as a criterion once, under the sanctions topic, and haven't heard it since. Is it ever a viable Criterion?

Jim Anderson said...

Game Theory is a large set of theoretical approaches to conflicts, that is largely descriptive rather than normative. It has several epistemic hurdles: defining the utility of the various outcomes, accounting for all the possible choices without oversimplifying (i.e., not being so simple as to be useless, or so complex as to be unwieldy), and perhaps the greatest problem of all: determining the rationality of the agents playing the game, since this alters the strategic approach of the players in what can be a vicious circle.

The SEP has a lengthy, useful introduction to the concept (written at a slightly advanced level).

If you feel you understand it and can make it understandable to a judge, then more power to you.

Anonymous said...

Mr Anderson,

Fir my negative case, I'm arguing that PMFs are wasteful, unchecked, and cause a lot of fraud. The book-keeping is horrible as well, and it's hard to pin them down. What exactly would work as a core value? Efficiency comes to mind, but that seems to be popular as an Aff criterion. Accountability doesn't really fit with the idea they need to be completely ruled out. Any help?


Jim Anderson said...

Accountability can work, if you talk about it in terms of the Social Contract and the chain of command (since the military reports to the President and is authorized / funded by Congress). And you don't have to completely rule out their use; your burden is to prove that they aren't justified as a general principle.

Anonymous said...

You say that the Constitution supports the use of PMFs, could you tell me where?

Anonymous said...

Hello Mr.A I'm lawrence from the el paso texas i have a question.

I've never debated LD before and I'm trying to write a case based on Prudence and political realism. I've been reading for hours and still can't find a way of applying this pair to the resolution can you help?

Jim Anderson said...

First Anonymous, it's not so much that the Constitution provides for PMFs (although some read that into the bits about "letters of marque and reprisal"), but that nothing in the Constitution forbids the use of PMFs. In other words, Congress has the power to declare war and the obligation to "provide for the common defense," and PMFs represent a legitimate, Constitutional way to do that.

Second Anonymous, would you be using Political Realism for the Aff or the Neg? It makes a big difference.

Anonymous said...

Im thinking I'm gunna use for affirmative

Jim Anderson said...

That can work; prudence (the supreme value of classic realism, as espoused by Morgenthau) would seem to dictate that the U.S. keep its options open, including the use of PMFs.

However, there's the danger of realist turn for the Neg.

For a realist, in the anarchic, Hobbesian world, the U.S. has to chart a careful course to preserve its status and security. In general, according to realists, nations should hesitate to intervene internationally, especially not in the service of grand democracy-spreading or nation-building projects.

Hence, the Neg might argue that PMFs encourage intervention, and thus violate prudence.

Justin said...

You talk about PMFs being upheld in the constitution, could you specify where in the Constitution that is said or implied?

Jim Anderson said...

Article I, section 8.

Adolph said...

I am gonna be running Government Legitimacy as my criterion, but i still dont know about my value.

Here let me tell you about my framework.

So I defined pursue and justified to make my case into the theoretical use of private contractors.

I found great justifications for government legitimacy through the Constitution.

So what value do you think would work better?

Justice, Constitutionality?

So basically, its a case about the theoretical use of PMF and their Constitutional justifications.

Jim Anderson said...

Either use justice or governmental legitimacy as your value, and Constitutionality as your criterion. After all, if the agent of action is the government, and its contractual obligations (justice / legitimacy) are spelled out most clearly and concretely in the Constitution, then that's what we should use to weigh the merits of the government employing PMFs.

Anonymous said...

on the neg, do you think I could run a VC of upholding government's control over its military?

Jim Anderson said...

You could; you'd have to frame it in terms of necessity, though, as it might be considered too narrow or insufficient depending on your value.

Leigh said...

I appreciate this website times a billion.
Could you use utilitarianism or some such value for the negative while using public welfare as the criterion? Or would I need to reverse the two? Basically, would it make sense or are they kind of both values?

Ese said...

Does international law prohibit PMFs? And if so, if US employed PMFs technically fall under that jurisdiction?

Jim Anderson said...

Mercenaries are prohibited... but are PMFs mercenaries? (I'm not aware of any international cases pointing in that direction.)

Even if they were prohibited under international law, there are at least two hurdles to clear: whether the U.S. ought to respect international law, and, even if it ought, what potential harms would result if it doesn't (especially if the U.S. can't be held accountable, practically speaking).

Anonymous said...

Hey Mr. A

So I was wondering what you think is the the affs and negs strongest point.
i was also wondering where could you find evidence on this topic. i was looking on google ,and its really hard to pin point certain things.
last question,should the negative side even mention black water. i thnk this topic would be a major issue for negative. what are your ideas on this and thanks so much.

Jim Anderson said...

anonymous, honestly, there will never be one unassailable point for either side, but if you can win the framework, the constitutionality argument is tough to beat; it's tough to prove that PMFs are unconstitutional. (And remember that the Constitution also provides a moral / contractual warrant for strong national defense, which links into necessity-based arguments.)

On the Neg, I'm starting to like the kritik-esque argument based on the potential for corruption, plus the risk of perpetual war, especially since President Obama declared Libya a "kinetic military action," almost as if reading from the script discussed here.

Blackwater and rights abuses may play into this, but are also potentially nonunique since the law is changing to reduce the gray areas contractors used to operate within.

Jo Ann said...

So, are there any philosophers that can help the affrmative?

Jim Anderson said...

Locke and Hobbes, in particular, have strong words about the State's moral obligation to defend the rights (and lives) of its citizens.

EagleDebator0720 said...

Before I ask, I wanted to say that I haven't read through all the comments, and I have only read Mr. Anderson's post, so if my question has already been answered, I'm unaware.
Anyways I wanted to know what proof or argument there is saying that PMFs are constitutional. Or where I can go to find it.

Jim Anderson said...

I'd strongly suggest reading the comments--especially those just above your comment.