Feb 1, 2014

Resolved: Placing political conditions on humanitarian aid to foreign countries is unjust.

The National Speech and Debate Association (formerly the National Forensic League) has released the March-April 2014 Lincoln-Douglas debate topic.
Resolved: Placing political conditions on humanitarian aid to foreign countries is unjust.
There's a lot to consider, from the meaning of "political conditions" (are we talking about free elections, regime change, partisan bickering, or all of the above?) to the standard for justice. The word "foreign" invites analysis of international and domestic legal frameworks for aid, but without a specified agent of action, should we focus on US aid efforts, throw the EU in the mix, consider the UN the focus, or debate abstract principles? Is there a difference in the interests of state actors and private agencies?

Of course, you can expect much of the debate to boil down to frameworks. For instance, my immediate inclination is to take a Kantian stance, arguing that using humanitarian aid as political leverage treats suffering citizens of other countries as mere means to an end. Consequentialism may point us in entirely different directions, though, especially since humanitarian aid has been diverted by bad actors, fueled corruption and state capture, and isn't necessarily effective in the long run.

A few countries and regions that spring to mind include North Korea, the Sahel, the Central African Republic, Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine, Haiti, and Myanmar. Agencies include USAid, ECHO (the world's largest donor, according to their website), UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, and more. Many more.

These are just a few thoughts at the onset. Watch this space in the coming weeks for links, analysis, and value and criterion pairs, and, as always, feel free to pose ideas and questions in the comments.

1. I take a closer look at potential agents of action in the resolution, and their strategic implications.

2. How should "political conditions" be defined in the resolution?

3. Does humanitarian aid forestall political solutions?

4. A list of value / criterion pairs to get you started, if that's your thing.

5. Two external links you might find useful: Stanford's article on International Distributive Justice, and IEP's on Global Ethics and on Moral Egalitarianism (potentially useful for the Aff).

6. Levinas seems useful for this resolution. Who is Levinas, you ask?

7. I go into a little more depth about political realism.


colton wyman said...

You are back! you got me through my freshman year and now it is my senior year. Wow so cool.

Anonymous said...

Hey thanks, im a freshman. the guy above/below me is a senior. ironic. but thanks though.

eriego14 said...

Hey it is so cool that you are back. I was a freshman and always read your blog. Now, I am a senior and it is cool to have you blogging again. Colton...this is awkward...

Mr. Anderson said...

Thanks, y'all. If you know of any freshmen who are looking for advice, send them this way. The more questions I get, the better I can blog.

Daily said...

I actually have no idea who any of you are, but I felt the need to ask a question. I'm a freshman debater at Ray-Pec, and I was wondering how exactly it is that I could go about the Negative side of things? The only point I've gotten so far is that America can't necessarily be the one to do all the heavy lifting, that the other country has to put in their share of the work. Other than that, I really haven't the slightest idea what to do here. I'm afraid I'm going to have a pretty shoddy case if I don't figure things out soon, though, and soon means by the 21st of February. I'm extremely worried, honestly. Thank you!

Mr. Anderson said...

Daily, I agree that the Negative position seems more difficult at first glance. Here's what I've been thinking about, and what will lead to a full post fairly soon.

RA: the Agent of Action is a State (for reasons I've listed above)
V: Justice
C: Social Contract

Thesis: the only way a State can act unjustly is by violating its social contract. (This is classic contractualism, which has become a bit passe in these heady days of International Law).

While it might be good for the State to not impose political conditions on aid to foreign countries--for all kinds of reasons--it is not unjust to do so, as it doesn't violate the rights of its own citizens.

In this reading of Social Contract theory, humanitarian aid is supererogatory--moral extra credit--for any State.

It's not the only plausible Neg position, but it's defensible, with a long intellectual history.

Anonymous said...

Like some of the other commentors, I was a freshman when I first used Decorabilia, and now I'm a senior. I didn't have a coach, and your blog taught me a ton about how to do LD and do it well. My debate career has been more incredible and successful than I could have ever imagined, and I attribute a lot of that to this blog. It's so cool to see you start this back up; I can spread this resource to my and others' novices now!

Karina Vladimirovna said...

Hey, I'm a freshman LD Debater in Missouri, and I have a couple questions.
1) The fact that many countries don't use humanitarian aid due to corrupt gov'ts, would that be aff or neg? Why?
2) What would the affirmative and negative arguments basically be saying?

Thanks...I'm an idiot.

Mr. Anderson said...

Anonymous, thanks. It seems more are already discovering--or rediscovering--the site, which is exciting.

1) That would probably be a point for the Negative, as it would be a reason to apply political conditions--to prevent corrupt governments from siphoning away aid. (The third analysis I've posted addresses that issue.)

2) A basic Aff position is that humans have equal moral worth, and so it's unjust or unfair to treat some differently, or to use the suffering of innocents to impose a political condition on a government.

A basic Neg position is described a few comments above--states don't have an obligation to send aid to anyone, so via the traditional social contract view, it's not unjust to deny aid based on political conditions, as the other countries don't have a "rights claim" on aid.

Dakkota said...

I used this blog throughout my high school debate career. It always helped me get a grip on the topic from many different aspects. I am glad to see that you are back & that I can share the blog with the debaters I now coach.

Bill said...

Great to have you back. Your blog was a tremendous resource in the first year after my wife started her team and I started helping out. You strike a great balance between the highly theoretical and the "let's just talk like reasonable people here" poles of debate, and we appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

Hey-- I'm another freshman LD-er. I'm a little unsure about how to approach this topic and was hoping that you might be able to clear things up. Is there any way to make the debate a little less vague within your case? Also-- unrelated but did you ever go to ld camp and if so where/would you recommend it?

Mr. Anderson said...

Dakkota, that you're now coaching students is a great testament to the ongoing awesomeness of debate. Good on you.

Bill, thanks--I really appreciate that.

Anonymous, the posts about the "agent of action" (who the resolution pertains to) and "political conditions" are meant to make the debate a "little less vague," as they give us someone (or something) to focus on. I'm about to post some lengthier thoughts on justice, which you might find helpful.

I have never been to an LD camp, but students of mine have benefited from Victory Briefs and Stanford, although I'd imagine just about any debate camp is better than no debate camp.

Raahema said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mr. Anderson said...

Raahema, that's coming soon. I'll have two posts up--one on varieties of justice, and one on V/C pairs--tomorrow. Just in time for a fun-filled weekend.

Anonymous said...

I have a question. I am thinking of running John Rawls' original position (veil of ignorance), but I am having trouble on the contention level. I know I want to talk about political conditions and their attack on human dignity, but I would appreciate it if you could help me out with some points. Thanks.

Mr. Anderson said...

The Veil isn't enough to do work at the contention level, as it's a hypothetical / pre-political justification for Rawls' principles of justice.

If you're going to use Rawls' "Difference Principle" as a criterion for justice, you could use the Veil as part of the warrant for your criterion, as it helps explain why Rawls believes the Difference Principle is, in fact, an obligation of just societies.

For a more fleshed-out view of Rawls' principles applied to the international arena, look to Rawls' The Law of Peoples for his analysis that nations have an obligation to assist other nations with unjust governments.

Anonymous said...

Hi, im a freshman and i have a few questions:
I dont really understand what political conditionality it is. Is it just conditions on how to use the wealth from aid?
what are good VC's for the affirmative?
What is the status quo?
what is the key to success in debate?

Thanks in advance for answering these questions!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for answering my Veil of Ignorance question. I have another question if i was to extend moral egalitarianism to respect humand dignity. What would be some strong arguements on the contention level. Thank you again

Mr. Anderson said...

Anonymous 1, humanitarian aid isn't usually "wealth" per se, but food, water, medicine, medical treatment, and other famine / disaster relief. The conditions involve some kind of (usually democratically-inclined) stipulations on the recipient government.

I've listed some Aff V/Cs in the 3rd update link above.

I'm not sure about your "status quo" question; is it a general question, or a question about defining the status quo in this resolution? Because either way, the answer deserves its own post in response.

As to the last question about the key to success in debate, there isn't one, but here's a place to start.

Anonymous 2, there are two major impacts of moral egalitarianism: first, that all persons are of equal moral worth, which seems to fly in the face of any kind of conditionality on humanitarian relief, and second, the need to raise the prospects of the disadvantaged as a moral imperative, which is also hampered by conditionality. Make each of those a contention, with explanations, warrants, and examples, and you'll have a powerful case.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the insight so exited to debate this topic. I'm a freshman and I need all the help I can get! I hear that this blog is all the buzz.

Sydne Ashford said...

Hey, I'm a freshman, and I was wondering if you had any ideas for neg value/criterion? My coach won't allow me to use justice. My contentions are "political conditions are necessary for foreign countries with corrupt govs. and politics are essential for humanitarian aid. I'm having a really hard time with this...Thank you!

Mr. Anderson said...

Sydne, you could use a value of "Prudence" and a criterion of "Political Realism," or "Security" and "The Social Contract" (perhaps with some Hobbesian arguments). But your opponent will have a tactical advantage, potentially arguing that justice is inherent in the resolution. In that case, you'd have an uphill battle to win the value clash.

I'm curious about your coach's prohibition, though. As I see it, there are (at least?) three ways to negate:

1. Prove that political conditions are, in fact, just (using justice as your value, and, most likely some form of the social contract as a criterion)

2. Prove that political conditions aren't unjust because state actions neither just nor unjust, as states act only in their own interests ( political realism)

3. Prove that political conditions aren't unjust because justice doesn't exist (moral skepticism or some other nihilist or relativist approach--although these are an uphill battle, oftentimes)

Does your coach not consider Option 1 to be legitimate? If not, why not?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for answering my Moral Egalitarianism question. Do you know of any cards to prove that PC's on Humanitarian aid are unjust because they use suffering people as a way to blackmail another country?

Sydne Ashford said...

Thank you so much! Personally, I don't see why my coach doesn't want us to use justice. I suppose she wants us to go into deeper thought because justice is the obvious way to go. I think she is trying to get us to go into more complex philosophy in order to prove justice or injustice. For example, using people as means to an end is a morally wrong action, according to Kant, and if you define unjust as "not behaving morally or fair" then it proves to be unjust. Thank you so much, though.

Mr. Anderson said...

Anonymous, I haven't done a lot of research in that specific regard, ,but I will say this: one of the problems with the resolution is that much of the "conditionality" evidence is based on development aid (i.e., economic assistance such as loans or monetary policy via the World Bank or IMF), rather than humanitarian aid. So as you dig deeper, dig carefully. (And watch out if your opponent conflates the two. The phrases "World Bank" or IMF are red flags that the evidence is non-resolutional.)

Mr. Anderson said...

Sydne, that would be a reasonable concern--being too obvious is an intellectual and competitive disadvantage. But justice is complex enough (and contested enough) as a concept to provide all kinds of variety.

I'm still intending to post an article on that subject, but it keeps getting delayed by other more immediate questions or topics.

Anonymous said...

Like most people that have asked questions, I am a freshman LDer. I am having a Hard time grasping the neg side of this topic. I wanted to do a contention on how countries sometimes only need aid because of government issues, but after that I have no idea what to do. Any suggestions would be appreciated!

Kaytlynn said...

Hello! my name is kaytlynn and i'm a junior debater from Panguitch high. my region debate is this week, and i'm having a really hard time deciding on a value criteria for the affirmative side of this debate. could you maybe help me? my value is sovereignty

Mr. Anderson said...

I wouldn't recommend sovereignty as an Aff value--it would seem, rather, that you'll need to go with justice. Sovereignty trends Negative, because giving away humanitarian aid usually has nothing to do with preserving national sovereignty.

If you look at the links above, you'll see that I wrote a post above V/C pairs for both sides. Hopefully you'll find it helpful.

Anonymous said...

Could you explain how moral egalitarianism and human dignity connect?

Mr. Anderson said...

Moral egalitarianism is the concept that all humans are morally equal--and that, in some significant way, we have an obligation to ensure that some baseline level of equal rights and/or outcomes is achieved in society.

There are two potential links to dignity. One is in the foundation of egalitarian ethics; "respect for persons" in the Kantian scheme is, at its core, a respect for the dignity of persons.

Second, any treatment that denies dignity--that dehumanizes, or degrades, or abuses--is morally wrong. For many (if not most) moral egalitarians, this gives us a positive duty to increase the dignity of those who, through bad luck or otherwise uncontrollable circumstances (poverty, disease, etc.), suffer a lack of respect in society.

Does that make sense?

Anonymous said...

Sort of. I am trying to prove that just because PC's may save lives, that doesn't mean it protect human dignity. Could you help me prove that just because someone dies, they don't lose their dignity? In other words a life without dignity is no life at all. Anything would help. Thanks.

mai said...

Do you think a value of justice and a criterion of promoting the welfare of humanity is ok for the Aff side? B/c I'm discussing how politicizing humanitarian aid, through some definitions, is inherently not humanitarian. So if I supported how politicizing aid isn't helping the welfare of those in need, it would support aff.