Feb 4, 2014

the agent of action in the humanitarian aid resolution

The March/April LD humanitarian aid resolution invites a careful parsing.
Resolved: Placing political conditions on humanitarian aid to foreign countries is unjust.
One of the primary questions: who or what is the agent of action in the resolution? In other words, who or what would be described as "unjust" when placing political conditions on humanitarian aid?

The question matters for several reasons, which will be outlined below amid various agent options.

The agent is an indeterminate government or nation-state.
I place this reading first, as I think it's the preferred interpretation, given the general-principle nature of LD, and the fact that states are the entities most likely to impose political conditions on humanitarian aid, whether mediated via sanctions regimes, or through direct aid dispersal. Furthermore, the aid is directed "to foreign countries," which is a clean semantic fit with the idea of state-to-state bargaining.

What defines justice vis a vis the State? For the Affirmative, the answer may lie in Kantian respect for persons, Rawlsian calculations of fairness, consequentialist cost-benefit analyses, or, if the resolution is situated more in the "real world," norms such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or international legal frameworks such as the Geneva Conventions.

The Negative has Rawlsian and consequentialist options as well, but I'd go for a contractual argument, based on the word "foreign." Nations have no obligations to give aid to foreign citizens, in the classic social contract stance. Thus, it may be sad or heartless or mean, but it's not unjust to set political conditions. In fact, given the state's obligation to the welfare of its own citizens, such conditions might be preferable or even required.

Another Negative strategy is to blow up the notion of State obligations, taking a Morgenthau-esque "realist" position. In the anarchic international system, the State has to act to safeguard its own interests. Political conditions aren't "unjust" because justice isn't applicable to the State. Prudence is the only path. (This is a similar "category error" approach taken in Randian kritik-esque arguments about the fallacy of "collective nouns.")

The agent is the government of the United States.
This is a common way LDers attempt to parametricize the resolution: by arguing that since we live in America and take part in the American educational system and can easily place ourselves in an American-oriented policymaking stance. I wouldn't go this route, but your mileage may vary.

The agent is an indeterminate nonprofit / nongovernmental organization (NGO).
NGOs certainly have the ability to impose political conditions on their aid, but in my initial survey of the literature, it seems that they are the least likely to. For good reason: due to their principled neutrality, groups such as Doctors Without Borders oppose any and all political conditions. This reading of the resolution is likely to trend Affirmative.

The agent is an individual actor within a government agency or NGO.
Do obligations to corporate aims trump individual morality, or must individuals act justly regardless of their office, status, or context?

The agent is an individual actor without any particular corporate obligations--a philanthropist.
I see this as the least likely reading of the resolution, as it's the least likely aid scenario.

In sum, I see state-based analysis as the most fruitful for both sides, although I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise if you have better ideas. At any rate, the definition of justice--and the proper application of the term to various agents--seems to be the matter of most concern in this debate. Is justice essentially moral, political, or legal? (Or some combination of the above?) Good luck finding the answer, and good luck in your rounds.

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