Updated: Apr 23
It is once again time to select the new resolution for the upcoming debate season!
Some of you may already have your favorite resolution picked out and others are still deciding. In either case, we hope to present you with some additional perspective on each resolution and give you our thoughts on possible cases you might run into.
The Front Runner
Helmsmen Pick-Resolved: The United States Federal Government should substantially reform its policy towards one or more countries in Europe.
This resolution has some extremely topical elements and other elements that carry significant historical context. Throughout much of modern history, Europe has carried significant interest throughout the world. Many superpowers have come from Europe and the region is still in some ways at the center of certain foreign policy issues. With that being said, in recent history, the United States has gone through a “pivot” in its priorities on economic and military relations around the world. The United States shifted its priorities from Europe to the Pacific and the rise of China.
In 2011, then secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “one of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will therefore be to lock in a substantially increased investment- diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise- in the Asia-Pacific region.” This pivot and some of the consequences of these actions are discussed in detail by the Brookings Institute in their report "For Every Action...".
Currently, there is a very large elephant in Europe. Russia is at the center of many conflicts, trade deals, military posturing, economic agreements, and subtle policy changes made by Russia, its allies, and/or adversaries. This means that many cases will have to at least reference the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the historical impact Russia has had on Europe, and how their case could impact US-Russian relations moving forward. With this in mind, let's examine Russia's place in Europe.
Two Countries on the Edge of Europe
There is some debate if Russia is even considered part of Europe. Much of the country's landmass is in Asia and the CIA's World Factbook doesn't include Russia in their list of European countries. However, there are strong arguments for why Russia should be considered part of Europe as well. The country sits in-between Europe and Asia and while most of Russia's landmass is in Asia, a vast majority of its population lives on the European side. If the European side of Russia was its own country, it would account for 40% of the landmass of Europe and would be home to the second-largest city in Europe with over 3 million more residents than the next largest city of London. Plenty of arguments can be made that Russia is a part of Europe.
Turkey is the other major country that has one foot in Europe and one in Asia. Here the story is a little different. Istanbul is considered to be the largest city in Europe, with close to 17 million residents, but a vast majority of its people and landmass are in Asia. While Turkey's footprint in Europe is small in the modern-day, its historical impact is significant. Turkey previously controlled a large part of Europe as the Ottoman empire. Turkey is currently part of NATO and also a trade partner of Russia. Turkey as a nation is symbolic of Europe's relationship with Russia.
Although part of NATO (an organization founded in part to curb Russian aggression) Turkey regularly trades with Russia and even buys military equipment from Russia. Much to the displeasure of the United States and NATO. The Council on Foreign Relations has said that Turkey is, "Neither friend nor foe".
Missile Defense: Protection or Provocation?
One of the more recent setbacks in the relationship between the United States and Turkey was when the country purchased two anti-air weapons systems from Russia. This prompted the United States to kick Turkey from the F-35 development program claiming that these systems posed a threat to American planes in the region.
This is significant because this issue is not exclusive to Turkey. In Poland, the United States and NATO hold several missile defense systems that Russia claims are in place to threaten their country's autonomy and safety. Questions surround the effectiveness of these systems and whether the tension these defenses cause is warranted.
We have discussed only a small fraction of the ground available through this resolution. Other topic areas include:
The Invasion of Ukraine
Germany's "Zeitenwende" or swift change of heart on their military strength
Closing military bases in Europe
Increasing or decreasing military aid to European countries
A change in energy policy in relation to Europe
Reform the US nuclear posture in Europe
Abandoning the New START treaty between the USA and Russia.
and unfortunately, Russia has a new nuclear-powered icebreaker in the artic.
A Double Loss
We have some concerns regarding the other two resolutions. While both resolutions do have some good elements, they both have flaws that could impact the debate season. These issues are unique to each resolution and are so different that we couldn't put one over the other. We will examine each in detail below.
Double Loss-Resolved: The United States Federal Government should substantially reform one or more of the following programs: Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare.
Double Loss-Resolved: Housing and urban development policy should be substantially reformed in the United States.
The Benefits of Each Resolution
We want to be clear that these resolutions both carry a lot of good qualities. Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare are programs that millions of Americans rely upon for medical care and to meet their basic needs. These programs are also massive in their financial costs and these costs are only expected to rise over time. An incredible amount of the federal budget is allocated to these programs and there are arguments on both sides as to whether spending is too much or too little. There are also looming dangers associated with these entitlement programs, either in the form of depleted trust funds for social security or the year-over-year increases in enrollment for Medicare and Medicaid. This resolution has a clear topic area and is a very stable resolution as far as what cases would be viable.
Under housing and urban development, there is much more freedom as to what cases can be explored. First, this resolution features a non-specific actor element. Debaters can choose to reform as the federal, state, county, or municipal government (significance may vary). Housing costs are astronomically high, especially in parts of California, New York, DC, etc., and reforms could be put in place to reduce the cost of living in these areas. Often times attempts to increase the amount of housing available in expensive markets are opposed by residents who fear a decrease in property values. Balancing these concerns with other issues such as homelessness would allow both sides to debate what actions would result in the greatest benefit. Other areas of interest like zoning laws could be an alternative solution to housing prices. The contrast between Houston and Austin is a great example of different policies present within the same state. With that being said, we do see some flaws in both resolutions.
While the Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid resolution does clearly define the affirmative ground, the balance of power is uneven. Both sides of the political aisle agree that these programs have a funding problem and should be reformed in some way. In the political realm, these reforms are defeated by the large amount of public support that these programs enjoy and by an unwillingness to increase taxes. In the context of a debate round, fiat power bypasses these barriers. Traditionally, this is healthy for the debate. After all, without fiat, debate rounds would devolve into back and forth arguments on political gridlock, public support, and future elections.
However, in this case, much of the negative ground is paved over by fiat and prima facie arguments.
The problem with the negative isn't that they can't forward arguments against the popularity of an affirmative plan, it's more so that our legislative system is broken when it comes to reforming programs such as these. Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security have massive flaws that are not addressed by the status quo because both parties are afraid of public backlash. Our fear is that a shrewd affirmative will be allowed to develop a 1AC that leaves little ground for the negative team.
Housing and Urban Development
The second resolution on housing reform carries a different problem. While we aren't opposed to the idea of a non-specific actor, in this instance too much ground is left in a nebulous position. The affirmative has a significant amount of choices as to what governing body they want to take action as and this opens the door for a wide variety of cases. This can be a good thing, but it could also result in many rounds that boil down to just a significance challenge.
Affirmatives could choose to go wide instead of deep, running case after case that demands the negative to either research a wider area than is traditionally required or rely upon topicality challenges to the substance of the plan or significance challenges on the case side. In either scenario, this results in debaters learning more about debate theory than the topic at hand.
Regardless of what resolution is selected. We here at the Helmsmen Institute are looking forward to helping students prepare for the upcoming season. You can look forward to more articles from us that examine the historical context, political actions, and debate theory related to the final resolution.