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Well, it’s that time of year again: NCFCA has just released the potential resolutions for next year’s competition. This announcement seems to have released a wave of frustration and disappointment. But that isn’t surprising. Having experienced this wave several times, the natural reaction to the prospect of a new resolution is always negative.

That’s usually not a problem with the resolution, but with the onlooker. By dint of our ages, high school debaters are broadly uninformed about almost everything. To our credit, international research collaboration, trade restrictions, and Africa-bound economic assistance are hardly common knowledge. 

But that’s okay. Pretty soon, the entire league will be engrossed in the subject matter of whichever resolution gets chosen. Once everyone knows more about these topics, they will fancy them much better than they did at first glance. The cycle repeats every year: the topics are different, but never the journey from obscurity to common intrigue. This year will be the same. 

Having taken a tentative first step towards understanding each of these resolutions, I can firmly say that I am not disappointed with the options before us.

“The United States Federal Government should significantly reform its policies regarding international research collaboration.”

I like this subject matter a lot. The authors have aimed the resolution at the bureaucracy at play within international scientific cooperation. 

In the current system, if an American scientist wants to collaborate with a non-American scientist, they must gain a security clearance from the U.S. government for that partnership. Obviously, the U.S. doesn’t want foreign countries spying on their scientific advances, so restricting what data can be shared with international partners seems wise. But such restrictions come at a cost: international collaboration, which is becoming increasingly necessary, is slowed to a halt. What kinds of restrictions are justified? That is the question at play here, and it’s one which involves some nuance and difficult value judgments.

I must briefly note, however, that I think this resolution is significantly more broad than some people have realized. The terms “policies,” “regarding,” and “research” allow for plans involving essentially anything the government says or does in a scientific context. The only terms which truly narrow the debate in a meaningful way are “international” and “collaboration.” However, I’m worried that these words will be drowned out by “research,” so that any scientific policy with just a pinch of internationality will qualify the resolution. If that happens, then this is really just a debate about any governmental response to scientific advancements. The league’s white paper defines “international research collaboration” as “the working together of researchers from two or more countries to achieve the common goal of producing new scientific knowledge.” This is really broad. In 2013, a third of all research published by American institutions involved some sort of international collaboration. That could include hundreds of thousands of projects.

Grade: B+

“The United States Federal Government should significantly reform its policy regarding import and/or export regulations.”

Several years ago, NCFCA LD debated whether governments should value fair trade over free trade. I debated that resolution, and loved the subject matter. It often felt more policy-oriented, and I have since wished that it could be debated in a TP context.

This resolution fulfills that wish.

There is a wealth of important economic knowledge within this topic area. An astonishing portion of our economy is sustained by trade with other countries. Much of our food, transport, and other necessities of life were produced internationally and imported into the United States, while the U.S. itself exports trillions in goods each year. That makes this resolution the most likely to have a direct impact on the lives—not just of students themselves—but of their judges. That sense of relevancy adds an element to this resolution that I don’t think has been quite captured by the other two.

I think this is a fantastic choice.

Grade: A

“The United States Federal Government should substantially increase economic assistance to one or more countries in eastern or southern Africa as defined by the United Nations GeoScheme.”

NCFCA really loves this resolution. This is the third time since I’ve been around that they’ve proposed something similar (see here and here).

It’s certainly an interesting topic area, but there, unfortunately, aren’t that many different kinds of economic assistance. The league’s white paper lists six types of aid, but they could easily be condensed into three: humanitarian assistance, development aid, and military aid. The white paper makes the distinction between military and economic assistance, clarifying that military assistance is beyond the scope of the resolution. This leaves us with development aid and humanitarian assistance.

African development aid is actually a fairly interesting topic, as China is currently building up its own quasi-client states within the continent right now. Should the U.S. contest Chinese hegemony in the region? Or perhaps back off and fight China elsewhere—perhaps for control of Central America?

In my opinion, humanitarian assistance is less promising. Though it pulls on the heartstrings if framed the right way, it is easy to gloss over as “boring” or “dull.” Further, it’s not clear that the countries involved vary significantly in the efficacy of humanitarian assistance. Why would humanitarian assistance to Mozambique be any better than humanitarian assistance to Tanzania? Most debates likely won’t get to that question. If this assumption proves to be true, then debates under this resolution will become quite repetitive. The resolution is directional: the Affirmative is forced to argue that economic assistance should be increased, while the Negative is forced to argue that it should stay where it is. That will be a fun debate for the first two tournaments, but at a point well before nationals, I suspect that the arguments will solidify and every round will feel roughly the same.

I hope that I’m wrong here, and in the best case, all of you will walk away from this resolution knowledgeable about the intricacies of each nation involved and the respective structures currently in place for awarding aid. That could prove to be valuable knowledge.

(Also, the word “GeoScheme” is in the resolution. How cool is that!?)

Grade: C+

Concluding Remarks

I’m voting for the import/export resolution. It doesn’t have any obvious flaws, it is broad enough to remain interesting but not so broad as to spread negative teams too thin, and its subject matter is fun and relevant.

I would, however, like to note a few things, if only for my own indulgence.

Firstly, I love the new “parameters” section which the authors have included in their white papers. These provide an authoritative metric by which teams can know what is and is not topical. Such a rubric will not preclude topicality arguments, but it will go a long way toward clarifying the scope of the resolution. I would love to see this section posted somewhere on the Team Policy ballot (which, in the age of electronic judging, shouldn’t be that hard), so that the judge is fully informed of what is actually within the confines of the resolution. But in any case, before you start researching whichever resolution gets picked, I would start by thoroughly reading this section over. (Also, I’m not saying I called it, but I totally called it.)

Secondly, while I realize that the NCFCA Debate Resolution Committee takes into account competitor suggestions when compiling their resolution voting options, I nonetheless think that “everyday” NCFCA-ers should have more of a say in what is on the “ballot.” To this end, I advocate some form of student-proposed resolution to appear on the ballot each year. The easiest way I can think of to implement this would be to have the Student Advisory Council submit their “student’s choice” resolution to the league each year, and for that resolution to make its way (after prudent but limited editing by the Committee) onto the ballot for the consideration of all affiliates. Or, perhaps student-made resolutions that obtain enough signatures can be put on the ballot, just like in political elections. Food for thought.

In any case, I don’t hate the options we have this year. Sure, they might not seem as exciting as European immigration or federal prisons, but remember: those topics didn’t seem very exciting either before you got into the thick of them. If you approach debate with the right mindset—one of curiosity and eagerness to learn—then any resolution will be intriguing.

I won’t be there to learn alongside you, but I trust you’ll enjoy it.

Happy Debating,


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