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Bilal Butt on Missile Defense Solvency And Negotiations

Bilal Butt is the Curriculum Director of the Millennial Speech & Debate Summer Workshops.

There have been a couple circuit tournaments on the September/October topic, and now after camp, the endless news cycles, and tired arguments of four invitational tournaments, its time for revision and some variation in order to excel the rest of the month.

Here are a couple ways that some arguments on the current topic, Resolved: Deployment of Anti-Missile systems is in South Korea’s best interest, could improve or become a little more nuanced.

First on the idea of anti-missile systems being escalatory. The common Pro argument is that missile defense systems offer layered protection as an appropriate response to the weapon arsenal developed by North Korea. There are a couple general responses made by Con teams that are consistently mishandled by Pro teams. First, Con teams say that, missile defense can’t even protect against certain types of attacks and North Korea will circumvent using other weapon systems e.g. chemical, naval, or other attacks.

First this concedes that North Korea would have the impotence to attack in the first place creating the need for defenses but also the continued development of weapons by North Korea is not a justification to stand down. North Korea’s leverage stems from their ability to outpace the United States’ regional defensive measures. So even if North Korea can bypass, that just means the United States in conjunction with South Korea should have even more defensive capabilities not less.

And then when con responds that all defensive measures taken by North Korea are seen as escalatory, Pro teams don’t know how to articulate that North Korean aggression long existed before any missile defense systems were implemented in South Korea. While missile testing operations by North Korea have grown this year especially after THAAD deployment, to use missile defense as the causal reason really undermines the historical regional conflict that has persisted. North Korea has sought nuclear weapons prior to missile defense and missile defenses were put into place as North Korea’s arsenal became more definitive and apparent.

As such, Con easiest defense on this argument is that the nuclear umbrella doesn’t disappear without missile defense systems, so even if North Korea felt more comfortable without anti-missile systems in place, there’s no threat. North Korea’s nuclear development began as a protection for their regime from foreign threats, which means any attack would give foreign invaders justification to advocate for a regime change within North Korea.

Second on the idea of negotiations. It seems Con teams have an easy time establishing that China is mad about THAAD and that they have some leverage over North Korea. What Pro teams are easily pushing Con teams on is the idea that negotiations don’t have a long term solution to the North Korea problem nor does China have any incentives to promote peace in the region because they do not believe North Korea to be a threat.

I think Con teams should figure out some answers to these questions before trying to paint negotiations as the best possible outcome. So first, Con teams need to create the idea that the status quo of missile testing is escalatory and can easily lead to physical conflict between United States and North Korea which puts South Korea in the crossfire. Negotiations deescalate because historically, those times have seen the least amount of military/offensive posturing by either side. Even in the short term, Con has benefits. But Con teams struggle with the long term the most.

The fundamental questions judges have after hearing the argument is what do negotiations look like long-term? What is the end goal? Denuclearization? This seems like a very hard thing to prove and North Korea has said on countless occasions they would not give up their arsenal. So what advantage does Con have? I think con teams can nuance the argument by substantiating a difference between using nuclear weapons and acquiring nuclear weapons. If negotiations can lead to China ensuring that North Korea never uses their nuclear weapons even after having them, this can be an opportunity for South Korea to engage instead of contain North Korea like the United States has been doing for so long with no prevail.