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Topicality — What does it mean to reduce arms sales?

Without initially passing judgment, there are a number of different ways of interpreting “reduce” in the resolution.

Reduce against the future.   “Reduce against the future” means to interpret the resolution to say the Affirmative can/should argue for the US selling fewer arms than it otherwise would sell in the future. . From a strict definition perspective, this doesn’t make a lot of sense – you wouldn’t say you reduced your speed by driving 50 miles per hour less than you otherwise would. In the arms sales, context, however most advocates of reductions in arms sales argue for reducing sales relative to what would otherwise be sold.

There are different standards that could be employed to determine what is a reduction against the future.

One, in some cases the two parties have reached informal, yet-to-be approved agreements to buy and sell arms. For example, Japan just agreed to by 125 F-35s from the US in the future. Poland has also agreed to buy F-35s. Neither country has actually reached a formal agreement with the US and no notification of ths sales has been made to Congress.

Two, there are instances where a more formal agreement has been reached but the sales has not yet been formally approved.

Perhaps one of these is acceptable and one is not.

Beyond being definitionally innacurate, “reduce against the future” has the two problems . One, it’s hypothetical, we do not know if the sale will actually occur, so we can’t be sure any reduction will happen. At best, the affirmative is “probabalistically” topical. Two, It’s very unlimiting. There are thousands of potential future sales. Three, it’s not predictable. With existing approved sales one could look up what those are and prepare to defend them.

I think, “reduce against the future” is a very problematic way to interpret “reduce,” but it is what is usually assumed in the literature.

Take weapons back. I suppose we could reduce sales by taking weapons back that we’ve already delivered. The downside risk, of course, is that this would trigger a huge conflict. And I haven’t even seen anyone advocate this, as the other country will already have received a weapon they purchased, but I throw it out as a possible way to interpret reduce.

Break contracts. Under this interpretation the affirmative would advocate the US break a contract for an agreed upon sale of weapons that haven’t yet been delivered. The US does not have extra F-35 fighter jets laying, around, for example, so it normally takes years to produce weapons for export once an agreement has been reached. And even then, all the weapons are not delivered at once, so there are usually many weapons to be delivered.

For example, Trump just said he’d sell Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the UAE $ billion worth of weapons. There are some munitions being transferred immediately, but it will take a year to deliver these weapons. An affirmative could argue for breaking this contract to deliver. This certainly would reduce sales relative to what’s been agreed to, making it predictable and limiting.

Cut maintenance and support.. Arms sales contracts do not include just the sales of the weapons but also maintenance,, training, and munitions support. The latter three are ongoing and extend years beyond the sale. Stopping such maintenance and support would certainly reduce sales, though it is not clear how many cases there would actually be under this interpretation, though there is some advocacy for this

Reise Ehrlich, February 21, 2019, How the war in Yemen could end — in a matter of days

US arms manufacturers such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin supply 57 percent of the military aircraft used by the Royal Saudi Air Force. The U.S. corporations hire hundreds of US civilian mechanics and technicians to repair, maintain and fuel fighter jets and helicopters. The Arms Export Control Act requires Saudi Arabia to use the military equipment for legitimate self defense. Saudi Arabia’s consistent pattern of disproportionate attacks on civilians belies any claim of self defense, according to Brittany Benowitz, an attorney and former Congressional staffer who analyzes arms control issues. “The Trump Administration is currently not complying with the requirements of the Arms Export Control Act,“ she told me. The act requires the President to stop supplies of spare parts and maintenance of Saudi fighter planes if they violate the act. Those measures would undermine Saudi military capability fairly quickly, much faster than banning new arms sales, according to William Hartung, a defense analyst at the Center for International Policy. “It would affect their ability to fight immediately,” he said in an interview.

Some teams may try to circumvent debate around these questions by simply writing “reduce” arms sales/the sale of X weapon to a particular country or countries.

This helps address the problem a bit, but there are two limitations.

One, if the affirmative simply says reduce the sale of X weapon to Poland and there is no contract to sell X weapon to Poland, then it is still arguably not a reduction, despite the word “reduce” being in the plan.

Two, if affirmative teams put the word “reduce” in the plan, it will be more difficult to answer an offsets counterplan tthat offsets the reduction in sales with an increase in the sale of another weapon that has some unique benefit.

My initial thought is that cases that break contracts and cases that stop munitions/training/service contracts certainly are all topical. Cases that reduce against the future are probably not topical and less there is a relatively firm commitment that doesn’t quite get to the level of a contract (or then it would fall outside the contracts category).

The other issue related to reduce is “suspension” vs. “reduce.”

I think that most people will interpret “reduce” to mean to permanently reduce, especially when combined with modern interpretations of fiat as being permanent. A “suspension” on the other hand is just a temporary reduction that is usually done to get another actor to take an action. For example, we might want to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia until they improve human rights or stop the war in Yemen.

Thalif Deen, Interpress Service, 4-29, 19,, US and Western arms in Yemen conflict signal potential war crime charges The Manila Times

In an oped piece, Kristof said the Saudi armed forces can’t even defeat a militia in Yemen. So, how could they stand up to Iran? he asked. “That’s why we have leverage over Saudi Arabia, not the other way around.” The next step, he argued, should be a suspension of arms sales until Saudi Arabia ends its war in Yemen, for that war has made the US complicit in mass starvation.



This difference between “suspend” and “reduce” is important because it makes these counterplans competitive, and since nearly all affirmative authors will advocate suspensions instead of reductions, it makes for a very strong counterplan.


Anyhow, these are my existing thoughts on the questions of what “reduce” means. There are definitions and a violation available