Defining “Economic Engagement”


More free definitions of “engagement”

The 2013-14 policy debate resolution is, Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its economic engagement toward Cuba, Mexico, or Venezuela.

embargo caricature


The focus of this post is on unpacking what it means for the United States to increase its economic engagement with one of these countries.   Acceptable interpretations of the term will determine not only the size of the topic in terms of the breadth of Affirmative case areas, but also will create many opportunities for Negative counterplan ground.  The potential meanings of the term and these counterplan opportunities will be discussed in detail below.

I think that there are four issues regarding the term “economic engagement” that  will be important to determining both the potential breadth of the topic and available Negative counterplan ground –

(1)    What issues can economic engagement occur over? For example, it seems obvious that economic engagement can occur over trade, but it is less obvious that economic engagement can cover providing military assistance to Mexico.

(2)    How do we engage?  This question can really be broken down into two questions. This how  question focuses on actions like providing economic aid, negotiating trade deals, and supporting direct financial investment in industries in the topic countries.   These are just a few examples, and more will be covered in the post.

(3)    Can engagement be conditional?  In other words, is it topical for the US to offer a reduction in trade barriers, for example, in exchange for action by one of the topic countries in some particular area(s).  This bargain is referred to as a quid pro quo. Related to this, if it is determined that engagement can be conditional, the question that will arise is if the Affirmative plan has to be conditional. In other words, must a topical engagement plan include a quid pro quo?  The conditionality question is really the second how question.

(4)     Does engagement require the United States federal government to interact with the government of one of the topic countries?  This is somewhat related to the last question, but even short of a quid pro quo, if the US engages Cuba, does the US have to interact with the Cuban government, or can the US simply lift the trade embargo it has on Cuba?

Suggested answers to each of these questions will be provided in the next sections.   The implication of the answers for topicality arguments is also previewed.  There is also some supporting evidence provided in each of the sections. For thorough evidence coverage, you  should download the 2013-14 “Economic Engagement” topicality file.

What issues can be covered by economic engagement?

The core question here is how the term “economic” limits the topic beyond what would be true if the topic simply said “increase its engagement with…”  Obviously, the term “economic” limits the type of engagement, but contextual usage evidence doesn’t suggest that there is too much of a limit.   I’ve found contextual evidence that supports including all of the following in economic engagement

–          Trade
–          Information technology
–          Investment
–          General environmental issues
–          Forest and wetland conservation
–          Water and air quality
–          Small & Medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)
–          Health care
–          Clean energy, including renewable energy
–          Electricity production and transmission
–          Nuclear power
–          General energy security
–          Defense and security
–          Economic development
–          Intellectual property
–          Reducing corruption
–          Food regulation
–          Environmental regulation

How does the US engage?

As noted, this question is also related to the third question because whether or not engagement can (or should) include a quid pro quo is a how question related to engagement.  I separated them because the conditionality question applies to all other how issues and is really a core question about the types of acceptable Negative counterplans.  For example, the US might engage by providing foreign aid, but whether or not that aid can or should be delivered as part of a quid pro quo is a separate question.

In terms of specific mechanisms for engagement, contextual evidence exists for engaging in all of the following ways –

-Official contacts with the government
-Academic exchanges
-Two track dialogue(s)
-Development programs (foreign aid)
-Providing loans
-Working through non-governmental organizations (NGOS)
-Enabling International Financial Institutions (IFIs) to support work in the topic countries
-Negotiating trade agreements and facilitating trade ties
-Developing standards and practices for businesses
-Using the US Agency for International Development (AID) to support business development
-Encouraging other countries to reduce trade barriers
-Providing visas to individuals in other countries (this was an entire college resolution!)
-Supporting increased investment
-Helping US companies navigate the business climate
-Strengthening measures to protect intellectual property
-Encouraging countries to invest in the US
-Integrating countries into the global economic system
-Reduction in sanctions and other trade barriers
-Facilitating action by IFIs
-Boosting capital investment
-Supporting joint technology development
-Providing technical cooperation on energy environment
-Facilitating the development of regulation

There is some evidence that says that US economic engagement also includes engagement by private actors – businesses and non-profit organizations that are not tied to the government. While this private engagement constitutes economic engagement by the United States, it would not constitute the federal government’s economic engagement and the resolution does say the US has to increase its economic engagement.

It is important to point out here that it is really the how question that determines what constitutes economic engagement. One way to look to define economic engagement is to look at what economic issues engagement can occur over. This list of economic issues was provided above in discussion of the first question. It is important, however, to emphasize that economic engagement is really a process and that if the Affirmative plan uses one of the tools discussed in answering the second question, the plan likely uses economic engagement, even if that economic engagement occurs over non-economic military issues.

The one exception I can think to this may be plans that engage in general diplomacy but use that diplomacy to engage over a core economic issue such as trade. This evidence, for example, clearly distinguishes between economic and diplomatic engagement, but what if the diplomatic engagement (offering recognition) was used as a lever to improve trade? Would that not then constitute economic engagement?

Robert N. Haass, Director of Foreign Policy Studies, Brookings, 2000, Survival, Vol 42, no. 2, Summer, p. 114-5

Architects of engagement strategies can choose from a wide variety of incentives.  Economic engagement might offer tangible incentives such as export credits, investment insurance or promotion, access to technology, loans or economic aidOther equally useful economic incentives involve the removal of penalties such as trade embargoes, investment bans or high tariffs, which have impeded economic relations between the United States and the target country.  Facilitated entry into the global economic arena and the institutions that govern it rank among the most potent incentives in today’s global market.  Similarly, political engagement can involve the lure of diplomatic recognition, access to regional or international institutions, the scheduling of summits between leaders – or the termination of these benefits. 

Can (or Must) engagement be conditional?

Affirmative will likely use one of the following engagement mechanisms that have been listed above.  The major outstanding question is whether or not the Affirmative can topically choose to make that engagement conditional and whether or not they have to make the “how” conditional in order for the action of the “how” to constitute engagement. 

There is evidence that supports both interpretations of the term – that it can be both conditional and unconditional.

Miles Kahler, Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, University of California, San Diego, Scott L. Kastner, Department of Government and Politics, University of Maryland, 2006, Journal of Peace Research, “Strategic Uses of Economic Interdependence: Engagement Policies on the Korean Peninsula and Across the Taiwan Strait,” 43(5), p. 523

While the determinants and effectiveness of economic sanctions have been the subject of a substantial and growing literature in international relations, much less attention has been given to economic engagement strategies, where a country deliberately expands economic ties with an adversary to change the target’s behavior. This article develops a theoretical framework that distinguishes between three types of engagement strategies: conditional policies that directly link economic ties to changed behavior in the target state; unconditional policies where economic interdependence is meant to act as a constraint on the behavior of the target state; and unconditional policies where economic interdependence is meant to effect a transformation in the foreign policy goals of the target state.

For the purpose of our discussion, there is no distinction between the two types of unconditional engagement that Kahler & Kastner identify.  Both of these types of engagement are unconditional.  Kahler & Kaster’s distinction is simply the outcome of the unconditional engagement – to constrain the behavior of the target state or to transform the foreign policies goals of the target state.

Is probably easiest to understand the distinction between the first type of engagement identified here and the last two by giving you a couple of examples. In the second two type of engagement, the plan would simply provide a material good such as foreign aid or remove a trade barrier such as the Helms-Burton law that severely restricts trade with Cuba and do nothing more.  In the first type of engagement, the Affirmative plan would explicitly lift the Helms-Burton law but would only do it if Cuba did something in return, such as modify its foreign policy or free political prisoners.

Although the piece of evidence above indicates that engagement can be conditional or unconditional, there is contrary evidence on both sides that sets-up all of the following topicality arguments on the Negative –

(1)    Affirmative plans cannot be unconditional – engagement requires a quid pro quo

(2)    Affirmative plans cannot be conditional – engagement must always be positive and cannot be negative.

In regards to this second topicality argument, it is important to articulate a distinction between positive and negative conditions.  A positive condition, for example, would be rewarding Cuba with foreign aid if it frees political prisoners. A negative condition, for example, would be applying another trade sanction if it does not release political prisoners.

There is good evidence that negative conditions are not engagement but that positive conditions are part of engagement.

Michael Mastanduno, government professor, Dartmouth, 2003, The Strategy of Economic Engagement: Theory and Practice, in Edward D. Mansfield and Brian M. Pollins, eds, Economic Interdependence and International Conflict: New Perspectives on an Enduring Debate, p. 184-5

Much of the attention in political science to the question of interdependence and conflict focuses at the systemic level, on arguments and evidence linking the expansion of economic exchange among states on the one hand to the exacerbation of international conflict or the facilitation of international cooperation on the other. The approach taken in this chapter focuses instead at the state level, on the expansion of economic interdependence as a tool of state craft. Under what circumstances does the cultivation of economic ties, that is, the fostering of economic interdependence as a conscious state strategy, lead to important and predicable changes in the foreign policy behavior of a target state? Students of economic statecraft refer to this strategy variously as economic engagement, economic inducement, economic diplomacy, positive sanctions, positive economic linkage, or the use of economic “carrots” instead of sticks. Critics of the strategy call it economic appeasement.

There is also evidence that negative and positive conditions together constitute economic engagement.

Greg Forcese, 2002,  BA, McGill; MA, Carleton; LL.B., Ottawa; LL.M., Yale; Member of the Bars of New York, Ontario and the District of Columbia. Associate, Hughes, Hubbard & Reed, LLP, Washington, Yale Human Rights & Development Law Journal, “Globalizing Decency: Responsible Engagement in an Era of Economic Integration,” p. 42

At the margins, “conditionalities” inducing adherence to codes of conduct and sanctions blur together. For instance, while selective purchasing need not constitute a boycott, the Burma and South Africa procurement regimes discussed above are clearly designed to curtail economic engagement with unpalatable regimes. Measures insisting on divestment cross a subtle boundary, going beyond the “mitigation” goal of the second prong of responsible engagement. They clearly constitute sanctions, the propriety of which must be scrutinized with an eye to the various concerns about sanctions, their effectiveness and secondary effects.

As somewhat of a side note, beyond the question of conditionality, there are a few cards that indicate that applying/increasing sanctions constitutes economic engagement.

Bradley Babson, March 11, 2011, Rethinking Economic Engagement with North Korea,

 Unfortunately, U.S., South Korean, and Chinese economic engagement policies with North Korea have been guided by very different national interests and objectives. Taken together they produce conflicting dynamics that distort incentives for managed change in the economic system. Giveaways, sanctions, and commerce are all in this mix, with results that are not satisfying for any of the countries involved and are no doubt confusing for the North Koreans.

This is really the opposite of what most of the literature says and there is plenty of evidence that says that sanctions are not part of economic engagement.

Arda Can Elik, Uppsala University (Department Of Peace and Conflict Research) 2011, Economic Sanctions and Engagement Policies, p. 14

 Therefore economic engagement policies are not only different from economic sanctions but also they design the former ones from early phases. This argument has similarities with the conditionalists in a sense that economic sanctions are more effective between interdependent countries albeit it is more costly.(Kroll, 1993)

This question of whether or not sanctions are part of constructive engagement is really a bit of a diversion, because I don’t think an interpretation that includes them as part of it is winnable in a debate. I expect the interpretation of constructive engagement that sanctions are not topical will carry the day.

The interpretations of economic engagement related to whether or not it can be conditional or unconditional are both winnable, however, and this has two important implications for next year’s debates.

First, debaters that are good at debating topicality can win debates on both sides. If the Affirmative plan is a quid pro quo, the negative can argue that it cannot be a quid pro quo. If the Affirmative plan is not a quid pro quo, the negative can argue that it has to be a quid pro quo.

Second, different types of Affirmative plans set-up different types of Negative counterplans. If the Affirmative plan is not conditional, Negative teams can advocate a counterplan to condition the plan on one of the topic countries adopting a particular policy. Popular net-benefits to this counterplan will be politics (it will be more popular to ask for something in return than to just give something away) and the advantage that stems from adding the condition (protecting human rights, for example).

If the Affirmative plan is conditional, Negative teams can advocate passing the plan without the condition.  Popular net-benefits to this counterplan include improving relations with the target country and avoiding the Sovereignty Good kritik.

If the Affirmative plan is conditional, it is also arguably competitive for a counterplan to add a condition. Although counterplans that simply add items to the plan are normally not competitive because the permutation to do both would solve for the benefit of the second action, a permutation to add a condition is arguably severance because the counterplan makes the quid pro quo more difficult for the topic country to accept and arguably severs out of the easier, earlier offer.

Regardless of the merits of the particular counterplans and the competitiveness of this latter counterplan, conditioning and deciding not to condition constitute strong Negative counterplan ground, so all debaters need to be prepared for this debate.

Does the plan have to include dialogue?

If the plan is a conditional or quid pro quo engagement, interaction with the government of one of the topic countries will inherently be part of the plan. If the plan is unconditional, however, must it still involve some sort of interaction with the government to be topical? For example, the US can removed the Helms-Burton law or make visas available to Mexican business people without any interaction with those governments at all, but do these actions constitute economic engagement?

One way to think about answering this question is to say that if the Affirmative wins the debate that unconditional actions are economic engagement then the plan is topical and interaction with the government is not required. However, it is the case that the Affirmative could write a plan that is simply unconditional, such as providing foreign aid or negotiating a trade deal, without attaching any conditions but nonetheless interacting with the government?

Requiring the Affirmative plan to include some interaction with the government of the topic country does two things for the Negative. First, it provides a limiting function on the topic by excluding some cases that do not provide for any interaction. Second, if the Affirmative plan is really an artificial interaction with the government, meaning that the interaction is not needed to do the plan but is only there for the purpose of making the plan topical, the Negative could read a counterplan to simply act unilaterally without engaging the government. This would require them to provide a reason that the artificial interaction is bad, but as long as the Negative comes up with some net-benefit they will probably win because the Affirmative will not be able to defend it as necessary to solve.

While this proposed “interaction” requirement does help the Negative, Affirmative teams may very well be able to win that it is not grounded in the literature on engagement with these countries and it would exclude many core topic cases, such as removing the Helms-Burton law. In regards to Venezuela, it would be particularly compelling because the Venezuelan government has cut-off communication with the US government, leaving no Venezuela cases under this interpretation of economic engagement.

Although the focus of this section is on the term “economic engagement,” a discussion of the term ”toward” is relevant here for two reasons. First, one interesting question related to the term “economic engagement” is whether or not the engagement can involve third parties. Since the resolution says, “toward” instead of “with,” it may be topical to involve third parties and interact with them by directing the engagement toward the topic countries because the plan just has to be “in the direction of.” I suspect that a more limited interpretation of toward will prevail in this regard, but a broader interpretation is certainly possible. Second, “toward” meaning “in the direction of” strengthens the interpretation that “economic engagement” can be unilateral because the engagement just needs to be “towards” the country and not “with” the country.


The term “economic engagement” is probably the most important concept in the resolution.  It is important to understand what issues economic engagement likely occurs over in order to help Affirmative teams as they prepare topical cases. More important than the issues, however, it is important to understand that economic engagement is usually an action and that as long as those actions are considered to be economic engagement it probably doesn’t matter what the actual issue is that the plan engages over.  Both the issues and mechanisms of engagement are listed at the beginning of the essay. For evidence supporting these lists, you should consult the articles and books below.  You can also access the cards directly in Planet Debate’s topicality release.

Understanding the term “economic engagement” is important not only for topicality purposes, but also to understand how some of the most important counterplan ground on the resolution will be derived. Teams who fully understand what “economic engagement” is are on the road to winning a lot of debates.

Additional Citations

Express Tribune, December 2, 2012, “Pakistan-US Hold Talks on Bilateral Economic Engagement”

Swaran Singh, French Research Institutes, India, 2005, China-India Economic Engagement Building Mutual Confidence, … &AId=2013&fref=repec

Raymond E Vickery, November 29, 2009, India Abroad, p. A14

Report of an Independent Task Force convened by Asia Society Center on U.S.-China Relations And The University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation

October 2009, North Korea Inside and Out: The Case for Economic Engagement,

White House, November 19, 2012, Fact Sheet: The U.S.-ASEAN Expanded Economic Engagement (E3) Initiative,

Senator Chris Coons, March 2013, Embracing Africa’s Economic Potential,

Robert D. Hormats, Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, December 7, 2012, US Economic Engagement with the Asia Pacific,

Mondaq, January 21, 2013, The U.S. Mission In Mexico Increases Corporate Eligibility To Participate In Its Business Facilitation Program

Devesh Kapur, Director, Center for Advanced Study of India, and Madan Lal Sobti Professor for the Study of Contemporary India, University of Pennsylvania, Dennis Whittle, Founder & CEO, GlobalGiving,  Fifteenth Annual Herbert and Justice Rose Luttan Rubin International Law Symposium: The Privatization of Development Assistance: CAN THE PRIVATIZATION OF FOREIGN AID ENHANCE ACCOUNTABILITY? Summer 2010, New York University Journal of International Law and Politics, p. 1144

Mark Peters, 2013, Sustainable Enterprise: A Macromarketing Approach, p. 144

Helen V. Milner and Dustin H+ Tingley , government professor, Harvard, International Organization 65, Winter 2011, pp+ 37–68 “Who Supports Global Economic Engagement? The Sources of Preferences in American Foreign Economic Policy,” p. 58

Senator Chris Coons, March 2013, Embracing Africa’s Economic Potential,


African Development Bank Group, May 2011, Brazil’s Economic Engagement with Africa,

Henry M. Paulson, Jr. is U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, 2008, Foreign Affairs,  A Strategic Economic Engagement: Strengthening US-China Ties,

US Chamber of Commerce, no date,  The U.S.-Mexico Leadership Initiative Vision 2020: Enhancing the U.S.-Mexico Economic Partnership

Terence Lau, Assistant Professor, School of Business Administration, University of Dayton, 2004, American Business Law Journal, Summer, “Triggering Parent Company Liability Under United States Sanctions Regimes: The Troubling Implications of Prohibiting Approval and Facilitation,” p. 456

Daniel M. Price* and John P. Hannah**, 1998, (J.D., Harvard Law School, 1981; Dipl. Jur., Cambridge Univ., 1979; B.A., Haverford College, 1977; Partner at Powell, Goldstein, Frazer, & Murphy, Washington, D.C.; Deputy General Counsel, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, 1989-1992, International Law Journal, Spring, p.  443 “ The Constitutionality of United States State and Local Sanctions”

Aylan Broadbent, 1999, Currents: International Trade Law Journal, Summer, “U. S. Export Controls on Dual-Use Goods and Technologies: Is the High Tech Industry Suffering?,” p. 53

Diana Helwig, 2000, Economic Strategy and National Security: A Next Generation Approach, ed. Patrick Desouza, p. 145

Andrew Rose, Professor of International Trade and Economic Analysis and Policy in the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, Mark Spiegel is Vice President, Economic Research, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, 2008, Andrew K. Rose & Mark M. Spiegel, 2009. “Noneconomic Engagement and International Exchange: The Case of Environmental Treaties,” Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 41(2-3), pages 337-363, 03

Robert N. Haass, Director of Foreign Policy Studies-Brookings, 2000, Survival, Vol 42, no. 2, Summer, p. 114-5

Arda Can Elik, Uppsala University (Department Of Peace and Conflict Research) 2011, Economic Sanctions and Engagement Policies, p. 11

US Department of State, 2001-2009, What is Total Economic Engagement?,

Additional References

The eagle and the elephant; strategic aspects of U.S.-India economic engagement. Vickery, Raymond Ezekiel. Johns Hopkins U. Press 2011