September-October PF Topic Analysis: The Korean Penninsula, Warheads and Missiles, Missile Defense

Cayman Giordano     Millennial Speech & Debate Institutes   Millennial Online Summer Program
OPTION 1 – Resolved: Continued nuclear weapon development and missile testing are in North Korea’s best interest.
OPTION 2 – Resolved: Deployment of anti-missile systems is in South Korea’s best interest.
After 1.5 days of deliberation, the PF Topic Wording committee has released all the general topic areas for the upcoming school year and the specific wordings for the two September/October topics. This analysis will cover the common elements of both topics’ wording, then specific terms from options 1 and 2 in order:
Common Elements
Symmetry —
The Topic Wording Committee started with “The Korean Peninsula” as a topic area. The last topic to feature Korea was in March of 2011, when teams debated how much of a security threat North Korean missiles posed to the United States. Fast forward to September of 2017, and whichever option wins, the topic will still be about missiles in Korea. The two options are [1] missiles in North Korea (DPRK) and [2] missile defenses in South Korea (ROK). At first glance, both topics are about assessing the danger/deterrent value of North Korea’s missile arsenal, both topics ask us to consider them from a foreign perspective (either the government’s the population’s, or the ideal), both topics are evaluative in nature (as opposed to action topics), because both topics are passively worded with no actors.
In Korea’s best interest:
Resolutions typically include the phrase “best interest” for one of the following reasons:
– When there are conflicting interests that coexist and it changes the debate from a proposition of fact to one of value/policy. (Good relations with the USA and the PRC are both in the ROK’s interests, but if something causes the two interests to trade off, it’s in their best interests to prioritize their oldest ally)
– When one side needs a higher burden to balance out a topic, and adding “best” to “interests” takes the burden from net positive to pareto-optimal. Often, this happens when a topic writer wants to justify pseudo-counterplans as opportunity costs to an advocacy. (Sure, it might be preferable to the status quo, but it precludes the best solution, so it’s not in their best interests.)
– When distinguishing between what a group actually says they want versus what we feel that they ought to want instead. (Sure, they’re interested in having nukes, but they really shouldn’t want them, so they’re not in their best interests.)
On these particular topics, because we’re asking about the best interests of a nation, each resolution can be interpreted to mean what the government wants, what the citizens want, or, if the population is divided or just indifferent, what the citizens should want. This hurts clash for option 1, but is less detrimental to option 2.
For instance, let’s say that an impact of voting Con in option 1 is that the current regime in Pyongyang collapses and loses power. Pro would say that it’s clearly not in the Korean Workers’ Party’s interest to collapse. Con would contend that it is in the North Korean people’s interest for the KWP to collapse. Pro could rebut that the vast majority of the DPRK citizens belong to the KWP, and that the bulk of available North Korean sources suggest that the population doesn’t want their government to fall. Con might respond that they don’t know better because they’ve been fed propaganda, but that if they could see what a life without Kim Jong-un would be like, it’s what they would want with better information, so it’s still in their best interest, even if it’s not in their interests. Ultimately, both sides in this example are agreeing the same impacts are good/bad for the same people, and debating definitions instead of links or impacts. This tend to segue into non-falsifiable impacts where Pro (correctly) points out that Con’s authors are imposing their own values on North Korea and Con (correctly) points out that Pro’s authors are just repeating Juche propaganda. Ultimately, this means arguments don’t get weighed. Even if both teams set out with the intention of clashing and trying to control the direction of a link, the team that’s losing the evidence battle or that drops an internal link partway through the round always has an incentive to define “in North Korea’s best interest” in such a way that they don’t have to answer their opponent’s argument to win the round.
Option 2 has fewer issues with this, because South Korean interests match up more closely between government and governed and because either interpretation of South Korean interests is much closer to what American sources believe their interests should be than in North Korea’s case. Furthermore, most teams and judges will perceive South Korean interests to be closer to US interests than they actually are, because the countries are allied democracies, despite South Korea’s recent impeachment of a hawkish, pro-US, anti-China president and her replacement by a more reconciliatory, pro-China candidate.
Passive voice –
Passive voice is where what would be the object of an active sentence is instead used as the subject of a (usually more vague) sentence. It’s the difference between “Coach, I dropped our 2nd contention” versus “Coach, our 2nd contention got dropped”. When used well, passive voice puts the focus on the action rather than the known-but-unimportant actor; when used poorly, it creates vagueness (vagueness is created when passive voice is used). Passive voice also creates an interesting compromise here in terms of departure from recent PF topic norms: on the one hand, it’s been a year and a half since we had another topic with a perspective beyond the US. (January 2016 “Resolved: On balance, economic sanctions are reducing the threat Russia poses to Western interests”.) On the other hand, even though we’re looking outside the US with both these topic options, we’re still not having foreign actors or giving foreign entities any actual agency.
In option 1, this is less of an issue. Teams who want to be literal can be technically correct if they interpret the resolution to be about global proliferation rather than specifically about the DPRK’s arsenal. (The active-voiced equivalent would be something like “it is in North Korea’s best interest to continue nuclear weapon development and missile testing”). However, even if that’s a valid reading, it’s still reasonable to focus on North Korea’s programs, especially since they’re the only ones that North Korea can affect. Also, most of the Pro arguments stay the same; any generic reasons that proliferation is generally good apply to North Korea, while reasons that proliferation is uniquely good for North Korea are few and far between. Thus, even if both teams come into the round with different interpretations, it’s possible to still make arguments clash.
In option 2, however, passive voice creates more arguments for Pro and gives Con fewer ways to remain competitive. The debate in South Korea over missile defense isn’t whether it should be deployed, but how much of what kinds should be deployed where and by who. When Japanese or American Aegis cruisers are deployed in ROK waters or contested waters, that’s deployment of anti-missile systems that affect South Korean interests. When US bases in South Korea set up MIM-104 Patriot SAM/ABM batteries, that’s also topical. The resolution does not care who is doing the deploying, merely whether missiles are deployed. Unfortunately, the authors that teams will quote care very much about who is doing the deploying (active), more so than whether deployment happens (passive).
Missile — 
Missile should be defined in the context of the individual topic. While there will always be That One Team that talks about how “according to dictionary dot com”, the rocks launched from a slingshot are legally missiles, or how missile comes from the same Latin etymology for “to send” as missive does and can be used to mean a message in a letter, neither of those definitions have any offensive reasons to be preferred in a debate about Korean interests. While it may be true that the word can (or once could) be used to mean those things, there are no warrants why it should. Missiles for the purpose of current events in Korean military policy are all going to satisfy the following 4-part definition: A [1] modern, [2] guided or remotely piloted munition that is [3] self-propelled through air or space and [4] can be equipped with some kind of explosive warhead that delivers either a conventional or WMD payload.
An unguided, self-propelled munition with an explosive payload is typically called a rocket (though from 1738-1945, those rockets were called missiles), while a guided but not self-propelled munition is typically called a smart-bomb. Missiles break down by range, by [launch location] to [target location] (Surface to air, air to air, air to surface, surface to surface, surface to space), and by trajectory into ballistic (travels in an arc) cruise (generates lift) and anti-ballistic (travels in more or less a straight line that intercepts an arc). With the exception of anti-satellite missiles, DPRK has all these types and ROK has defenses corresponding to each of those types.
OPTION 1: “Resolved: Continued nuclear weapon development and missile testing are in North Korea’s best interest.”
Continued —
North Korea already has nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. On either side, they’ll still have them. Given that the DPRK will have the benefits and harms of being a nuclear power on either side, the only real question is whether they should continue advancing and/or demonstrating their capability. This non-uniques a lot of arguments, but in a way that helps Pro more than it helps Con. Most of the reasons why nuclear missile capabilities are bad for the DPRK to have don’t scale linearly with more or newer weapons. However, most of the benefits of being a nuclear power do scale with improved R&D (even if it’s just at a Red Queen Hypothesis speed; advancing just enough to keep pace with other countries’ countermeasures). Pro can also argue that since disarmament just isn’t in the cards (literal or metaphorical) for North Korea, that having just enough nuclear weapons to incur the wrath of the international community but not enough range/reliability/redundancy to be a credible deterrent is the worst of both worlds. Thus Pro can concede that testing the first nuclear weapon back in 2006 may have been a bad idea, but say that since Pyongyang has committed to becoming a nuclear power, they may as well do it right, and thus, continuing is in their best interests.
Although it seems minor, the difference between “and” versus “and/or” is the difference between an advantage for Con or a standoff for Pro. To win the debate, Pro needs to win that the DPRK should both develop more nuclear weapons and test more missiles. If Con proves that either of the two is bad, Pro loses. This gives Con teams the option to go all-in on long-range missile tests being bad for the DPRK even if a nuclear deterrent is good, or vice versa.
Development/Testing —
There’s a difference between “development and testing of nuclear weapons and missiles” versus “development of weapons and testing of missiles”. Pro doesn’t necessarily need to defend nuclear tests, although they do need a tangible experimental component beyond theoretical research. The term “R&D” exists for a reason and we need research in order to have development. Even if Pro does need to defend nuclear tests, all five tests that the DPRK has carried out so far have been underground rather than on missiles. Missile tests, at least all the large-scale ones North Korea have carried out to date, have been tests of propulsion/delivery systems, not tests of warheads. Keep in mind that even if the DPRK were to stop development, it could still theoretically trade with allies to update its arsenal with already-tested weapons like it has in the past; Pakistan played a major role in North Korea’s nuclear program and China has aided in past missile R&D.
OPTION 2: “Resolved: Deployment of anti-missile systems is in South Korea’s best interest.”
Deployment —
Deploying means more than just possessing, though how much more depends on the system. In the context of mobile missile defenses, it means having them active where their range is relevant. In the context of static missile defenses, it probably means having them armed, activated, crewed, linked into radar, and networked with other defenses. This possession/deployment distinction matters much more for offensive weapons than defensive countermeasures, but it still matters a little on this topic because while missile defenses are deployed, their active radar has the potential to cause diplomatic problems with China. Pro teams probably aren’t going to push back on this too hard, though; the only way that anti-missile systems will deter or stop an attack is if they’re deployed, so they need to concede this to access the most intuitive benefits of missile defense.
“Deployment of” is the only way to make this sentence even more passive than “deploying.” would have. We’ve discussed how this helps Pro and hurts Con in the common element section above, but it’s worth looking at deployment in more detail anyway. Note that the resolution does not say “increased deployment” or “further deployment”, so Pro can defend the status quo on option 2 if they’re so inclined. Deployment is probably talking about all anti-missile systems on balance, not just the newest or most controversial ones. If the topic were “deployment of air superiority fighters is in the best interest of the United States”, most of the headlines would be about the F-35A Lightnings that are supposed to deploy to five locations in the not-too-distant future. However, on balance, most of our deployed air superiority fighters are the older F-15 Eagles, F-16 Fighting Falcons, or F-22A Raptors. Similarly, the Goalkeeper missile defense systems that the ROK Navy has deployed for over 30 years are relatively close-range and better against cruise missiles than ballistic missiles, but they’re a bigger part of “deployment of anti-missile systems” in and around South Korea than THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) is.
Con might try to salvage some ground back by interpreting deployment as deploying dedicated anti-missile systems rather than deploying ships, tanks, and airplanes with anti-missile systems on them. This would make BMD (Ballistic Missile Defense) a larger fraction of the topic, though, as we’ll talk about in our next definition, there’s still a lot left in that category.
Anti-missile systems —
This isn’t a term of art; there’s no agreed-upon definition of what constitutes an anti-missile system among militaries, arms-manufacturers, researchers, or governments. This means that teams are stuck either defining the words separately or interpreting the phrase collectively. Obviously, it’s a system that’s designed to work against missiles, but Con can’t win if they stop with it that broadly defined. It’s probably reasonable (although not necessary) for Pro to define them as systems that protect against missiles by destroying them rather than by making them miss (excludes ECM) or by making a hit survivable (excludes bunkers/armor). Ballistic Missile Defense systems target missiles in one of three stages: pre-boost (shortly after launch), midcourse (what it sounds like), and terminal (as the missile is coming back down). Con would like to narrow the debate from missile defense as a whole to the terminal stage of ballistic missile defense, but doesn’t really have any textual basis for excluding cruise missile defense, pre-boost missile defense, or low-altitude missile defense.