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Resolutional Analysis  

I must preface my remarks by saying that I have never debated in the National Forensics League, or any other public high school debate league. I have participated in debate for the last four years as a home-educated student. As such, I am familiar with the rules and theory of my league, and not yours. I come from a background that heavily emphasizes the stock issues, so what I will present may not perfectly apply, but the ideas may at least serve to stimulate your own thoughts concerning the topic.

The public school topic is, as you know, Resolved: That the United States federal government should establish a foreign policy significantly limiting the use of weapons of mass destruction. To make a plan work, (solvent) you must therefore restrict to a large degree the use of WMD's. The problem is that you can only do this by changing US foreign policy.

In my opinion, the meaning of the word use is essential to an understanding of the resolution. As a result, I will focus on this point throughout the rest of this article. I will begin by falling back upon two dictionaries, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition, 2000, and The Cambridge International Dictionary of the English Language, 2001. I chose these two dictionaries because they suited my purposes and they are probably familiar to most of you. Other dictionaries may define the words in the resolution differently allowing for a variety of plans. I certainly do not hope to explain every possible plan, I merely hope to show you some of the interpretations of the resolution that I see.

The Cambridge International Dictionary of the English Language defines use several ways, here are three:

1.       to put to a particular purpose

2.       to reduce the amount of or finish, such as by eating it, burning it, writing on it or changing it chemically; to consume

3.       to take advantage of; to exploit

The first definition is very open, allowing you to determine what a particular purpose means. This definition is also dangerous because the negative team can easily argue that their idea of what a particular purpose means is equally valid.

It could be more difficult to argue that the second definition is legitimate, but it very much brings to mind the idea of firing or detonation. Of course, the level of such detonation is basically zero right now, so you will have to be careful if you choose to utilize this definition.

The third definition seems to be even more distant from the resolution, but limiting the exploitation of WMDs is a concern. Whether you wish to address exploitation of US WMDs or foreign WMDs is up to you, but it is possible to argue that the exploitation of US weapons does not fall under foreign policy, and that foreign policy would be powerless to actually limit exploitation of foreign weapons.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines use several ways; here are a few of them:

1.       The condition or fact of being used.

2.       The quality of being suitable or adaptable to an end; usefulness.

3.       A purpose for which something is used.  

These definitions provide some intriguing possibilities. The first sense of use is important because it opens up the realm of proliferation. By presenting the resolution as Resolved: That the United States should establish a foreign policy significantly limiting the fact of use of weapons of mass destruction, you change the discussion to one of possession- the essence of the proliferation debate.

The second definition, if applied, would give the resolution a very new meaning, specifically, limiting the usefulness of WMDs. How one would go about fulfilling this understanding of the resolution, I am not sure, but I have no doubt that possibilities exist.

In my opinion, the last definition has the most potential. Under this explanation of the word use, instead of limiting the number of weapons or the level of their detonation, the resolution would now call for the limitation of the purposes for which WMDs are used. Changing the US policy for firing its own WMDs is something that can be done with more surety than limiting other nations use of WMDs by manipulation of our foreign policy.

The biggest obstacle to most of these definitions is that foreign policy does not guarantee anything. If you are trying to limit something with foreign policy instead of in it, you will have a lot of trouble convincing a judge that your plan has any reasonable assurance of solvency.

As I mentioned earlier, this resolution can be interpreted in many different ways, the above examples are just that, examples. I should also note that I have worked through only one word of the resolution, and I did so with but two dictionaries. There are more than two dictionaries available to you, and there is more than one word in the resolution. How you ultimately define the resolution is incredibly important, use the resources available to you carefully, debates will often be decided upon how well you have defined and analyzed the resolution.

Benjamin K. Schubert,
Mackinac Center Summer 2001 Research Intern.

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