Skip to content

An Early Attempt to Limit the NATO Topic

Author: Kevin McCaffrey

Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its security cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in one or more of the following areas: artificial intelligence, biotechnology, cybersecurity.I recently started trying to map out the boundaries of next year’s high school topic, and began by exploring government definitions of “security cooperation”, as I knew from prior experience that this is a term for which there is a formal, authoritative definition. However, what I discovered was somewhat surprising – both that the definition of security cooperation did not seem very useful in excluding any of the various means of cooperation (“activities” seems the term used by practitioners, as opposed to “missions” – I think there may be topicality arguments to be made here about the list of “areas” in the topic delimiting/permitting/denying the specification of missions, not activities, but that is a separate question, and perhaps a future post), but also that it did seem very useful in limiting the agency with primary authority over the plan to the DoD.

To understand why this is notable to me, I first have to unpack two related strategic understandings. First, the topic does not center clash on whether NATO is good or bad, or whether emerging techs are good or bad, but instead, given a world in which U.S. is already committed to NATO, and emerging techs exist, whether there should be more or less security cooperation. I mention this because while it is easy to imagine affirmative cases which elect to claim NATO won’t survive, or the U.S. won’t be perceived as committed, without the plan, that remains a strategic choice, a source of concessionary but not obligatory ground for the negative. Second, my initial impression of the topic literature, in the broadest possible strokes, is that criticism of security cooperation seems mostly either A) acontextual to NATO, i.e. assumes what in the era of NATO’s founding might have been called a “first world vs third world” rather than “first world vs second world” context, or B) focused on bureaucratic politics, particularly what is sometimes called “the interagency” context.

So, if the affirmative does not necessarily have to defend “NATO Good”, nor “Emerging Tech Good”, nor the arguably problematic “development” / “nation-building”-type concepts associated with security cooperation in the “first world v third world” context, what predictable stasis for clash can the negative rely on? Forcing the affirmative to defend DoD primary authority over the plan offers a potentially workable stasis; it would permit the negative to reliably engage with the portion of the security cooperation literature focused on the interagency context, and in particular, 1) the surprisingly deep debate in the literature about which agency, Defense or State, should primarily direct security assistance (here used in its most generic sense to refer to the subset of foreign assistance involving security-related concerns) and its related “militarization”, 2) the resource implications of security cooperation, whether accessed through arguments about overstretch in OSD/DSCA/CCMDs, or arguments about the politics of appropriations and budgeting, and 3) the myriad unpredictable ways in which knowing who “does” the plan implicates every other argument made in the debate, and the process of researching those arguments. While “ASpec” the non-resolutional theory argument may be unappealing, the value of certainty with regards to an agent seems obvious.

You might think these questions “aren’t really reasons the plan is bad”, but I think that way of thinking about the topic/plan misses the point: there is apparent consensus among practitioners that the definition of “security cooperation” is actually less about the content and more about the agent, dissolving whatever assumptions may have been inherited from prior topics about a distinction between agent and content. More practically, if most objections to security cooperation (from within the subset of people who aren’t begging the broader, noncompetitive question of the value of alliances like NATO) are about how broken the bureaucratic process is, but don’t disagree that the U.S. should be cooperating with alliance partners, then those objections ARE the reasons available for why the plan is bad.

As a functional limit on affirmative case writing, this also seems to complement some of the structural inherency warrants I’ve noticed in affirmative literature – a recurring claim seems to relate to existing statutory authorities limiting cooperation to military institutions on both sides of the partnership (i.e. existing SC legislation assumes only “mil-mil” activities), while the resolution’s listed emerging technologies often involve authorities and activities handled by non-military security services (“non-MoD”) in both the U.S. and partner nations.

To me, this seems to foreshadow the terms of one possible stasis for debate (among others), where the affirmative can defend “non-DoD key” warrants against the status quo, and simultaneously “DoD key” warrants against the State Department or other civilian engagements, and the negative can test the strength of both with “Increase PICs” and “DoD/Security Cooperation PICs”, in combination with familiar overstretch, budget politics, and militarization disadvantages / critiques. That doesn’t seem too bad for either side. Given it seems to me that it will be difficult to force the affirmative to defend a particular subset of SC activities (though they may elect to do so themselves), and that I haven’t seen many objections to a particular subset of activities, nor even to the resolution’s listed missions, it’s hard to imagine what a better stasis could look like yet. But I’m only just beginning, and these are just first impressions.

For illustration, here’s an example of what parts of such debates might look like. The linked document has evidence that explains this concept. Probably worth mentioning that while the abolish the non-plan parts of security cooperation may not seem competitive, if the net benefit impact is contextualized to militarizing cooperation with NATO, then perhaps that’s less of a concern. Alternatively, the evidence here already supports a (albeit much worse) slippery slope type link argument that could arguably beat a perm shields argument for a non-NATO terminal impact to militarization. And that’s only one set of many possible objections one could make to how I’ve used the evidence below. But regardless, this is only intended as an illustration of the possibilities available and I hope greater minds and efforts than mine will do better this summer and over the next year.

Back To Top