Next Season’s Topic: Synopsis of the Problem Areas for 2011-2012

The National Federation of High Schools has released the official “Synopsis of the Problem Areas” for next season’s topic. The topic that will be debated is selected through balloting by state and national organizations. The problem area descriptions are below the fold.

PROBLEM AREA I: Cyber Security

Resolved: The United States federal government should establish rules of engagement governing its use of cyber warfare.

The possibility of cyber war has escalated for over a decade but has recently become a reality. The United States is more vulnerable to a cyber attack than other nations. Our dependence on cyberspace for our critical infrastructure, communication and economy puts us at risk. Though we are one of the better-equipped nations to wage cyber war, there are no rules of engagement. Rules exist for conventional and nuclear war but those same rules don’t exist for cyber warfare. The United States should take the lead and establish its own rules of engagement. Issues are familiar from debates regarding conventional war, but students would get to examine them through the new lens of cyber war. Affirmatives may argue no first use and acceptable/unacceptable targets including civilian populations and specific industries like banking or power generation. Other affirmative issues include the use of logic bombs and trapdoors in computer systems and a host of offensive and defensive policies. Advantage ground extends to the U.S. relationship with other countries or the obligation to assist other countries and what U.S. accountability should be with non-state actors. Negatives could have disadvantage ground including privacy, business confidence, hegemony, economy and politics. Counterplan ground includes international actors, private actors and application of conventional war practices to cyber war. Critique ground could include issues as statism and biopower. The United States is currently attempting to determine our policies and practices that foster a multitude of proposals for plans of action. There isn’t a quick fix; the fruition of policy or legislative discussion is years away. Now is the time for debaters to examine our direction in the area of cyber warfare.

PROBLEM AREA II: Southeast Asia

Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its development assistance to Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia, which consists of Burma, Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, is one of the most dynamic regions in the world. It is surrounded and heavily influenced by the military and economic might of China, the booming population of India and the industrial strength of Japan. However, Southeast Asia faces several unique infrastructural, environmental and other developmental challenges. Japan, China and Australia, having recognized the potential for growth and productivity in the region and are substantially involved there. Their assistance has not generated adequate results. Likewise, according to studies from the Department of Defense and the Heritage Foundation, the current level of United States assistance is insufficient to meet the developmental needs of the area. Now is the critical time for the United States to increase its engagement if it wishes to remain a dominant actor in the region. Affirmatives could use a variety of mechanisms including: loans, grants, technical aid, access to capital markets and investments. Such assistance could help one or more nations improve their infrastructure, economy, environment, education system and agricultural output. Negatives have several unique areas for ground and could dispute the effectiveness of developmental assistance, the appropriateness of the United States as an actor, and the morality of assisting an area that is wrought with human rights abuses.


Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its exploration and/or development of space beyond the Earth’s mesosphere.

Space exploration fires people’s imaginations. The 1969 moon landings rank as one of the highest achievements of modern civilization. There is something uncanny about the human need to explore the universe. Discussing space exploration and development would have the same effect. A topic like this could spark the imagination of potential debaters, and the easy accessibility of materials would make the learning curve on the subject manageable. This is a critical time in the United States space program. The status of the National Aeronautics and Space and Administration is in limbo, especially concerning human spaceflight. The Space Shuttle is retiring in the fall of 2010, with no possible US replacement available before 2015. In addition, NASA has an unclear mandate/direction to explore either the Moon or Mars. This is balanced against NASA’s recent success with robotic exploration, such as the Mars rovers and the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as increased private sector growth. Affirmative cases could include astronomical surveys, setting new goals for human spaceflight, using new probes to examine celestial bodies in our solar system or beyond, and developing space economies. The technological and economic benefits of the space program are well documented. Negative arguments could include the increased militarization of space, the significant cost in money and resources, timeframe arguments and the need to focus more on problems concerning the Earth, such as climate change.


Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its cooperation with India in one or more of the following areas: civilian space programs, nuclear proliferation, trade.

In addition to being one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing economies, India is also one of the world’s most populous nations, ranking second, behind China, with over 1.1 billion people. India is often characterized as a nascent major power and “natural partner” of the United States. Since 2004, Washington and New Delhi have pursued a “strategic partnership” based on shared values such as democracy, pluralism and rule of law. Numerous economic, security and global initiatives, including plans for civilian nuclear cooperation, are underway. Given this policy emphasis, it is a perfect time for high school debaters to examine US foreign policy towards India. Affirmatives could include decreasing controls on technology exports to India, reducing restrictions on arms sales to India, reducing restrictions on nuclear fuel exports to India, increasing U.S.-India cooperation in space, increase US-India cooperation on counterterrorism, increase U.S.-India cooperation on renewable energy development, negotiating a U.S.-India bilateral trade treaty and support India as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Advantages could include the specifics for the individual plans, as well as increased U.S.-Indian relations and effects on international security vis-à-vis China, Russia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Negatives could argue that increasing cooperation with India would negatively affect the nonproliferation regime, fuel world instability by increasing competition with and concern from China and promote regional instability by tipping the delicate balance of U.S.-Indian-Pakistani relations. In addition, negatives could run disadvantages relating to the effects of the various plans on the U.S. and world economy, as well as on the U.S. federal budget. The standard kritiks that are used on foreign policy topics would also be available on this topic as well.


Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its economic engagement with the People’s Republic of China on one or more of the following issues: trade, currency, environment.

There are powerful reasons for the United States to build closer ties with China. The United States and China are the two largest economies in the world when Gross Domestic Product is measured on a purchasing power basis. Simultaneously, there are reasons for caution, given the human rights conditions and central control of the economy in China. Former Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Paulson, in the September/October 2008 issue of Foreign Affairs entitled, “Strengthening U.S.-Chinese Ties: A Strategic Economic Engagement on Trade and the Environment,” explains “economic engagement” as promoting interdependence between the U.S. and Chinese economies. He also explains “economic engagement” by contrasting it with the alternatives. “There are three possible ways for the United States and China to pursue their economic and trade relations: robust engagement, dispute resolution through multilateral and bilateral enforcement measures or punitive legislation.” Possible affirmative cases could focus on promoting product safety, direct foreign investment, management of currencies, protection of the environment, workers’ rights, respecting intellectual property rights and inclusion of China in major international forums such as the G8. Negative positions could focus on human rights issues, concern that a stronger economy would strengthen the Chinese military, changes in the balance of power in Asia and tensions within the World Trade Organization.

4 thoughts on “Next Season’s Topic: Synopsis of the Problem Areas for 2011-2012

  1. Michael Antonucci

    Gotta admit – not a big fan of "cyber warfare." Not many proposals, the term of art is pretty 90s Wired, and it's just not that hot an issue. No competing proposals – just a bunch of military articles saying "hey, there's this thing, there it is, let's do it up" and an ambiguous nuclear first-use threat that we should obviously retract.

    I mention this not (only) to whinge, but because I think a techy topic would be cool and different, but we haven't collectively figured out how to pose the question.

    Net neutrality would be hotter.

  2. Ellis

    how do you/everyone feel about space? captures all the cool tech stuff, or at least a lot of it. i wasn't a fan when it was considered for this year's topic – i got the impression the lit base would be too hackish. no basis for knowing this, just unease about reading random space nerds's blogs for 10 months.

  3. Michael Antonucci

    I'm into (other) nerds. (This is no shocker.)

    I don't like space because it's defined by one-sided cool ideas. There's not much two-sided debate. The natural neg isn't a counterplan with a net benefit – the real neg in the literature is spending and solvency timeframe presses. (Solar sails are surely very exciting, but cost a lot of money and take a long time to develop.)

    I don't think that translates into "aff bias" – I just think it means the cool stuff gets forgotten by the time the rebuttals come around because it's strategic to make the debate about something else.

    Spending disads in debate are always tough for uniqueness reasons.

    This is why I'm into an Internet regulation topic. It's defined by random nerds too, but nerds who argue with each other instead of saying "yay, space, cool" and mutually admiring each other. I can easily imagine some really intricate and awesome debates on that topic.

  4. Kevin Hirn

    I agree with Antonucci that net neutrality would be a really good topic. Cyber-security literature is not conducive to a good topic… there's not a lot being written now. From a very limited amount of time spent researching answers to cyberterror and cyber insecurity accidental launch impacts last year, the majority of proposals and good impact/impact defense cards that I found were from the mid-1990's (which makes sense, because that was the burgeoning of the dot-com bubble and the real burst of the internet, the burst Mosaic and then the Netscape/IE browser wars).

    Space is fun to debate, and there is a lot of good literature to support it. It's a valuable debate to be had, but I would also echo Antonucci's concerns about a lack of good debateable neg literature outside of impact turns, solvency defense, and the spending DA. Alternative proposals will rarely get net benefits.

    I like the India topic. It captures the good parts of the space debate while still allowing good neg ground (like whether or not the US should work unilaterally, or with China, etc), which still allows debates about space. It also integrates free trade and proliferation, which have tons of good neg ground in terms of counterplan proposals, impact turns, etc.

    There's a ton of literature on US-India cooperation – here are some examples from the last three months (these are in the first ten off google).

Comments are closed.