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Resolved: It is just for the United States to use military force to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons by nations that pose a military threat

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This is a very wordy topic. The NFL's Wording Committee was obviously trying to abstract from the debates surrounding the invasion of Iraq, the confrontation with North Korea and the ongoing stand-off with Iran. Unfortunately, because this topic abstracts from the particulars of these specific situations, it is a far more difficult topic to debate. The core question, of course, is whether the prevention of an hostile nation acquiring is sufficient justification for the United States to use military force preemptively. Does preventing another state from acquiring nuclear weapons justify that attacking that country? And, if it does, to what level of force is the United States justified in using? The affirmative will likely need to be very precise in defining the circumstances when the use of military force would be justified. The negative will likely have to argue that preemptive use of military force can never be justified.

When the Cold War ended, there was widespread hope that the threat of nuclear war would lesson. Indeed, the symbolic ""Doomsday Clock" a maintained since 1947 by the Board of Directors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, was wound back to seventeen minutes before midnight in 1991. Today, however, the clock is back down to five minutes to midnight. As the Board explained "The world stands at the brink of a second nuclear age. The United States and Russia remain ready to stage a nuclear attack within minutes, North Korea conducts a nuclear test, and many in the international community worry that Iran plans to acquire the Bomb."[1]. The chance that a "rogue state" will acquire nuclear weapons or that Iran will join its "Axis of Evil" cohort, North Korea, as a member of the "nuclear club" are undoubtedly great now than they were in the days when the cold war between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The Bush administration already used the threat of Iraq gaining weapons of mass destructions as a justification for invasion. Though no evidence was ever found that Iraq had an active program to develop or acquire nuclear weapons, the Bush administration continues to argue that the potential of Iraq acquiring those weapons was indeed sufficient to justify the invasion of Iraq. A good starting point for any discussion of this topic would be to consider whether the war in Iraq could be justified on these grounds. Is so, why? If not, why not?



There are those who would argue that the term a "just war" is an oxymoron and that, by definition, war can never be just. The pacifist believes so strongly in this principle that they condemn any use of military force and vow not to take up arms even in self defense. The pacifist would rather a die a violent death than use military force. The strong pacifist's position, though, will likely not convince many judges. Pacifism seems particularly difficult to justify when what's at stake is humanity itself. Calling a nuclear weapon a "weapon of mass destruction" is an understatement. A 500 pound ton bomb detonated in a crowded marketplace will have a devastating impact. The lives lost in such an attack would be inconsequential when compared with the devastation that a nuclear warhead would cause. Further, a nuclear weapon is a weapon that just keeps on killing. The radiation that even the most smallest nuclear weapons would release into the earth's atmosphere would kill for many years beyond in initial detonation, the land where the attack took place would become unlivable. It would be very difficult to justify a refusal to take military action in a situation where such action was needed to avoid a nuclear holocaust

There will, of course, be negative who will contend that that the use of military force to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons that pose a military threat to the United States is "necessary but not just." That is, like the pacifist, these negatives will argue that war can never be justified, but they will argue that this doesn't mean that one should never go to war. The negatives will concede the necessity of going to war, but argue that though it is necessity to use military force to prevent Armageddon that it is still not just. It will be important for the affirmative to be able to explain why this arguments, though intuitively appealing, ultimately makes no sense.

Consider the following example: suppose that the United States sees that a country hostile to it is building a nuclear facility that reliable sources tell it is designed to produce nuclear weapons for use against the United States. The facility is not yet operational, but will be in a number of months. Suppose the United States goes to the United Nations and after a much discussion and a few rounds of sanctions, the United Nations passes a resolution condoning the United States' use of military force against this country. The United States warns this country of the attack and even send a plane over the facility to drop leaflets letting the workers know that it's about the bomb it. The state, however, makes it clear to the United States that it will not evacuate the weapons factory and, instead, puts guards at the doors to insure that workers do not leave. Realizing that the facility was nearing completion and that if it did not act immediately this hostile nation would have the capacity to build nuclear weapons, the United States sends bombers to attack the facility. Using laser guided weapons, the United States destroys the factory, killing the approximately hundred people inside.

It is obviously true that an injustice has occurred: one hundred innocent people were killed. Those who would argue that the use of military force in this instance was "necessary but not just" would likely point to the lose of these hundred innocent lives. The problem, though, is that it is really not possible to argue both that an action is necessary and that it is unjust. That is particularly true in this case. Indeed, the pacifists discussed above would be quick to point out that the use of military force is never necessary. While we might question the morality of the person who refuses to act to defend innocent people, the pacifist is clearly right to say that the United States' chose to use military force, it was not an involuntary act. The choice to use military force may always be difficult, but end the end there always is a choice. Just as it would be wrong for the pacifist who accepts martyrdom rather than use violence in self defense to say that the martyrdom was necessary, it would be wrong for those who use force in self defense to claim that their action was necessary. Both the pacifist and those who would support the United States' action in the example above may feel compelled by their sense of right and wrong to make the choice the choice that they do, but to acting on account of a sense of moral obligation is not acting out of necessity.

Still, some might insist, how could it be "just" to kill one hundred innocent people? Isn't this, at best a "necessary evil?" It can't possibly be just for these one hundred innocent people to have been killed. While one might excuse the United States military for its actions, the fact that on hundred innocent people died, some might insist, precludes the action from being called just. By what definition of justice, they would argue, can it be just to kill one hundred innocent people? If one accepts the common claim that justice means giving "each his or her fair due," doesn't it seem obvious that these hundred people have not been given their due?

In fact, while it is clearly unjust that these one hundred people died, this does not make the military force used to destroy this weapons factory necessarily unjust. St. Thomas Aquinas, perhaps explained this best in his great work, the Summa Theologica, in the sections where he discusses just war. There Aquinas elucidates what has come to be known as the principle or doctrine of "double effect".

This principle, which remains a doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, states that: Church teaches that one may legitimately choose to carry out an act that is morally good, but which has one or more unintended side effects that are morally evil. The principle of double effect has several guideline that must be met for an act to be morally acceptable:

  • The intended act must be good in itself. The intended act may not be morally evil.
  • The good effect of the act must be that which is directly intended by the one who carries out the act. The bad effect that results from the act may be foreseen by the agent but must be unintended.
  • The good effect must not be brought about by using morally evil means.
  • The good effect must be of equal or greater proportion to any evil effect which would result.
  • Acts that have morally negative effects are permissible only when truly necessary, i.e., when there are no other means by which the good may be obtained.[2]

Whether using military force to prevent a nation from acquiring nuclear weapons satisfies the principle of double effect is of course debatable.

For other ethical dilemmas like the one described above, see the Wikipedia entry on the Trolley Car Problem.

Military force

The United States' military is by a wide margin the world's most powerful military force. The difficulties the United States has had in bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan and Iraq do not result from the United States having insufficient fire power at its disposal. It is the enormous scope of the United States' military might that could make it difficult for the negative in this debate.

Suppose, for instance, the United States discovered that North Korea has sold a crude nuclear weapon to Syria and that Syria intends to use that weapon against Israel. Reliable intelligence identifies that the device is being transported to Syria by ship and they are able to identify the ship, an unarmed freighter that the United States navy can easily intercept without significant loss of life or risk to the environment. It would be hard to argue that the United States it would not be appropriate for the United States to dispatch its navy to try to prevent this weapon from reaching Syria.

A negative will no doubt have a hard time arguing that the United States ought not use its military in a case such as this. The negative could try to argue that the United States action would surely infuriate the North Koreans who might, in response to the hostile act taken by the Americans, launch a nuclear attack on Seoul, but this is not that likely to persuade. North Korea would be highly unlikely to launch a nuclear attack in response to the seizure of a single ship caught smuggling a nuclear weapon to Syria.

In September 2007, Israel attacked a Syrian military installation. Neither Israel nor Syria have indicated why Israel might have felt it necessary to attack this installation, but fear that North Korea might indeed have been supplying Syria with the means of developing nuclear weapons is considered one of the more likely explanations for the Israeli military action.

A nuclear weapon in the hands of a country still, technically, in a state of war against Israel would surely represent a grave threat to global security.

At the same time, one of the Bush administration's justifications for the invasion of Iraq was a desire to stop Iraq from acquiring nuclear weapons. When, after having invaded Iraq, it was discovered that Iraq was likely years away from developing its own weapon, the Bush administration continued to press it point arguing that while Iraq may not have been able to develop its own weapons that the Iraqi regimes desire to acquire a nuclear weapon was sufficient to justify the invasion. Tens of thousands of people have died in Iraq as a result of this invasion.

Regardless of how one feels about the war in Iraq, it is hard to argue that the United States' full scale invasion of Iraq stands on as firm moral ground as Israel's bombing of a Syrian military installation.

The negative might try to argue that taken to its logical conclusion, affirming the resolution would mean justify the United States using military force against any nation that could potentially pose a threat to it. With any nation potentially able to acquire nuclear weapons on the black market, any nation that is hostile the United States could theoretically be subject to attack by the United States. As it becomes increasingly difficult to prevent a country from acquiring nuclear weapons, if the the argument that the United States would have a right to use its military to remove hostile governments from power since these government could, at some point, try to acquire nuclear weapons.

The affirmative's response, of course, will be that it's not its burden to prove that any and all use of military force against hostile nations to prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons would be just. The affirmative, instead, will insist that all it has to do is show that under certain conditions it would be just for the United States to use its military to prevent a nation hostile to it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Acquisition of Nuclear Weapons

It is becoming increasingly easier for nations to acquire nuclear weapons. The technology needed to produce nuclear weapons can be pruchased legally or illegally. While it remains relatively difficult to acquire the nuclear material needed for bombs, this too is becoming progressively easier. While the number of countries that have signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is large, the treaty has proven difficult to enforce. North Korea signed the treaty, violated it, and then withdrew. Iran has arguably been in violation of the treaty for some time now.

While it still takes some time for a country to acquire the ability to create its own weapons, the ability to acquire already made weapons is an ever-present threat. The topic asks whether the United States can use military force to prevent a nation that already poses a military threat to it from acquiring nuclear weaspons. What the topic doesn't specify, though, is whether the nations against which the Unitd States might use military force are currently and actively attempting to acquire nuclear weapons. Take the example of Iran, which United States intelligence community believes had a covert program to develop nuclear weapon that it terminated in 2003. The Bush administration reads this report as confirming the hostile intent of Iran and has suggested it might use military action against it. Does the affirmative have to defend the use of force against Iran? What about Syria? What about Venezuela or Cuba?

The negative can try to argue that it's the affirmative's burden to justify the United States' use of military force in any situation where a nation posed a military threat, since any nation that is already a military threat could potentially acquire nuclear weapons. In other words, the negative could try to push the affirmative into supporting the United States pursuing regime change through military force in any case where a nation that does not currently have nuclear weapons poses a military threat to it. The affirmative will likely need to be very clear on the conditions under which its willing to claim that the use of military force is justified. The affirmative will need to be careful, though, to set conditions on affirming that would seem to suggest that the negative could claim that all affirmative is doing is providing some limited exceptions to a general rule preventing the United States from using military force.

Nuclear Weapons

There was much talk in the run-up to the United States' invasion of Iraq of "weapons of mass destruction." The term refers not simply to nuclear weapons, but also to biological and chemical weapons, all of which can have devastating effect not just on humanity but also on the broader environment. Similarly, these weapons are also recognized as having not just a short term impact on the environment: their effect can be long lasting and severe. Nonetheless, the NFL Wording Committee chose to have the debates on this topic focus more narrowly and exclusively on nuclear weapons.

The obvious question, then, is whether there is something that makes nuclear weapons distinct from all other forms of weapons? Would it make sense to say that the United States could justly use military force to prevent another nation from acquiring nuclear weapons but not chemical or biological weapons? The affirmative will need to consider whether to leave open the question of whether the United States could use force to prevent another nation from acquiring weapons other than nuclear weapons. Negatives might, in cross examination, try to pin the affirmative down on this point, since one of the best available negative strategies is to argue that the affirmative's position is one that justifies rampant use of military force by the United States.

There are, however, good grounds for arguing that nuclear weapons currently pose a unique threat to humanity that no other weapons of mass destruction pose. It is obviously true that the chemical, biological and even conventional weapons that exist today can cause horrific levels of mass destruction. It is only nuclear weapons, though, that currently pose a threat of total destruction. A Jonathan Schell documented in his bestelling book, The Fate of the Earth, the detonation of even a small number of nuclear warheads would render the earth uninhabitable. The threat of human extinction, far more than any threat to any particular nation's security, could justify the use military force to stop nuclear proliferation. This supposes, though, that nation's acquiring nuclear weapons intended to use them, which the negative could argue is a big assumption.

Nations that Pose a Military Threat

The United States has by far the world's strongest military. The list of countries that pose a serious military threat, which one might try to distinguish from a terrorist threat, is small. It's arguable, in fact, that there is not a single country that poses a serious military threat to the United States that does not already posses nuclear weapons. However, the resolution does not say that the country must pose a threat to the U.S.; It simply says, "Nations that pose a military threat." However, using the assumption that the resolution refers to military threats to the United States, One could argue that Iran is currently posing a military threat to American forces in Iraq (see the December 2007 NFL Public Forum Debate Topic), but few Americans go to sleep at night fearing an imminent attack by Iran on the United States homeland.

Indeed, the United States has never gone to war against a country that possesses nuclear weapons, and has in the nuclear age only invaded or attacked countries that do not possess nuclear weapons. This is likely a fact not lost on countries, like North Korea, who recognized that their conventional forces would be no match for the United States'.


A lot of debates on this topic will probably revolve around question of what burden each side is supposed to uphold in this debate. This is largely because neither side in this debate would likely want to uphold an absolutist position. For instance, it's unlikely that an affirmative would be willing to defend the invasion of a country based on a mild suspicion that the country was in pursuit of nuclear weapons. The immanence of the threat that an unfriendly nation might acquire nuclear weapons, the degree of threat that country poses to the United States, and the amount and type of force needed to prevent the acquisition of the weapons are all factors the affirmative likely want to say matter when calculating the use of military force to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons would be considered just. Similarly, the negative would probably not want to argue that under no circumstances whatsoever should the United States act to prevent a hostile nation from acquiring nuclear weapons. For both sides, then, the question is really how conditionally they wish to defend their position.

There are some who argue that the affirmative's burden in a debate is to uphold a topic "unconditionally." However, this is a silly claim. There are very few topics that come up for debate that lends themselves to absolute claims on one side or another. For instance, in a debate over whether the death penalty is just, it could never be claimed that the affirmative has to defend a nation that might impose the death penalty for traffic violations.

The difficult question is how far can the affirmative can go in limiting the circumstances when the United States could justly use military force to prevent another nation from acquiring a nuclear weapon before crossing over to the other side of the resolution.

Of the two sides in this debate, the negative probably could probably go the closest to taking an absolute stance arguing against any preemptive use of military force, but doing so is of course rather risky. Clearly one can imagine circumstances where the possibility of war loomed large and the threat of a nuclear strike so real that the United States' failure to act would seem utterly indefensible. Still, for the negative it will probably be much easier to argue that the rare exception proves the rule.

Values and Criterion


The resolution clearly provides the value for this debate: Justice.

Of course, determining what justice demands, particularly when it comes to issues relating to war and peace is not altogether easy. What is Justice? "Giving each his or her due" is a standard enough definition, but figuring out what each person is due is not obvious. With this resolution(and many other resolutions that employ justice as the evaluative term), the use of your Criterion to create Justice is what you should focus on if you choose this as your value.


Aff: The protection of human rights is always a good candidate for a value criterion when a topic posts a value of justice. In this topic, it wold seem particularly useful since, in the end, it's the potential destruction of humanity itself that makes the threat of nuclear weapons so great. While one day a biological weapon might come along that could threaten humanity with extinction, currently it is only nucler weapons that pose this grave a threat to humanity. The United states in trying ot avert a nuclear holocaust would be doing more than simply trying to protect its own citizenry: it would be trying to to protect humanity itself. The question, of course, is whether affirming the topic really would protect human rights, but this is open to good debate. the negative would have very little to complain about were affirmative to offer a calue criterion of the protection of human rights and a good debate should ensue.

Double Effect (Thomas Aquinas) : The doctrine (or principle) of double effect is often invoked to explain the permissibility of an action that causes a serious harm, such as the death of a human being, as a side effect of promoting some good end. This could be used on this topic on the Affirmative by saying that even though we cause harm by using military force we still gain the side-effect that the military threat is removed. This can be used as a weighing mechanism to show that harms are acceptable, because of the good end. This Consequential framework is absolutely not a stock argument, but a twist of philosophy to give your case originality.

The principle of double effect couldeasily serve as a value criterion for this topic. The affirmative would have to argue that when the conditions of the principle are satisfied, that the United States' use of military force would be justified. To do this, the affirmative would have to show the harm of letting a country which poses a military threat is greater than the harms that will result from use of military force. The difficulty for the affirmative is that the harms of nuclear weapons result from their use, not their acquisition. While, obviously, a country that does not have nuclear weapons cannot use them, countries that have them don't necessarily use them. Consider, for instance, Paikistan and India. Since these two countries have acquired nuclear weapons, they have not gone to war with one another. Prior to their acquiring nuclear weapons, they fought four wars against one another.

Self-Preservation (Thomas Hobbes) : the theory that we should preserve ourselves(pretty self-explanatory). This is essentially an expansion of Self-Defense, but the backing of Thomas Hobbes in his Leviathan gives it much more strength. Hobbes wrote that "during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man". In this state any person has a natural right to do anything to preserve his own liberty or safety, and life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." He believed that in the international arena, states behave as individuals do in a state of nature. This can be used on the Affirmative if you say that the U.S. should preserve itself and preempt any strike against it.

Self preservation is probably one of the weaker value criterion that the affirmative can appeal to since it makes it more difficult for the affirmative to take the moral high ground of protecting the broader peace. To have to relate everything back to the self-preservation of the United States puts the affirmative in what might be seen as a rather selfish position.

A further problem with a criterion of self-preservation is that it is difficult to prove the preemptive military strikes will necessarily make the United States more secure. In sanctioning preemptive military strikes, the topic could in the end make the United States less rather than more safe since nations fearful of preemptive strikes might be more willing themselves to strike against the United States or its allies. Nations might also become all the more desirous of nuclear weapons knowning that the United States would be far less likely to attack them were they to posses them. Of course, it's difficult to warrant these claims, but at the same time if countries knew that the United States felt justified in attacking them to prevent the their acquisition of nuclear weapons and unlikely to attack them if they did possess them, it seems reasonable to assume that this would give them all the more reason to try to acquire nuclear weapons in the first place. While the topic does not tell us whether the United States could ever be justified in using military force against a country that has nuclear weapons, prudence would suggest attacking such a country would be foolhardy. Indeed, North Korea's primary argument in defense of its acquisition of nuclear weapons was a desire to deter a United States attack.

John Locke's Social Contract: Locke argues that in a natural state all people were equal and independent, and none had a right to harm another’s “life, health, liberty, or possessions.” Locke argues that it is the government's first obligation to protect those rights. This is relevant to the topic in that a nuclear war is capable of removing our rights to Life, Liberty, and Property, thus it is the obligation of our government to protect our rights. This justifies the U.S. in preempting nuclear war, the key thing you have to prove is that nuclear war is a real possibility.

This argument, though, can be easily turned by the negative since it a country were able to attack any country that was a perceived threat to it's life, liberty or property we could easily end up in what Hobbes described in Chapter 13 of Leviathan as a "war of all against all."

Machiavellian Principle, Niccolò Machiavelli writes in The Prince about governmental theory that the state is the most important thing to protect. His position is that all a ruler, the "prince", needs to do is carefully maintain the institutions that the people are used to, so according to this analysis anything that protects the state is just. You can reason that preventing something that may destroy the state, like nuclear weapons, will preserve the state.

Cosmopolitanism (Kant’s International Project) states that all of humanity belongs to a single moral community. this is a critical argument against the Aff in that a major descriptive term of the resolution is void, nations wouldn't pose a military threat because we are all one body of people. When we are joined as one moral community, why would we act against one another? [CITATIONS NEEDED AS WELL AS A FULLER EXPLANATION OF KANT'S "Cosmopolitanism" WHICH EXPLAINS ITS RELEVANCE TO THE TOPIC].

Pacifism is the opposition to war or violence as a means of settling disputes or gaining advantage. Make love not war! The Negative could advocate that actions of military force against nations by the united States are unjust, therefore proving the resolution. A viable alternative is advised in case you lose on the point that violence is bad(just in case).

Multilateralism is a term in international relations that refers to multiple countries working in concert on a given issue. A negative position could use this criterion in an advocacy of international organizations like the EU, UN, World Trade Organization, OSCE, etc. With this you should argue U.S. Hegemony bad, with extensions of ethnocentrism or Bio-power. This is a stock position that is easily run.

Moral Relativism is the position that moral or ethical propositions do not reflect objective and/or universal moral truths, but instead make claims relative to social, cultural, historical or personal circumstances. If you argue this, you can simply say that we cannot force upon the universal moral standard of U.S. intervention because it violates cultural, social, circumstantial standards. This is a strong negative position if you run it correctly. Moral relativism is very difficult to defend in values debates.

Just War Theory argues several criteria to enter war:
Just cause: The reason for going to war needs to be just and can therefore be recapturing things taken or punishing people who have done wrong. A contemporary view of just cause was expressed in 1993 when the US Catholic Conference said: "Force may be used only to correct a grave, public evil, i.e., aggression or massive violation of the basic human rights of whole populations."
Comparative justice: While there may be rights and wrongs on all sides of a conflict, to override the presumption against the use of force, the injustice suffered by one party must significantly outweigh that suffered by the other. Theorists such as Brian Orend omit this term [WHAT TERM?], seeing it as fertile ground for exploitation by bellicose regimes. [CITATION NEEDED]
The possibility that the United States might abuse in practice the principle the affirmative is defending in theory is a fertile ground for debate. An unresolved question in Lincoln-Douglas Debate is the extent to which real world application of the values questions debated are relevant issues for debate.
Legitimate authority: Only duly constituted public authorities may use deadly force or wage war
Right intention: Force may be used only in a truly just cause and solely for that purpose—correcting a suffered wrong is considered a right intention, while material gain or maintaining economies is not.
Probability of success: Arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success;
Last resort: Force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted.
All you have to show is that the Affirmative fails at these, thus war is unjust. Show all of them, resulting in a more difficult defense by the opposing Affirmative.

Satyagraha is a philosophy and practice of nonviolent resistance developed by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He defends this in saying, "If I want to deprive you of your watch, I shall certainly have to fight for it; if I want to buy your watch, I shall have to pay for it; and if I want a gift, I shall have to plead for it; and, according to the means I employ, the watch is stolen property, my own property, or a donation." It's not entirely clear how one would use Satyagraha to protest another nation's development of nuclear weapons. Gandhi rejected the idea that injustice should, or even could, be fought against “by any means necessary” — if you use violent, coercive, unjust means, whatever ends you produce will necessarily embed that injustice. To those who preached violence and called nonviolent actionists cowards, he replied: “I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence....I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honor than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor....But I believe that nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment.”[3] With this position, argue that the actions themselves of using military is unjust no matter the ends. If the means(i.e. military force) are unjust, how can the U.S.'s use of them be just? The answer to this question, of course, is supplied by Aquinas and other just war theorists, dating all the way back to Augustine.

Confronted with a case that relied on Gandhi's call for nonviolence, his own claim that "where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence."[4] The United States, the affirmative will argue, should of course exhaust nonviolent means before using military force, but where the choice is between allowing a rogue state to acquire nuclear weapons or resorting to military force to prevent that, the choice, the affirmative will argue, is clear and not at all inconsistent with an overarching commitment to peace and nonviolence. For a convincing argument against a commitment to nonviolence at the expense of justice, see Peter Gelderloos, How Nonviolence Protects the State. Gelderloos argues convincingly against applying Gandhi's methods in other contexts.

Affirmative Overview

The standard affirmative case will likely rely on the United States' right to self defense. If nations that already pose a military threat to the United States acquire nuclear weapons, the United States would find itself in too precarious a position. This, of course, was the argument used by John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. A case like this could be based on the notion that the United States government has, above all else, an obligation to protect the citizens of the United States and that to allow a hostile nation to acquire nuclear weapons would be a violation of the government's obligation to the people. Of course, the affirmative will need to be careful and clear. For instance, consider President Bush's comments in the press conference he gave after the release of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, which described Iran as having suspended its attempt to develop nuclear weapons:

Affirmatives will need to be able to respond clearly to a negative who asks, given the information in the National Intelligence Assessment, whether the United States would justified, today, in using military force against Iran. Clearly, President Bush, the [ Commander-in-Chief of the United States military, still believes that Iran poses a military threat to the United States and, though it may have suspended it's covert program to develop a nuclear weapon, they do seem to have had such a program and are no capable of enriching their own weapons-grade uranium.

Another basis for the affirmative to ground the argument for the United States' use of military force is on the United States' unique place in the world as the world's only super-power. That is, rather than basing a case on the United States' right of self defense, an argument could base an argument on a broader he obligation the United States could be said to have not just to defend its own people but to preserve the broader peace. In reality, of course, Iran's possessing nuclear weapons is less of a threat to the United States as it is to Iran's neighbors, Israel in particular. While it is clearly in the United States' self interest to protect Israel, one could argue that the United States has a moral obligation to protect not just itself but to work collectively to protect the peace more broadly, even in cases where there is little direct threat to the United States.

I think one interesting line of argument that a more off beat affirmative might try is to rest a case on the inherent immorality of anyone possessing nuclear weapons. A case built on this ground would need to include a call on the United States to itself give up its large stockpile of nuclear weapons. An abolitionist case, like this one, would take away a lot the negative's strongest arguments in the the debate. The negative could not, for instance, argue that the United States is wrong to prevent others from possessing nuclear weapons when it continues to possess them. Since most negatives will likely take a dovish position in the debate, an affirmative that argued that the United States' own possession of nuclear weapons is immoral would be able to seize a moral high ground that the negative may have thought reserved for it. An affirmative that argued that the United States' should use its military to help rid the world nuclear weapons might run into some trouble with more hawkish minded judges, but given that the negative has a burden to argue against the use of military force, it might be difficult for the negative to criticize an abolitionist affirmative. Indeed, in the late 1970s and early 1980s there was a movement within the United States, admittedly not a very powerful one, that argued for unilateral nuclear disarmament.

Negative Overview

It would be hard if not impossible for a negative to argue that under no circumstances should the United States ever use its military to prevent a hostile nation from acquiring nuclear weapons. Assuming the negative flawed "it is necessary but not just" line or reasoning discussed above, negative is probably best off arguing that the circumstances when the use of military force to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons by nations that pose a military threat are so rare that, as a general principle, the topic merits negating. The danger, of course, running a case that concedes that in some instances the United States would be just in using its military is the affirmative persuading the judge that the negative's burden is to show that under no circumstances would this use of military force ever be justified.

The best way for the negative to establish fair burdens in this debate is likely to start by pressing the affirmative on the two extremes of this topic. Clearly, the affirmative is not going to accept the burden of proving that any and all use of military force to prevent a nation from acquiring nuclear weapons is just. The problem the affirmative has in this topic is the vagaries of the phrase "pose a military threat." The negative should insist that recognizing the United States as having a right to use its military against a country that could be said to pose a military threat to the United States is to put too much power in the hands of the United States government.

The negative's best strategy may be to exploit the ambiguity of the resolution's wording. For instance, the topic does not specify whether the nations that the United States would use military force against are currently seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. The nations' intent are not discussed, nor is the extent of the threat they pose or to whom they pose a threat. Arguing along these lines, the negative could concede some rare instance when they United States might be justified in using force against a dangerous nation intent on and in the process of acquiring nuclear weapons, but point out that the principle the affirmative is supposed to uphold is more far reaching than this.

Cross Examination


Threat: Do nuclear weapons pose such a great threat that their proliferation must be halted?


Nuclear Weapons pose such a great threat to the United States and the rest of the world that stopping rogue states from gaining possession of them is a moral imperative.


The harms possession of nuclear weapons pose are speculative at best; it is the actual use of nuclear armaments that is the problem. Indeed, no two countries both possessing nuclear weapons have ever gone to war with one another.

Are nuclear weapons inherently unjust?


It is unjust for countries to try to obtain nuclear weapons because of the harm that nuclear weapons are capable of. The United States' nuclear weapons program has lead other countries, like Iran and North Korea to try to develop their own nuclear weapons. Would North Korea and Iran be seeking nuclear weapons if no other countries had them? Having countries like Iran and North Korea develop nuclear weapons could have catastrophic results.

Since the use of a nuclear weapons cannot be justified, the possession of them should similarly be recognized as wrong. For this reason, the United States would be justified in using military force to prevent hostile states from acquiring nuclear weapons. The logical extension of this argument, it should be noted, is that the United States should itself abandon its nuclear arsenal. The United States would, moving forward, have to rely on its conventional weapons to deter attack from hostile nations.


Many countries, such as the US, acquire nuclear weapons purely on the basis of protection for their people. This is a very crucial part in achieving justice. A nation must be able to ensure the safety of its people, and to do so by having an adequate defense system. Nowhere in the resolution does it say that the nuclear weapons will be used for any form of malicious harm, so this acquisition of nuclear weapons will be suggested to be used toward instating justice within the United States.

Must nations that pose a military threat be invaded to protect lives?


Nuclear weapons kill many people and destroy the lives of others. The United States has a moral obligation to prevent any other country from obtaining nuclear weapons.


This resolution does not specify military threat to the United States; It simply says a military threat. Almost all nations pose a military threat to someone, so affirming this resolution would support using military force against almost everyone, which would obviously not protect lives.

Is the United States justified in preventing other countries from having nuclear weapons when it has its own?


While the United States has its own nuclear weapons, it has no intention of using them. The following is a passage from an article by the Council on Foreign Relations: "Richard C. Bush III, director of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, says, 'Most experts would define 'threat' to mean a combination of capability and intentions. There's no question that China is building up its capabilities, but China has displayed no intentions of using those capabilities against the United States.'" The United States does not pose a military threat, and thus is not hypocritical in using military force against those who do.


The United States is not justified in doing so. The United States has the ability to obtain nuclear weapons, and it certainly poses a military threat to many other nations. It is extreme hypocrisy for the United States to seize nuclear forces from other nations while the United States guard and maintain thousands of nuclear bombs. Even though the affirmative may decry nuclear bombs as a threat to the whole human kind and as an evil that must be stopped, history shows that the United States continued to build nuclear bombs after seeing its destructive forces on Japan. Just as the United States has a right to self-defense as mentioned above, other nations have equal right to self-defense with nuclear forces from nations that pose a military threat to them.

See Also

Resolved: That the United States would be justified in Pursuing Military Options Against Iran

Further Reading

External links

  • NFL topic analysis. Includes a good bibliography and a lesson plan that focuses on two articles:
"Just War Theory, International Law, and the War in Iraq," by Ronald J. Rychlak.
"Nuclear Deterrence, Preventive War, and Counterproliferation," by Jeffrey Record

Wikipedia Entries

Feel free to import these entries into the Debatepedia and tailor them for use as debate resources:

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