The problems with the arms sales topic

It’s largely a moot point now that the topic has already been (tragically) picked, but a few people have been asking me why I was so negative about the arms sale topic and some of you may be winding down your debate season/ready to research the next topic so let us dive into this a bit.


Global thought- Neg Generics 😦


The biggest problem with the topic is that there is no negative “generic” ground. What is neg generic ground?


Say the resolution was Resolved: we should eat at an expensive restaurant.


If you were neg preparing for this topic it could be scary because there are lots of expensive restaurants, they serve diverse kinds of food, exist in diverse locations etc. So if your neg prep was “burgers bad” its quite possible the aff that said “go to a french restaurant” would beat you on “no link- they don’t serve burgers”. Now, the flaws in the burger disad do not mean there is NO negative ground, it means you need to think more strategically about what might unite/be common about the affirmatives on the topic.


What did you come up with?


I thought of an “expensive” pic. So here is how I prepared that

-I cut T definitions of the word expensive to prove it meant “all the monies”

-I cut a spending disad that said

A. IN the SQ we have some monies

B. The plan spends the monies

C. That means we have no monies!

D. Mead 92


So now I have a T argument that forces the aff to spend, and a disad to spending- that means I have a generic strategy that can be used against every affirmative. This also creates an “innovation incentive” for the affirmative- they will have to try and formulate a case that has a strategy designed to beat this generic. Maybe the french restaurant aff will read a K of frugality, the buffet aff will read a turn about long term savings etc.


Point being- the resolution is designed to force all affirmatives to

-do something

-that thing is a big change from the SQ

-though the affirmative has room to innovate, all innovations have to include that large action


Now, what is that with arms sales? Well not much.

1.The primary motive for arms sales is political or geopolitical- i.e. either we want good relations with Saudi Arabia or we think they are a key partner for peace/stability in the region where they are located. This doesn’t produce unified negative ground-every case will be different based on the country. We sell arms to a lot of countries.

2. Arms sales are very different to many countries- in terms of quantity (how much) and quality (what we sell). This makes specific disads like the F-35 good (lol) disad pretty tough. And, as mentioned above, usually we are giving these weapons to people because we want them to like us, not because they are say doing good things with them.


So much like the restaurant example above, we need to identify what all the affs are doing/what is the commonality and make the generic about that. So what is the same? Well… they all.. stop… selling stuff?


I know you are probably overwhelmed by the flood of memories coming back to you about all the awesome “selling stuff” disads you have read in your career- so many good times. Oh wait except for the exact opposite.


Now, before I go further I will say I have already been hit by the naysayers ” you know nothing of the topic, do some research and then you won’t be such a grumpy pessimist”. Usually when I ask “oh, well then what research have you done person who thinks this is a good topic” they respond with “oh well… none”. And that’s really the only answer you can credibly give- because if you’ve done 20 minutes of work on this topic you would know why its bad.


How do I know this? For a variety of reasons, but the one you should actually care about is that the current LD topic is

“Resolved: The United States ought not provide military aid to authoritarian regimes”

which is primarily about… wait for it… arms sales.


So I sat down to research that topic and it took me, approx., 20 minutes to figure out why all the examples of neg ground people give are garbage. Let’s go through them


The “Fill in” Disad


The fill in disad says “if we don’t sell weapons someone else will!”- it is usually made offensive with some kind of inanely stupid impact like “russian weapons kill more people- can’t trust a russian” or something like that so this obvious at best 1% solvency defense argument is “transformed” into a disad.

And sure enough, when I started researching the LD topic cards for this fill in argument where EVERYWHERE


Trump, despite mounting criticism that his administration is not doing enough to confront the Saudi government, has said he is trying to find out what happened to Khashoggi, though he has appeared unwilling to take punitive steps such as cutting off arms sales to the country. The State Department also said such steps would be “getting ahead” of the local investigation.

“I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States,” Trump told reporters on Thursday. “You know what they are going to do? They’re going to take that money and spend it in Russia or China or someplace else. I think there are other ways.”


And you know what they say- if Trump is tweeting it than it has to be true/the good basis for a disad/hey lets base an ENTIRE #&$*#(&$^ TOPIC ON THAT ARG AMIRIGHT? ON TRUMP?


Oh wait, maybe that’s not such a good idea.

In a statement on Tuesday, Trump said that canceling major arms contracts with the Saudis would be foolish, and that “Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries” if the US halted its sales. China supplies a negligible amount of major weaponry to Saudi Arabia, SIPRI data shows, but it is on the increase. Russia supplies so little it is not included in the organization’s database. “Russia has tried hard in the past 10 to 15 years to get into the large Saudi arms market, but it has not been very successful. Saudi Arabia has acquired Russian rifles and may have bought some other items, but such deals have been very small,” said Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher with SIPRI’s arms transfers and military expenditure program. “China has made some more substantial inroads into the Saudi arms market, in particular selling armed drones,” Wezeman said. “The details are shady and we may very well have underestimated China’s role as an arms exporter to Saudi Arabia. But China doesn’t come anywhere near the USA, UK or even France as arms suppliers. Still, the important point here is that Saudi Arabia has explored the possibility of diversifying its supplier base.”

Whatever, its fast and turns the case right?

Trump raised the possibility that the Saudis might turn to Russia or China for its hardware. The Saudis are still considering purchasing a Russian S-400 air-defense system, but Reidel said the kingdom is too invested in U.S. equipment – which means the U.S. has significant leverage if it wanted to punish the Saudis over the Khashoggi matter. “It would take decades to transition from U.S. and U.K. aircraft, for example, to Russian or Chinese aircraft,” Reidel said. “Same is true for tanks, communications equipment and other hi-tech equipment. And the Saudis don’t have time given they are bogged down in Yemen.”


Basically there are a few major problems with fill in

1. Interoperability – this concept means basically parts fit together. During the cold war NATO united a large group of very different countries with very different militaries. If they were going to voltron up and fight the ruskies, they needed to make sure their equipment was uniform- otherwise each unit would require different ammunition (guns shoot different sized bullets based on their role) , would have different capabilities etc. As a result, much like “imperial measures” vs the metric system, many US weapons are different from commie weapons (russia/china). So for example, Saudi Arabia can’t just switch to buying bombs from Russia- they literally do not fit on US planes. Similarly their army has been trained on US equipment-they can’t just switch over night


2. Geopolitics- in the case of the Kingdom, they are in a cold war with Iran. Russia and Iran are tight. Iran backs the Houthis in Yemen, which is who Saudi Arabia is (allegedly) fighting. This is not an isolated incident- in many instances the VERY REASON the US is selling a country arms is because Russia or China is already on the other side of the conflict. Now, it is possible to sell to both sides in a Firstfull of Dollars scenario, but its pretty rare- and the fact that they are already supplying the other side thumps the “sphere of influence” impact that makes the disad offense


3. T “sales”- it turns out the label “arms sales” is somewhat misleading- for a variety of reasons most partners don’t really “pay” the US for things- some of them get it as a “grant”, some get loans (called foreign military financing) and some like Saudi Arabia say they are going to pay us and then just never do. It turns out Russia and China are  a bit more frugal/pay attention to details. But that transitions us to the 2nd neg “generic”


Econ/Defense industry disad


This disad, allegedly, argues that arms sales are vital to the US economy/US businesses – because generally when the aff has an advantage about genocide you are looking for an econ impact…

Again, Trump for the win

America First!

The world is a very dangerous place!

The country of Iran, as an example, is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, trying to destabilize Iraq’s fragile attempt at democracy, supporting the terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon, propping up dictator Bashar Assad in Syria (who has killed millions of his own citizens), and much more. Likewise, the Iranians have killed many Americans and other innocent people throughout the Middle East. Iran states openly, and with great force, “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” Iran is considered “the world’s leading sponsor of terror.”

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia would gladly withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians would agree to leave. They would immediately provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has agreed to spend billions of dollars in leading the fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism.

After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors. If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries – and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!


Well I for one am satisfied… what’s that? You think we should fact check a Trump statement before basing a topic on that for neg ground? Well that seems a bit much but alright if you are going to be a stickler I guess we can

Trump said that Saudi Arabia has ordered $450 billion from U.S. companies, including $110 billion in military contracts, representing over a million jobs. Orders on that scale don’t exist. There is no data behind the $450 billion, and the $110 billion is a blend of smaller deals in progress, old offers that have not come through, and speculative discussions that have yet to move forward. Trump’s claims about jobs ignores the long runway between signed agreements and actual delivery and payment. He treats spending that could play out over a decade as if it were spent in one year. More importantly, if the $450 billion in orders is a mirage, the 1 million jobs is equally without substance. We rate this claim Pants on Fire.


Sure but that is some random fact checking monkey- they have no quals..

Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and a senior adviser to the Center’s Security Assistance Monitor, 17

(William D.,

The jobs argument is also overstated. The assembly of some of the systems, such as some helicopters from Lockheed Martin, will be done in Saudi Arabia. More work for Riyadh will no doubt follow, since that government’s new long-term economic plan calls for the development of its arms industry – some of which may well be built with technology supplied by the United States. Some of the deals may never materialize. No deals, no jobs. And military spending is the least effective way to create jobs, according to a 2014 study by the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute. Focusing on industries of the future, like clean energy technologies, would not only create more jobs in the short term, but it would get the United States a foothold in a growth area that could sustain good paying jobs for generations to come.


Ok sure, but even if the disad is NOT GREAT surely the aff will lose sometimes because the neg is able to use spin/perception links to win that some jobs will be impacted and its not like the aff cards break down the math on this or anything…

Campbell 11-20-18

(Alexia Fernández,

Trump’s claim that many US jobs depend on arms sales is a real stretch In May 2017, Trump made his first foreign trip to the Saudi capital of Riyadh, where he met with MBS, the kingdom’s new crown prince. Trump said he was brokering a $110 billion arms deal that would create “jobs, jobs, jobs.” Even though Trump had lifted the hold on the $500 bomb sale, some members of Congress tried to block it. They couldn’t. In June, the Senate narrowly approved the deal. Since then, the Saudi-led coalition has killed thousands of civilians with American-made bombs, including at least 40 children who were riding a school bus. The United Nations now considers the situation in Yemen “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” But instead of reprimanding MBS, Trump has continued to push for arms sales to the kingdom, touting the supposed economic benefits for the United States. When MBS visited the White House in March, Trump was effusive about it. He even held up a US map highlighting all the states that would get jobs from the arms deal with Saudi Arabia. The map stated that 40,000 jobs would be created, though the administration didn’t cite the source for that number (In recent days, Trump has thrown out even more ludicrous numbers). He doesn’t say where he got these estimates because no one knows exactly how many US jobs depend on arms sales. The federal government doesn’t keep data on that, and it doesn’t even break down how many total jobs are related to manufacturing military equipment. That’s because it’s a tiny fraction of the US labor force. Here’s what we do know: The private-sector defense industry directly employed a total of 355,500 in 2016, according to the most the recent estimates from the Aerospace Industries Association. That includes manufacturing jobs, but also every other job in the defense industry, even those who are supplying uniforms for soldiers. This entire group makes up less than 0.5 percent of the total US labor force. And their main client is the US military, not the Saudi military. About 153,800 American workers are directly involved in making commercial and military aircraft, according to the most recent industry employment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But that includes workers who make passenger planes for commercial airlines, a much larger sector of the economy that those who make military jets and helicopters. But we can get pretty specific data on how many American workers are making bombs. That data is more clear-cut, and Saudi Arabia buys plenty of American bombs for its war in Yemen. Only about 7,666 workers were making bombs for the defense and law enforcement industries in 2016, and that includes explosives sold to the entire US military. It’s doubtful these jobs are entirely dependent on arms sales to Saudi Arabia. In short, the US economy does not need Saudi Arabia to keep buying bombs. (Besides, MBS wants all arms deals to include some production in the kingdom.)


This problem with “facts” brings us to a much, much bigger problem with the topic than just no neg generics- no one has any idea exactly how much we are selling and to whom.


I don’t mean that in some abstract “there aren’t good T cards” way, I mean literally the US government goes out of its way to hide and distort evidence about arms sales. A few examples


There is no single, accepted definition of the terms “foreign aid” or even “foreign military aid” or “military assistance.” For a government as large as that of the United States, it’s virtually impossible to track all of the various federal agencies’ programs across countries and sectors to arrive at a single number that captures the true amount of U.S. taxpayer dollars going to foreign governments, or even just their militaries.

For the “Collateral Damage” investigative study, the Center for Public Integrity created a database that tracks a subset of those financial flows: taxpayer-funded programs or assistance that contribute to a nation’s offensive military capabilities. The database does not include certain large nuclear non-proliferation programs or expenditures such as Foreign Military Sales or Direct Commercial Sales, which are not supported directly with taxpayer dollars. The database is also limited to tracking funds appropriated to either the Defense Department or the State Department. For this report, these are the criteria for “foreign military assistance” or “foreign military aid.”

Funds appropriated to the State Department and Defense Department represent the vast majority of unclassified military aid and assistance. This report does not attempt to track smaller overseas programs where funding is appropriated to the Justice Department, Drug Enforcement Agency, or Department of Homeland Security. The public does not have any way of tracking classified programs administered by the U.S. intelligence community. These classified programs likely command large amounts of funding, especially after the 9/11 attacks, and oversight is limited to members of congressional intelligence committees.

Programs included in the Center’s database:

Coalition Support Funds (CSF): created after 9/11 to reimburse key allied countries for providing assistance to the U.S. in the global war on terror.

Regional Defense Counterterrorism Fellowship Program (CTFP): created after 9/11 to give the Defense Department its own funding to train and educate foreign military officers in counterterrorism techniques. In practice, CTFP has evolved into a program very similar to IMET (see definition below).

Department of Defense Counterdrug Funding: assists foreign militaries and security forces to combat drug trafficking around the world; also known as Section 1004 appropriations.

Economic Support Fund (ESF): provides grants to foreign governments to support economic stability. ESF is often used for non-military purposes, but the grants are commonly viewed as a way to help offset military expenditures. They have historically been earmarked for key security allies of the United States. Israel and Egypt are the two largest recipients of ESF.

Foreign Military Financing (FMF): finances foreign governments’ acquisition of U.S. military articles, services and training.

International Military Education and Training (IMET): educates foreign military personnel on issues ranging from democracy and human rights to technical military techniques and training on U.S. weapons systems.

International Narcotics and Law Enforcement/Andean Counterdrug Initiative (ACI): the primary State Department funding effort for countering drugs, including the large Colombian initiatives.

Military Assistance Program (MAP): provides military material and services to foreign countries; the U.S. government is not reimbursed. MAP includes “emergency drawdowns,” which are emergency transfers authorized by the president for weapons, ammunition, parts and military equipment to foreign governments.

Nonproliferation, Anti-Terrorism, De-mining and Related Activities (NADR): supports de-mining, anti-terrorism, and nonproliferation training and assistance.

Peacekeeping Operations (PKO): supports programs that improve foreign militaries’ peacekeeping capabilities.


One more for the sake of it 

Making the topic just arms sales as opposed to military aid does reduce the number of listed programs that apply… or does it? If arms sales is any transaction in which the recipient pays, then you need to know whether or not they are paying, but if you don’t know that… you begin to see the problem.


You can find plenty of cards like this

The U.S. remains the world’s largest weapons exporter, a position it has held since the late 1990s. Our biggest customer? Saudi Arabia.

That business reality came to the forefront this week in President Donald Trump’s refusal to crack down on the kingdom whose royal rulers have been accused of murdering a Saudi-born, U.S.-based dissident journalist who disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

The U.S. sold a total of $55.6 billion of weapons worldwide in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 — up 33 percent from the previous fiscal year, and a near record. In 2017, the U.S. cleared some $18 billion in new Saudi arms deals.

Doesn’t that fix the problem? Well if you are lazy maybe, but as we know from above- Saudi Arabia didn’t pay 1 cent or complete any arms contracts in 2018 so this journalist from CNN is just parroting white house figures, which we already know are intentionally deceptive.


In closing, lets talk about what the aff is likely to look like. There are a few good cases, they are



-saudi arabia/the yemen war more broadly


These cases will never be run by the majority of teams for two reasons

-they are very big/require a lot of work/there are lots of pics/just look at the past few years

-our relations with these countries are very complicated and involve more than just arms sales- these affs will face a lot of T arms sales does not include XYZ, XYZ thumps the advantage/proves circumvention type rounds- fun!


As a result, the aff’s will be

-very small- probably both country and weapon specific

-the neg will have no predictable/prepared ground and will rely on hyper generics and 11 off


What can we do? Well not a lot.

-debaters can run big affs/not be cowardly

-judges can vote on T/be reasonable when a squad reading a big aff debates a garbage strategy


But I won’t hold my breath for either of those happening.

6 responses to “The problems with the arms sales topic

  1. Allies DA – promotion of arms sales is k2 increase allied defense spending, and enhance interoperability which enables military to military cooperation and deterrence of Russia, China and Iran, and effective counter-terror missions.

    Elections DA –

    Restraint DA/CP – CP: Threaten to cut off sales unless they change behavior. and/or DA that says arms sales give us leverage to get countries to do what we want them to do.

  2. Yes, all those arguments will have to be case specific- i.e. you can’t read the “saudi alliance” disad vs the ban arms sales to micronesia aff- you will need to cut 150+ versions of that disad. Ditto elections- no voters care about small arms packages. Ditto conditions CP- the aid and problems will be different for each country, as will the amount of “leverage” the US has.

  3. T substantial must be mid east

    “Nearly half of US arms exports over the past five years have gone to the war-stricken Middle East, with Saudi Arabia consolidating its place as the world’s second biggest importer, a report has shown.”

    alt is 98 (not 155) country aff’s. not to mention the division i.e. just stop one weapons sale to Saudia Arabia
    “The US, which is the world’s biggest exporter, increased its sales between those two periods by 25%. It supplied arms to as many as 98 states worldwide, accounting for more than a third of global exports.”

  4. I agree with your overall analysis but I think you’re understating the strength of the Fill In DA to make a point. You can’t honestly expect countries to not try to adapt to changes in US arms sales policies. They might not have an easy time doing so, but it’s certainly got to be a concern when considering policy changes, especially when considering weapons that are considered vital to their defense posture eg radar to Saudi Arabia.

  5. Also, all the military analysts I talk to online say that hating on the F-35 is middlebrow thinking from wanna be analysts. I’m a wanna be analyst myself so I sympathize, but I don’t think you should be so quick and confident in dismissing it.

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