December PF Topic Overview | Champion Briefs
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November 15, 2016

December PF Topic Overview

By Michael Norton

This month's topic area is drug policy, and the resolution that has been selected is an excellent chance for debaters to research the American military effort in the war on drugs. The resolution is extremely clear in its framing, yet broad enough to allow debaters to access a variety of arguments, alternatives, and frameworks that should make for great debates in December. Researching this topic will force students to consider the history of the war on drugs, American intervention in Latin America, and the current state of Colombian politics. Resolutions like this one are great for Public Forum, and debaters will have a lot of fun debating Plan Colombia in December.

Learning About Plan Colombia

Plan Colombia is a U.S initiative devised by the Clinton administration designed to end the cultivation, production, and trafficking of cocaine at its source. The agreement with the Colombian government sent military and diplomatic aid to fight the drug cartels and other insurgents within Colombia's borders. Over the years, the agreement has been modified and expanded yet the price of cocaine remains relatively stagnant. Plan Colombia was first agreed to in the late 1990s, though in the early 2000s, the U.S appropriated over $1 billion for the Andean Counterdrug Initiative, over half of which was allocated for anti-drug efforts in Colombia. The United States has spent over a billion dollars on efforts such as military training and aerial fumigation, but coca growers have simply moved to new locations. This resolution, therefore, requires debaters to address the question of how the United States can most effectively fight the spread of drugs. Military efforts have the upside of destroying both the coca fields and the leadership of cartels, but at the same time they imply collateral damage and have been questionably effective. The spread of drugs has clear negative effects for the United States, Colombia, and many other Latin American states, yet trafficking continues despite the millions that have been spent on Plan Colombia.

The results of Plan Colombia have been definitively mixed. The United States is still committed to the Colombian military forces, which are still at odds with FARC, a domestic insurgency group. Though Colombia and FARC struck a peace deal in mid-2016, the deal fell through and there is no clear end in sight for a conflict that has dragged on for decades. The Colombian military, with assistance from the U.S, was able to destroy many coca fields and kill cartel leaders, yet coca production has simply moved to other parts of Colombia and even other states in the region. In short, Plan Colombia gave the Colombian government the resources it needed to destroy farms and conduct more advanced military operations, though it remains to be seen whether a military solution can actually solve the war on drugs.

Possible Approaches

The affirmative position on this topic can be effective by setting up a comparison between the status quo and a variety of alternative anti-drug policies or even intervention altogether. The affirmative's primary challenge is demonstrating that there is a way forward that doesn't involve military intervention. Using non-military assistance, for instance, could be a less violent way to make change through drug policy. Many cocoa farmers continue to defy the government because it's the only way to make a living rather than by choice. Economic assistance could have a substantial effect by lifting poor farmers out of poverty and weakening the grip of the cartels. While arming foreign soldiers is controversial, the negative can easily win by claiming that there is no other effective policy option. However, if the affirmative can establish that Plan Colombia actually contributes to conflict or does nothing to prevent that conflict, it would be extremely hard for the negative to win. By militarizing the Colombian government, Plan Colombia has arguably escalated the conflict and created even more suffering. The affirmative could also win by proving that there are some unique problems with Plan Colombia's implementation that are worse than doing nothing at all. Aerial fumigation, for example, used very strong chemicals to destroy coca fields, which caused lasting environmental damage.

The negative on this topic can win by proving that the war on drugs is far from over and military assistance is the only way forward. By framing the debating in this way, it becomes very easy for the negative to win because their only burden is that some military assistance is better than none in this instance. Though the government was able to strike a deal with FARC, the agreement inevitably failed because voters wouldn't approve a deal with the violent organization. It's not easy for the affirmative to prove that there is a clear end in sight to the violence that has carried on for over 50 years. Even if militarization may cause escalation, it still is important because it allows the government to fight back and control its borders in the long-term. The negative should not have to argue that Plan Colombia will solve the drug crisis, but rather that it is a necessary policy for the immediate future. Regardless of side effects the affirmative may bring up, establishing that military efforts and cocaine eradication are prerequisites to ending the drug war would mean that Plan Colombia is still a crucial diplomatic agreement.

Final Thoughts

This month is a chance to have a broader debate about the United States' role in the war on drugs in the context of a state that has been fighting violent insurgent groups for decades. The resolution isn't just about Plan Colombia itself, but rather about how states can fight the drug trade within their borders and abroad. To win on this topic, it is necessary to have a thorough understanding of the history of the war on drugs and American intervention within the region, because there are so many crucial examples and anecdotes from history that can be employed effectively.