New Tools for the Negative: International Fiat and Plan-Inclusive Counterplans

Gordon Mitchell, Northwestern University

1992 - Effluents and affluence: The Global Pollution Debate


A plan-inclusive counterplan (PIC) is a policy advanced by the negative which contains part, but not all of the affirmative plan. The negative uses international fiat when they advance a counterplan which uses a non-U.S. actor. In the barrel of international and plan-inclusive counterplans, there are both good and bad apples. In this article, I will report on the flavor as I bob for both kinds.


Plan: The U.S. should use trade pressure to force the Brazilian government to refrain from cutting down trees in the Amazon forest.
C/P: Same as plan, except trade pressure should not be applied to prevent the cutting down of one particular tree in the forest.
Net Benefit: The particular tree in question is old and leans precaaiously over a fragile hut, therefore, it should be felled to protect against injury to the inhabitants of the hut. Safety of the humans outweighs miniscule increase in CO2 soaked up by the one tree.

This is the prototypical example of an abusive PIC, since the exception it carves out of the plan is microscopic, i.e., the only difference between the plan and the PIC is its policy effect on one single tree. In utilizing this counterplan strategy, the negative aims to bypass debating the general claims of the 1AC by staking the debate on the narrow question of the value of the one particular tree. With imagination, one can envision the eccentric nature of other, closely related PICs in this family (e.g. exempting a single destitute rural farmer from the plan's regulations, or narrowing the plan's reach to exclude one small, environmentally conscious logging company deep in the Amazon basin).

Those who approach microscopic affirmative plans with suspicion will probably also harbor reservations about endorsing this type of PIC on the grounds that it fails to meet a certain unstated standard of policy significance that is derived not from a qualitative modifier in the resolution, but instead has implicit roots in the policy making process. In this line of thinking, ridiculously tiny affirmative plans could be dismissed as too trivial to merit discussion, or, alternatively, rejected because the miniscule advantages accrued fail to overcome the inherent risk of change. Applying this standard symmetrically to the negative. one might argue that the net benefit accrued by a microscopic exclusion PIC (the safety of a few jungle inhabitants) is too trivial to merit discussion. Or alternatively, the affirmative may hijack the "inherent risk of change" standard by arguing that by endorsing the vast majority of affirmative plan action, the negative assumes a burden of demonstrating that there is a significant reason to avoid executing the plan's mandates in a certain area. In this formulation, when running a microscopic exclusion PIC. the negative embraces the burden of overcoming an "inherent risk of not changing."

In thinking about this PIC, two additional strategic possibilities deserve mention. First, the negative may be able to bolster the theoretical legitimacy of their microscopic exception PIC by arguing that it is not topical. This move is easy when the resolution contains an absolute modifier such as "all", since a policy which contains an exception automatically does not meet the "all" requirement of the resolution. However, when the qualitative modifier in the resolution is not as clear-cut (e.g. "worldwide"), the negative still may be able to prove the their PIC not topical, but the job becomes more difficult. In the case we have been considering, the argument would be that by leaving a certain area of the forest untouched by, the affirmative plan action, the PIC does not reduce pollution worldwide, but instead only in selerted areas.

Second, the affirmative should be aware of the fact that microscopic exclusion PICs can be defeated rather easilv with crafty plan construction. Briefly, if the wording, of the plan is sufficiently open-ended, the affirmative may be able to argue that the specified exception can be incorporated into the plan. In the case we are considering, would the affirmative plan have been written to place trade pressure on Brazil to force the government to stop cutting down trees in "reasonable and appropriate" locales, the affirmative team may have grounds to argue that the plan does not necessarily block the removal of the potentially hazardous tree cited by the negative team, and thus is no different from the PIC.


Plan: Plank one: The U.S. should cut aid to Africa that is targeted for the purpose of developing fossil-fuel buning power plants. Plank two: The U.S. should give aid to Africa that is targeted for the purpose of improving energy efficiency.
C/P: Plank one of the plan.
Net Benefit: "Foreign aid bad" disadvantages outweigh advantages accrued by giving energy efficiency technology to Africa.

The contention that the negative should be allowed to advance topical counterplans on bidirectional topics has been floating around for awhile. Over a decade ago, Panetta contended that "The topical counterplan mitigates against the huge advantage that is provided affirmatives by directionless topics." Perhaps a corollary of this increasingly-accepted view is that the negative should be allowed to advance PICs when faced with multi-directional affirmative plans.

In the example above, the affirmative plan goes in two different "directions"-- it simultaneously increases and decreases foreign aid to Africa. Assuming that the affirmative is able to defend the topicality of each plank- of the plan independently, i.e. show that each plank contains a unique mechanism to reduce pollution, the negative may find their usual generic attack against foreign aid cases neutralized in this instance, since that affirmative could contend that their plan has no net effect on the level of U.S. foreign aid. However, the "directional focus" PIC offers a potential remedy for the negative. By counterplanning with part of the plan, the negative sets up the opportunity to demonstrate a net benefit by proving the directional action contained in the other part of the plan to be, on the whole, disadvantageous.

In my view, permitting the negative this degree of strategic latitude will produce better debates. Given this year's likely affirmative breadth, in many rounds where the negative lacks on point evidence, pinning down a directional link on a generic trade/aid policy disadvantage may be the only hope. Bidirectional topics severely complicate the task of negative preparation. To fashion a competent generic arsenal on the 1992-93 topic, negatives must come up with positions against four big targets: increasing aid, decreasing aid, cooperative trade, and competitive trade.' The fact that the negative side may not know which one of these targets the affirmative may raise in any given debate is hard enough. Insisting on allowing the negative the option to focus on one of the targets via PIC once the round is underway provides to them at least a minimum floor of argumentative ground.


Plan: The U.S. should use unilateral trade pressure to force China to freeze its CFC emissions.
C/P: Chinese leadership wakes up and decides to freeze CFC emissions. Net Benefit: Enviromnentally motivated U.S. unilateral trade pressure shatters GATT.

If debate is seen as part of the democratic process, then it makes sense for debate to consider only alternatives which aresubject to democratic influence. While the responsiveness and rationality of government actors is highly imperfect, U.S. governmental actors are ultimately accountable to the public and must therefore be at least somewhat attentive to public argument. Foreign governments clearly have no such accountability to the U.S. public and very minimal incentives to be attentive to argument within American media.


Plan: The U.S. government should send economic assistance to the Third World to encourage sustainable development.
C/P: The World Bank and UNEP, utilizing current institutional structures and resources, should send economic assistance assistance to the Third World to encourage sustainable development.
Net Benefit: Unilateral U.S. action bad (America First DA, Bush DA, etc.)

If negative fiat can be called the gasoline necessary to make a policy run, this counterplan gets excellent mileage. It is modest in scope because of the fact that it's mandates promise only to utilize existing institutional structures and resources. This promise not only saddles the negative with the burden to prove that the World Bank and UNEP possess sufficient resources and are institutionally capable of carrying out the counterplan mandates, it also opens the door for the affirmative to craft solvency and workability challenges that cannot be simplemindedly dismissed with the magical invocation of fiat. Consider that the counterplan might be supported by the following solvency evidence:

Pressure on the World Bank through the NGOs and through the United States Congress, as well as the election of a new president of the Bank, Barber Conable, in 1986, ushered in a new relationship between the Bank and UNEP. The sustainable development concept has become a common denominator to the relationship. The UN General Assembly and the national governments are committed to sustainable development, and the UN system must follow suit.

On one hand, the negative could use this evidence to support the claim that their chosen international actor possesses the institutional expertise to capably initiate a massive sustainable development policy. On the other hand, the affirmative might attack the evidence by pointing out that it contains no proof that the chosen agent has sufficient financial resources at its disposal to fund the policy. Too often, such a dialogue is silenced by the negative's invocation of fiat. But, when the negative limits itself to using only existing institutions and resources, questions about the capability of the international organization to act become ammunition for affirmative solvency salvos, instead of serving as reasons why the negative's claim to fiat is illegitimate.

Solt has raised an interesting challenge to this counterplan by attempting to show that the fiat of an international organization is actually single-country fiat en masse:

International organizations derive their powers from and are ultimately accountable to individual governments. A prerequisite of changing the policy of an international organization would be to first change the policy of enough non-American governments to pen-nit the counterplan. Thus, such a counterplan involves foreign fiat once again, albeit at one remove.

Consider, however, an affirmative plan which calls for the U.S. government to pass domestic legislation to protect the spotted owl. Applying Solt's same reasoning here produces an odd result: "the U. S. government derives its powers from and is ultimately accountable to individual citizens. A prerequisite of changing the policy of the U.S. government would be first to change the minds of enough American citizens to permit the plan. Thus, such a plan involves individual citizen fiat once again, albeit at one remove." From this does it follow that the affirmative loses its fiat power over the federal government because individual citizen fiat is illegitimate? Of course not-U.S. citizens have already ceded authority to the U.S. govenment, and the affirmative team has the right to assume that this source of authority will continue to exist during the implementation of the plan. Likewise, individual foreign governments have already ceded authority to the UN and WorldBank, and the negative team has the right to assume that this source of authority will continue to exist during the implementation of the counterplan.

Solt suggests that fiat of international organizations which do not contain the U.S. as a member is particularly illegitimate. In the case we are considering, not only is the U.S. a member of the World Bank, but plays a significant role in the policymaking process of the international organization. In fact, according to Walden Bello,

Indeed, because of the institution's 'multilateral' image, many U.S. officials prefer to go through the World Bank to effect policy changes with client govemments...'Because it is something of a disinterested party, however, the World Bank has been enormously successful in negotiating important policy changes which we strongly support.'

This evidence seems to implicate the importance of the World Bank in the context of U.S. policymaking enough to qualify our counterplan for Solt's "policy context standard" for fiat. To legitimately claim fiat under this standard, the negative needs to demonstrate that their counterplan option is treated as a serious alternative in the relevant policy literature. In Solt's words,

[the policy context standard] places a relatively clear and objective limit on negative fiat. Field context is a familiar and empirically functional standard of topicality analysis. Policy context is considered to be a good standard for determining what a topic means in order to place limits on affirmative case selection. Similarly, it seems appropriate that policy context defme the range of alternatives considered germane to a discussion of a certain policy area.

The policy context standard is a particularly useful marker to use in drawing the boundaries of legitimate international fiat. The negative retains potentially valuable counterplan options, while the affirmative enjoys the opportunity of being able to anticipate possible alternative actors by scanning the literature.


Plan: The U.S. should provide the UN with massive funding earmarked for the development of international programs to reduce marine pollution.
C/P: A new, private international organization called C.U.O.P.(Citizens United for Ocean Protection) should be created, whose sole purpose is to enforce worldwide marine pollution standards.
Net Benefit: LDCs hate the UN, they backlash against its environmental regulations.

The first problem with this counterplan is that it relies on fiat to create the organizational infrastructure necessary to carry out the mandates of its policy. No C.U.O.P. currently exists, so before the negative employs fiat to implement marine pollution policies, it must first have individual citizens of the world join together in transferring authority to the collective body of C.U.O.P. Allowing the negative this degree of fiat latitude seems problematic. The affirmative loses its ability to predict the possible agents that might be utilized by the negative, and because C.U.O.P has no track record or history to scrutinize, the affirmative also loses its ability to fashion solvency attacks supported by empirical evidence. The likely result of permitting the negative to fiat the creation of new international organizations is vacuous debate featuring hypothetical affirmative solvency challenges parried by the negative with the blunt "fiat takes out" claim.

Another problem is the fact that the negative's chosen international actor is a private [as opposed to an inter-governmental] organization. As Solt points out,

Such an extension of negative fiat suggests the following potential counterpla[n]. In a debate over pollution control, the negative could argue that the government should not establish stricter standards because industry 'should' voluntarily control its emissions.

The absurdity of this example seems sufficient to justify limiting negative fiat to the governmental or inter-governmental, i.e. public sphere. Private fiat is a Pandora's box. When opened, one can peer in and see the negative team fiating love and nonviolence, or perhaps most ridiculous, fiating victory by advancing a counterplan with the judge as the agent and a negative ballot as the mandate.

One final problem with using C.U.O.P. as a counterplan agent is the fact that the U.S. government is not a member of the organization. Solt proposes limiting fiat to only those actors which are accountable to the public within the U.S. democratic process. This not only rules out using individual foreign governments as actors, but also international organizations to which the U.S. is not a member [such as C.U.O.P.] However, in the case of international institutions which enjoy U.S. membership, perhaps an argument can be made that because of U.S. involvement, a sufficient linkage to the American political process can be assumed, justifying fiat.


In discussing each of these counterplans, I have attempted to ease into some general distinctions that taken together, form a dividing line that separates legitimate and illegitimate uses of negative fiat. In my final section, I will attempt to sharpen this line by elucidating what I take to be prudent and fair limitations the negative's freedom to counterplan, while also providing insight into how best to employ these limitations as arguments in actual debates.

The negative should have the option of offering topical and nontopical plan-inclusive counterplans (PICs), with one important stipulation, that the exception carved out of the plan must meet a certain significance standard. Those debaters who can fashion and persuasively defend exact provisions of such a standard will meet with the most success. One possible standard is that the part of the plan which the negative focuses on via PIC must be significant enough to generate meaningful public-policy discussion. This standard could be employed by the affirmative to defeat a microscopic exception PIC, or by the negative to support a directional focus PIC. The affirmative might choose to augment their standard with a presumption shift-style argument, contending that in embracing the broad majority of the affirmative plan, the negative team takes on a burden of proof to show that the entirety of the plan shouldn't be done. And finally, either side might employ the standard that the exception carved out of the plan must be a substantive element of the plan, rather than merely a procedural or logistical component.

On the question of international fiat, the negative should have the option of utilizing counterplan actors other than the domestic U.S. government, with the following stipulations. First, the actor must be an international, inter-governmental organization (as opposed to a private NGO). Second, the U.S. government must hold membership in the organization. Third, only currently existing institutional structures and resources may be used to facilitate implementation of the counterplan mandates.

In employing this theoretical scheme for filtering out dubious international counterplans, debaters should focus on the following questions. First, does the international organization that the negative has picked as an agent currently possess sufficient institutional resources to carry out the mandates of the counterplan? If not, the affirmative should seize the opportunity to reduce the solvency capability of the counterplan and insist that the negative cannot respond to them by invoking fiat. If the negative succeeds in proving that they meet the current institutional resource test, the wise affirmative will fashion resource tradeoff disadvantages against the counterplan, arguing that the negative's mandates will divert the international organization from tackling more important problems by sapping its funds or personnel.

A second important issue is determining the level of authority that the international organization enjoys to force compliance by member states. Denied single-foreign country fiat, the negative is left only with the autonomous authority of their chosen international organization for enforcement of their counterplan mandates. Some international organizations have accumulated enough indigenous authority to influence national governments, while others have not.

The recipe for high-octane argumentation includes a move beyond absolute theoretical stances on both PICs and international fiat counterplans, relying instead on a more subtle theory that draws sensible distinctions between specific types of counterplans within each general family. Negative flat is not an all-or-nothing ballgame. Rather,

Debate theory must also be dialectical, balancing a plurality of interests-- intellectual, competitive, and educational. Previous paradigms tend to be one-sided, to view debate almost solely as a mode of intellectual inquiry or almost solely as a game. The reality is that academic debate is (and should be) both. The pluralistic view of debate theory would seek to strike a balance between the competing values and interests. Thus, in the case of negative fiat, a balance must ultimately be struck between the value of political realism on one hand and the value of speculative intellectual inquiry on the other.


1 As Panetta and Dolley suggest, "The problem of determining what is 'significantly different' policy is not one this negative strategy [the topical counterplan] has forced upon debate. For many years, affirmative teams have proposed 'insignificant' policy options and critics have not only established standards for evaluation, in many cases they have voted for them. In a debate in which a questionable counterplan is presented. the critic could stipulate that the counterplan must be substantially different from the affirmative plan’Ķ" ("The Topical Counterplan," Argumentation and Advocacy, Winter 1989, p. 173).
2 See Panetta and Dolley, P. 173.
3 Such as the 1985-86 college topic, which called for minimum academic standards to be adopted in "all elementary and secondary schools in the U.S." Predictably, microscopic exclusion PICs were generally accepted as theoretically legitimate under this resolution, since they violated the resolutional word all. Most popular were PICs which exempted the Amish , the handicapped, and Indians.
4 For this interpretation of the topic to fly, the negative would need to establish that worldwide means everywhere, or at all points. Perhaps the existence of the word "entire" in the following definition from Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary turns the trick: "worldwide adj. extended throughout or involving the entire world." (1975 ed., P. 1352).
5 Perhaps this is what Panetta had in mind when he wrote "If the alternative presented by the negative does not compete with the example claimed in the first affirmative, there is no reason why the affirmative could not incorporate the minor alterations into their plan, or why both plans could not be adopted simultaneously." ("The Topical Counterplan: Reassening Negative Ground," 1981 Debater's Research Guide
, p. IO).
6 ibid., p. 11.
7 Hopefully, the topic committee will revise the topic to exclude domestic aid and U.S. interstate trade cases by inserting the word "foreign" in the resolution to modify "trade and/or aid policies." If this change is not made, the negative will be saddled with at least three more targets-for watertight evidentiary support, see DRG/A94.
9 Lynton Caldwell, International Environmental Policy, (Durham: Duke University Press, 1990) P. 81.
10 Roger Solt, "Negative Fiat: Resolving the Ambiguities of 'Should."' Argumentation and Advocacy, Winter 1989, P. 134-5.
11 ibid., P. 136.
12 Walden Bello, Covert Action Information Bulletin
, Winter 1991-92, p. 22. Bello goes even further: "Over that nearly half a century, the World Bank has been a closely held and controlled arm of U.S. foreign policy, largely free from the constraints of legislative, judicial or popular influence." (P. 20).
13 Solt, P. 136.
14 Solt, P. 122.
15 See Panetta and Dolley, P. 172.
16 "Both the United Nations and Council of Europe commissions on human rights have power to monitor compliance and to demand explanations from signatories for reported lapses. The International Labor Organization also keeps tabs on whether members are complying with its standards. 'Tbe agency can often generate enough pressure in at, investigatory stage to bring an errant country into line, making its second stage-a public hearing to explain delinquency unnecessary." (Worldwatch
, May/June 1992, p. 29-30).
17 Solt, P. 123.