Debate Class: What is International Relations and its Principles (Part 2)

Coach Mike
Post by Coach Mike
January 25, 2023
Debate Class: What is International Relations and its Principles (Part 2)

Welcome back! In the first part of this article, you learned about sovereignty and self-determination and how it comes into play in debates about IR.

As you can see, IR debates often center around actions and responses by different stakeholders. These stakeholders are often states and countries, but very well can be terrorist groups, rebels, or international organizations like the European Union or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or even multinational corporations! This is why it’s important to do a stakeholder analysis when you’re facing an IR motion, identify all the relevant stakeholders, and analyze their interests, motivations, values, and capabilities.

States usually care about maintaining their sovereignty and security. This means if a state’s security is threatened by something, they’ll act in order to reduce this threat or enhance their security in other ways. This in turn can cause another stakeholder to feel threatened, and to take action in response. This means that establishing probability is essential to winning IR debates. You must convince the judge that the chain of actions and impacts you’re claiming will happen is indeed the most likely scenario.

To better understand how countries affect each other, let’s talk about power. Power is the ability to get someone to do something. In the global arena, countries do not exist in a vacuum, so they always have an interest in getting other countries to do things in certain ways. There are two types of power countries can exercise over each other.

First, soft power. It means that you can shape others’ expectations, values, and what they choose to do, without having to coerce them. Soft power can be communicated through diplomacy, culture, and media – think about how Hollywood presents a friendly image of America to the rest of the world! Or how Chinese pandas are loaned to zoos all around the world! Soft power can also mean offering investments or reducing trade barriers, in order to incentivize having a good relationship with each other.

By contrast, hard power is when you force someone to bend to your will, and they do so out of fear. The major way that states do this is through economic sanctions or military power. When it comes to hard power, the United States, for example, has the largest military in the world, and they have shown itself to be willing to invade countries to protect their perceived interests, such as in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Using hard power can have strong unintended consequences, however. It’s similar to how it’s much better for you to convince the judge that you won the debate, rather than threatening to attack the judge if they don’t give you the win. Why? Because if you threaten a judge, they will call security or at worst, give you low speaker points! In the same way, using hard power against another actor makes them feel threatened, and often incentivizes them to reach out to allies, strengthen their own military power, and fight back against you.

Knowing all this, what’s the best way for you now to prepare for an IR round?

The first is to read and listen to the news. There is no way around this one. IR is a constantly evolving subject area, so you need to keep track of what is going on. By staying informed about what is happening in different countries and how they are reacting to things, you’ll better understand their incentives and predict their actions. Don’t hesitate to look at maps as part of your news consumption. Understanding borders and whose neighbors can come in handy.

Second, as much as you can, use proper nouns in IR debates. That means using leaders’ names, political parties, capital cities, and so forth. This will make your case more persuasive and show the judge that you have credibility on the topic.

Third, leverage what you do know. Even if you think you know nothing about a motion, don’t panic! You always know more than you think you do. Take a minute to think about the following questions:

· First, what region of the world is the country in? Who is the closest superpower?

· Second, have they had any notable historical experiences such as colonialization or war?

· Third, what do their borders look like and who are their neighbors? Do they have a good or bad relationship with them?

· Fourth, how is their economy doing?

These questions will help kickstart your thinking and help you focus on what you do know (even if you only remember the answers to some of the questions). It’ll also help you explain why actors react in certain ways, and why this will trigger even more reactions from others.

Finally, you should learn to distinguish between different stakeholders in IR: states, leaders or regimes, and citizens. They all have unique interests that may overlap, but may also conflict with one another. For example, two states might be at war over a specific territory, even though the citizens are protesting against the war. Additionally, these stakeholders are not homogenous, meaning that they’re not all the same. Germany is considered a developed country, while Bangladesh is still considered a developing country due to its economic status. Another example is citizens of the same country may have very different beliefs and therefore have different behaviors. By understanding the differences between stakeholders and their interests and incentives you can make your analyses much more nuanced and therefore make it more persuasive.

So, when debating IR, focus on key concepts such as sovereignty, self-determination, and hard and soft power. Try to keep up with the news, and use your knowledge when you analyze different stakeholders, because the more nuanced and up to date your analysis is, the higher your chances are of winning the round.

Taking everything you now know about international relations, it might seem easier to understand now why World War I soldiers were able to celebrate alongside their enemies at Christmas, and shoot them the very next day.

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Coach Mike
Post by Coach Mike
January 25, 2023

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