Current Events
08/12/2010 10:41 AM by
Bookmark and Share

Debate, like chess or poker, is a game of strategy. Across alternating speeches—which roughly correspond to “moves” by each team—effective strategy requires anticipating your opponent’s line of attack and then preempting it or developing a strong response. In most situations, planning up to the third move (2AC, after the 1AC and 1NC) is the key to success.

Clearly, the strategic approach to debate has huge implications for Affirmative case selection and construction. Many high school summer institutes emphasize setting criteria for what constitutes a strategic case, including “federal key” warrants, unique angles against the generic disadvantages and counterplans of the topic, large case impacts, diversity of advantages, and flexibility to evolve over the course of the season. To this list, I strongly encourage you to add “a ‘certainty key’ argument”—a reason for mandatory, certain, and unconditional adoption of the plan.

Why Certainty?

Arguments, they say, are like the seasons: they come and go. Currently, the college and high school debate communities are solidly in the Summer of the Conditioning Counterplan. The conditioning counterplan argues that the plan should be adopted only if a certain condition is met (NATO says “yes”, state governments agree to prohibit smoking in public areas, etc.). Within this category of argument, I include “consultation”, “threatening” (do the plan unless X), and most recently “recommendation” (have X actor push the plan, but don’t mandate it). These counterplans have become extremely popular because they obviate the need for the negative to anticipate and defeat crafty and unpredictable affirmative advantages. Since the conditioning counterplan is usually argued to result in the affirmative plan, the advantages of the 1AC are no longer a relevant consideration for the judge. In my experience, these arguments have become so popular that most policy-oriented college programs prepare one of more counterplans of this style as an “ultra-generic” before the National Debate Tournament (NDT). In fact, some version of the conditioning counterplan was present in the final round of each of the three most recent NDTs (although, each was won by the Affirmative – a testament to the preparation of those squads).

Though conditioning counterplans are popular, some might ask why it merits systematic consideration as an argument category, instead of being treated in specifics. After all, many disadvantages will be popular on the 2010-2011 military deployment topic, yet few teams will likely think about “answers to: disads” generally (instead, focusing on angles against politics, hegemony, etc.). A big problem for Affirmatives while debating against conditions is that neither the conditional criteria (NATO saying yes, state smoking bans, etc.) nor the net-benefit have a direct link to the plan—and is thus unpredictable and difficult to prepare for. A short list of counterplans that have actually been read in recent years demonstrates the point:

--      do the plan if Greenland agrees to blow up a particularly troublesome iceberg

--      do the plan if the European Union agrees to protect the endangered Lynx

--      threaten to do the plan unless Israel discloses that it possesses nuclear weapons

--      inform Japan that it can tell Russia that the United States will do the plan if Russia agrees to give Japan back the Kurile Islands

Given this, the common retort that these arguments can be beaten by researching “say no” evidence rings hollow. Even a well prepared team could not possibly keep up with Negative teams that are allowed to condition the plan on the response of any entity in the world. Plus, given the recent emergence of the “threaten counterplan,” to which the Negative argues that the conditioned actor will say “no”, causing the plan and advantageous pressure, the burden on the Affirmative is raised to a preposterous level—they are expected to have evidence that every actor in the world both likes and dislikes the plan. Thus, affirmative preparation against conditioning counterplans cannot reliably treated as a matter of specifics and must instead be thought through systematically, in search of broad methods to prove that unconditional adoption of the plan is desirable.

Tips for Preparation

There are at least three ways to strategically approach “certainty key” arguments on the Affirmative.

First, consider using theory and permutations. It is outside the scope of this article to discuss the theoretical merits of conditioning, but it is safe to say that they lie in the “gray area” of judging opinion where going for theory in the 2AR or extending a permutation to “do the counterplan” with theoretical justifications is a reasonable option in most situations. If theory is something that interests you as a debater—and it will for some but not others—then the two keys are scouting and preparation. Know judge tendencies, as they “factor in” more heavily in theory debates than in those about substantive issues. Then, brainstorm arguments and responses. For the most part, theory arguments like “conditioning counterplans bad” are a solved game. Many teams make the same arguments in defense of these arguments and their blocks do not change much, if at all, over time. This can be easily exploited by simply planning to the third move—setting traps in the 1AR (new twists, collapsing down to theory subsets, etc.) that the Negative will have a difficult time recovering from.

Second, specifying the court as the actor of the plan can be a huge help against process counterplans. Obviously, it would be extremely damaging for judicial legitimacy and public faith in the institution if the court were to make its decisions based on the actions of an external entity rather than established legal procedure—creating an intuitive and easy to research disadvantage against the counterplan. Worse, the court is very unlikely to have a mechanism for enacting the counterplan (for example, they lack diplomats to negotiate), so Negatives sometimes explain the process of the counterplan as involving outside agents (State Department consults Russia, Court conditionally implements the plan). This opens up many new avenues for devastating permutations, such as “permute: have the State Department consult Russia and Court do the plan no matter what”, to which the traditional Negative responses (theory complaints of “severance” or “intrinsicness” and insistence that genuine negotiation is key) do not apply. That the 2010-2011 military deployment topic is international rather than domestic does not lessen the strategic insight here. From a strategic perspective, the court is certainly capable of ordering changes in military posture (even if it isn’t likely) and teams will definitely test the waters of this agent in search of creative advantages. This basic blueprint to Affirmative construction was used by Michigan State to win the final round of the 2010 NDT, in which they used the court to end nuclear launch-on-warning policy, with a mix of advantages about nuclear weapons and judicial precedent. Choosing the court as your actor comes at some cost; there are several judicial disadvantages and many counterplans like Congress, lower courts, and the constitutional amendment. Still, thought, it may be worth the risk in order to push the Negative off the very powerful wholly plan-inclusive conditioning counterplan.

Third, and most generally, it can be argued that the process of enactment matters for some advantages based off of perception of the plan. Typically, this argument works best for advantages about signaling, like soft power, human rights credibility, international resolve, etc. The process of conditioning (where U.S. action occurs only under certain circumstance) can be argued to undermine the image of commitment to the goal of the plan or, at the very least, subordinate that goal to the issue that has been explicitly linked to action. For example, one author writes that:

“consensus precludes the possibility of firm moral positions, as decisions reflect the lowest-common denominator among actors … multilateralism necessarily entails moral equivocation and watered down positions.”[1]

Contextual examples make this point more clear. The provision of disaster relief would do far less to promote U.S. humanitarian leadership if it were linked to the extraction of trade concessions from major competitors. The object of the plan—alleviation of suffering—gets turned into something of a bargaining chip or a means for political wrangling, rather than a genuine gesture. Even though the counterplan may result in the enactment of the plan, the process by which the counterplan enacts the plan may be very public and affect the international perception of the plan.

Generally, this scenario (signal advantage vs. condition counterplan) demonstrates the necessity of affirmatives having a diversity of solvency mechanisms in the 1AC. Drawing upon the previous example of disaster relief, this would mean that the affirmative would have advantages both based on alleviating disaster-related suffering (by providing assistance) and based on international humanitarian credibility (by been seen as providing assistance). The affirmative could argue that each is independent—relief could be ineffective but still bolster the U.S. image or vice versa. This gives affirmatives much more latitude in the 2AC and is highly useful against many counterplans (because there are two advantage “links” to solve, not just one).


The popularity of the conditioning counterplan has skyrocketed in the last five years and will likely remain an important part of the negative’s arsenal for the near future. As affirmatives prepare for the coming topic, I strongly suggest that you adopt a strategic approach to debate and consider “certainty key” arguments as a criterion for case selection.


[1] Harris, Tobias. “Gulliver Unbound: the Future of American Power.” May 2003. Online:


August 13th, 2010

What if they K certainty?

Also, doesn't the permutation say that you're not certain about doing the plan alone? Does this mean you shouldn't permute when you say "certainty key"?

Paul Mabrey
August 15th, 2010

Thank you for sharing your strategic insights, well written.

Curious Cat
August 19th, 2010

I think Dilboy makes a valid argument. Also, on the negative, if the aff makes a solvency deficit to the cp and also says a perm. Is it smart to concede the solvency deficit to answer the perm?

August 20th, 2010

If the solvency deficit applies to the perm as well, you should definitely point that out.  But to flat out concede the deficit... at best, this would be highly situation-dependent; at worst it's uniformly a bad idea. 

The intent of answering the perm is to decrease the desirability of the perm relative to the CP.  If the solvency deficit affects the CP and the perm, conceding the solvency deficit does not accomplish this goal.  

Conceding the deficit does decrease the desirability of the perm relative to the plan. However, I can't at the moment think of an example where this would be useful.  As the perm and the plan are both aff scenarios, the neg doesn't directly benefit from this change.  The change only matters if the CP is better than the plan, but not better than the perm.  In that case, the neg needs to weaken the perm.  However, the neg needs to weaken the perm relative to both the plan and the CP.  Weakening the perm and the CP relative to the plan doesn't help. 

I can't think of any situation where it would be useful to weaken the CP and the perm by the same amount - it only serves to relatively strengthen the plan.

Sarah W00d
August 26th, 2010

Actually, "perm weakening" is an advanced college strategy that I've seen successfully deployed a number of times (most recently by Adam Farra in the quarters of the 2008 NDT vs. Northwestern Fisher/Warden). Check out the YouTube version of that debate, it occurs around 1:07 I think

September 01st, 2010

I think a better strategy is the "middle strength" perm. It is were the neg proves the perm is just weak enough so it doesn't solve certainty, but still strong enough to prove the CP can solves.

September 01st, 2010

I think Faber is right.  Perm weakening is very 2005.  These days it's all about double solvency.

September 02nd, 2010

Sarah et al,

Yes, weakening perms is good.  But are y'all saying that, as per Curious Cat's question above, conceding a solvency deficit argument that weakens the CP is a good idea, just because it also weakens the perm?  I/y, could someone articulate how that is in any way useful?

Sergey Stepanov
September 03rd, 2010


I think the best strategy is a delicate balance. The 2n should make the following arguments against an aff that has a certainty advantage and reads the uncertainty perm.

1. We will concede certainty key - the perm isn't certain, so vote neg.

2. The CP is certain. The neg is 100% certain that the CP should happen.

3. That alone proves the CP is better than the plan or perm bc the aff was uncertain in the 2ac, destroying any certainty that the 1ac. Team cohesion is important. 

4. Then concede all the solvency deficits and say they apply to the perm. The CP is still better than the perm. 

5. Perms are unconditional. Once introduce, the plan goes away.

September 03rd, 2010

As far as conceeding solvency deficits, the way you frame it here, that's at best a positive time tradeoff for the neg, yes?  Aff had to make the args, neg can just say 'applies equally to the perm too'.  It saves the 2n some time that then needs to be invested in winning the longshot arg that perms are unconditional, so that conceeding a solvency deficit against the plan doesn't come back to bite the 2nr's hindquarters?

Further, I'm not sure I buy this whole 'perm doesn't solve certainty' arg, so I'm not sure the neg really wins this 'solvency deficit also on perms' claim.  Presumably the 1ac made certainty args specific to the plan?  As long as the perm doesn't sever, it doesn't change the aff's certainty that the 1ac plan should be enacted.  The whole theory of permutations is non-intrinsicness; to use a trite example, if the CP was some totally non-competitive 'fund food for everyone' idea, the aff could said 'yea, that's a cool idea, we should certainly - hee hee - still do plan, but we should totally do that food thing too.'  Are you really saying this doesn't solve the certainty claims of the 1ac?   If it still does, how does the perm to procedural CP meaningfully differ, so long as it doesn't sever?  Again, not that this mightn't be true in certain cases, but it has to be situation dependent.

September 03rd, 2010

This is exactly what I meant by the "middle strength"

June 02nd, 2012

Our name is pioneer in the field of Election Material For last 25 yrs. We are one of the oldest name for election materials.
Promotional t shirts
Promotional wall clock suppliers

June 14th, 2012

beats by dre casque beats by dre
casque beats by dre casque beats by dre
beats by dre pas cher beats by dre pas cher
casque beats pas cher casque beats pas cher

June 14th, 2012

Thomas Sabo bijoux sont les plus modes et glamours produits. Avec un style unisexe de Bijoux, la marque Thomas Sabo a émergé comme le mode et la tendance connue dans le monde entier.

June 15th, 2012

louis vuitton pas cher louis vuitton pas cher

sac louis vuitton pas cher louis vuitton pas cher

Sac Louis Vuitton louis vuitton pas cher


Lunettes Ray Ban Lunettes Ray Ban

Lunettes Soleil Lunettes Solei

Ray Ban Wayfarer Pas Cher Ray Ban Wayfarer 

beats by dre beats by dre

Beats By Dre Pas Cher Beats By Dre Pas Cher

casque beats by dre Casque Beats By Dre

monster beats monster beats

casque beats by dre pas cher

September 12th, 2012
October 10th, 2012

Assembled metal steel profile into fully automatic assembly line production system, to make our products much more accurate,gypsum cornice much higher quality.

November 04th, 2012

Ladies would like shopping replica handbags, handbags stylish and affordable accent. replica watches continues to develop, with the help of modern society has been nicer, even surprising. Carrying rolex replica Celine back cardiovascular.But many women can not handle more than any designer handbags, many women want to buy a model affordable luxury Prada.

north face coats
November 17th, 2012

the pictures will give and as well as knowledge of a percentage of amazing we will have likewise plastic material material leg protection,north face winter coats shields to form give up firm baby diapers plastic leg protection family pictures, detail, take another look at, subject matter matter, playerDiana dress takesthis 19-year-past lover Diana Spencer got the particular bustier wedding dress, just by architects electronic and in addition jake Emanuel which in turn at times coined your loved one bridal gown, for about 1981 to wear to be with her first endorsed look back with her husband to be, these emporer related to Wales. the pictures will give and as well as knowledge of a percentage of amazing we will have likewise plastic material material leg protection, shields to form give up firmnorthface outlet baby diapers plastic leg protection family pictures, detail, take another look at, subject matter matter, playerDiana dress takesthis 19-year-past lover Diana Spencer got the particular bustier wedding dress, just by architects electronic and in addition jake Emanuel which in turn at times coined your loved one bridal gown, for about 1981 to wear to be with her first endorsed look back with her husband to be, these emporer related to Wales.

December 15th, 2012

ugg boots clearance sale To conclude, These sneakers your company's sadness significant attention draw moreover first class to have a considerable amount terrific.For a website you wants to show to the requestor.You make them pass you some text when they want to buy it.This birth supports you to this start that may help you keep hold of is in fact old fashioned style and after that entails best preserve.

cheap ugg boots sale uk In fact, Nationwide and New Zealand this comfortable and warm footwear was worn by social groups such as Bogans, Westie and Bevans in public places. Curiously, most Australians others wear them around the house or at most just a visit to the local shop.

July 23rd, 2013
FUCK MONSTER STUPID FUCKING PEOPLE COMPLAINING ABOUT TOO HEAVY BASS AND THEY CAN'T LISTEN TO ROCK AND THEIR SHIT ACOUSTIC MUSIC..Cos of u Monster now reduced evhytreing they made popular about the headphone no more heavy bass and no more good quality music u ruined em.. Look who they're by why would you buy them to listen to Rock and classical and Pop even.. They are bass heavy headphones for bass heavy music if it's not your? style don't follow the look to buy them and just complain

Leave a Comment