The essay below is a general overview of the topic. For an explanation of the major conflicts in the region and related developments in each country, see this essay.
The resolution focuses on whether or not the US government should become involved in “peacefully” resolving internal armed conflicts in West Asia ( West Asia Includes (Asia Society) – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cyprus, Georgia, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen).
In this essay we will review some key terms, share thoughts about the resolution, provide a background about key conflicts in the resolution and discuss pro and con arguments.
“Internal conflicts” arguably refer to those within societies. For example, there was an internal conflict in the US on January 6, 2021 when a number of individuals broke into the capital building and tried to block the certification of the election results. There are other internal conflicts between related to protests that regularly occur over issues related to racism and classism.
“Internal conflicts” could also refer to any conflicts that occur with in the area referred to as “West Asia.” For example, there is currently a military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the Pro could argue for US diplomatic support to help resolve it. There is also conflict between Israel & Palestine and Israel & the Arab states (though that has moderated considerably). Saudi Arabia is involved in an internal war in Yemen.
Major conflicts within West Asia include:
Turkey — Kurds
Turkey — Areas within Syria
Turkey — Cyprus
Saudi Arabia (+UAE) — Yemen
Armenia — Azerbaijan
Iraq — Kurds
Iraq — Sunni/Shiite
Lebanon — Refugees
Lebanon — Israel
A related question is how much “outside” diplomacy can the Pro assume and advocate for? For example, Iran is not listed as a country in West Asia, but it is the primary driver of Shia interests in the region and what many view as a significant promoter of conflicts. Can the Pro argue for using diplomacy with Iran to resolve conflicts internal to West Asia?
The resolution asks whether a foreign power, the US in this case, intervene to “peacefully” resolve those conflicts. So, imagine China or Russia becoming involved in the US to help it resolve issues related to January 6th. Now, of course, if the conflict is between the US and another country in its region (Cuba, for example), it doesn’t appear as counterintuitive, as clearly an external power could help resolve conflicts between two countries.
As a reminder, the resolution asks the US to peacefully resolve the conflicts using diplomacy. This is complicated for a number of reasons.
First, conflicts that have significant impacts that are meaningful to resolve (does any Pro team really want to argue for “resolving” a peaceful protest? If it’s a violent internal conflict, how compelling is it to argue it can be resolved peacefully? (“Hey, January 6th riotters, please knock it off and resolve your differences…”). Violent conflicts that have significance are not so easy to resolve peacefully.
Second, while diplomacy by definition does not involve violence, it often involves the threat of violence.
Diplomacy is the principal substitute for the use of force or underhanded means in statecraft; it is how comprehensive national power is applied to the peaceful adjustment of differences between states. It may be coercive (i.e., backed by the threat to apply punitive measures or to use force) but is overtly nonviolent. Its primary tools are international dialogue and negotiation, primarily conducted by accredited envoys (a term derived from the French envoyé, meaning “one who is sent”) and other political leaders.
Future Learn, 2021, https://www.futurelearn.com/info/blog/what-is-diplomacy, Exploring international relations: What is diplomacy?
Another diplomatic tactic, gunboat diplomacy is still used today. The Political Dictionary defines gunboat diplomacy as “the practice of backing up diplomatic efforts with a visible show of military might”. The term gunboat diplomacy comes from the idea that gunboats are quite small and easy to manoeuvre, yet they have strong weapons concealed.
By showing a strong military, a country can make implicit military threats while appearing peaceful and amicable. The most famous type of gunboat diplomacy is known as “big stick diplomacy”, made famous by US Vice President Theodore Roosevelt in 1901.
Roosevelt suggested that one should “speak softly, and carry a big stick” when carrying out foreign relations, and this is where the name comes from. Soon after saying this, he became President. He went on to use this tactic throughout his presidency with much success and even won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for negotiating peace between Japan and Russia.
In more recent times, Obama used big stick diplomacy in 2010 when he sent an aircraft carrier to the Yellow Sea near North Korean shores. This show of naval strength followed an attack by North Korea on an island in South Korea and had the aim to send a warning message to both North Korea and China.
If you are wondering why it might often involve the threat of violence, the answer is relatively simple and practical: If one side is engaging in violence (and there are many current internal violent conflicts in West Asia), it is unlikely that one side will stop without some threat of violence, especially if they are current “winning.”
As a twist, the resolution asks the US to do everything short of using violence to resolve the conflicts. This also brings up the question of whether or not the US could credibly use the threat of violence if the US never actually uses violence. If the most the pro can argue is the threat of violence it’s not clear how diplomacy can succeed. Since even advocates of using diplomacy to peacefully resolve internal conflicts will assume there is likely some credible threat to use force, it’s not clear the pro’s advocacy makes sense without it.
And even if it doesn’t have to involve the threat of violence, it necessarily involves putting some pressure on a country to negotiate a peaceful settlement. This pressure may include threats of reducing US aid, military support or diplomatic support in another area. This is important to understand because this type of pressure could harm US relations with one of the other countries.
National Museum of Diplomacy, October 11, 2022, What are the tools of diplomacy?, https://diplomacy.state.gov/what-are-the-tools-of-diplomacy/
In negotiating, diplomats often use rewards—such as the promise of new trade, an arms sale, or shipments of food—to encourage an agreement. When diplomatic interests collide, and a deadlock ensues, negotiators might threaten sanctions—such as restricting trade or travel, halting financial assistance, or an embargo—to persuade the other parties to accept an agreement.
If the US were to put more pressure on Saudi Arabia, it may increase its ties to China, at the detriment of US interests. Similarly, putting more pressure on Turkey may result in it blocking Sweden and Finland to join NATO.
The final note I’ll make in regard to resolving internal conflicts is that at least in the case of West Asia most of the conflicts in West Asia are not exclusively internal. Many of the conflicts are driven, for example, by the Sunni-Shiite divide and there are ongoing proxy struggles across countries. And if other external powers (Russia, for example) are backing one side of the conflict militarily, how can US diplomatic involvement without violence peacefully resolve the conflict. You will see more examples of this as we discuss the the particular countries.
There are a number of Pro arguments that can be organized into a some different types of contentions.
Conflicts within countries. There are a number of types of conflicts that manifest themselves within states, including Sunnia-Shiite conflicts, conflicts over access to resources, conflicts over political control and conflicts over citizens asserting their human rights.
Common impacts to these conflicts include human rights abuses, terrorism, the suppression of democracy, general instability (often impacted in oil supply disruptions) and women’s rights.
Conflicts between countries. There are many conflicts that are “internal to West Asia” that are between countries. These include conflicts between Israel & Palestine, Israel & the Arab States (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain), Saudi Arabia & Yemen, Armenia & Azerbaijan, and Turkey & Syria.
Common impacts to these conflicts focus on war, with the potential for escalation.
China. Increasing stability in the Middle East frees-up military resources to deter China in Asia. Increasing US influence in the Middle East also makes it more difficult for China to build influence in the Middle East.
Soft Power. There are arguably three sources of power in international relations: economic power; “hard” power (military power); and “soft” power (how much influence a country has). Successful diplomacy in West Asia would boost overall soft power and US global leadership. US global leadership has the potential to dampen global conflict.
Democracy promotion. US diplomacy has the potential to strengthen the development of democracy around the world.
Terrorism. All of the internal conflicts within West Asia have the potential to lead to more terrorism as internal conflicts tend to undermine governance and the rule. of law, creating safe havens for terrorist groups to organize
There are many strong Con arguments against using diplomacy to “peacefully” resolve conflicts within or between countries in West Asia.
Diplomatic Capital Trade-off. If the US uses diplomatic resources to resolve conflicts in these countries, it will have fewer resources to work towards minimizing escalation risks in the Ukraine to preventing China from attacking Taiwan and potentially to stop the Korean crisis from escalating. The State Department only has so much money, so many diplomats and so much time and energy to devote to resolving any particular conflict. The links to the Middle East are very strong and we have an whole file to support this.
Imperialism/Orientalism. The idea that the US use its diplomacy based on its own Western values and ideas to resolve conflicts is grounded in imperialism. Edward Said developed his own theory of this in the Middle East, arguing that western assertions influence to “stabilize” the Middle East is grounded in “orientalism.”
Positive Peace. The “positive peace” argument kritiks the idea of idea that peace is really about human development and not simply the absence of conflict, which it refers to as negative peace.
Democracy Promotion bad. US diplomacy generally involves efforts to promote democracy and such efforts often alienate other countries, “backfiring’ and resulting in democracy being undermined.
Low oil prices bad. Instability within the region essentially “prices in” a conflict risk, creating a price of oil that is higher than it otherwise would likely be. Higher oil prices make investing in renewable energy a cost-effective alternative and renewable energy as great potential to solve climate change.
[On the flip slide, Pro teams will argue that lower oil prices strengthen the economy and that oil disruptions hurt the economy]
Israel-US relations good. Putting too much diplomatic pressure on Israel to solve relations with its neighbors could undermine its relations with the US, causing the US to lose an important ally in the Middle East.
Saudi-US Relations. Putting too much diplomatic pressure on Saudi Arabia to solve relations with its neighbors could undermine its relations with the US, causing the US to lose an important ally in the Middle East. Undermining Saudi Arabia’s relations with the US could also weaken deterrence against iran, encouraging Iranian aggression. It could also push Saudi Arabia into an alliance with China.
Con teams will also want to make defensive arguments against terrorism, democratization/promotion, human rights, and civil conflict.
Some General Notes on Evidence
Evidence quality. A lot of the “solvency” evidence on this topic is just plain terrible. Some of the evidence in the briefs by other companies literally simply describes diplomatic efforts that are happening and often does not say it is effective/working/hopeful. A piece of evidence that simply describes diplomatic activities does not in any way prove that it works.
Humanitarian aid and conflict escalation. Proving that simply increasing diplomacy is going to resolve conflicts that are incredibly complex and have festered for. years is very difficult, almost absurd. But, there is pretty good evidence that diplomacy is effective at getting warring parties to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid, which saves lives. There is also good evidence that diplomacy can prevent conflicts from escalating to involve additional powers. If you limit your diplomacy effectiveness claim to something more limited and have an associated impact, many of the Con, “diplomacy fails” arguments will not apply.
“Old” solvency evidence. It’s hard to find evidence on this topic that makes very strong claims about the workability of diplomacy. As a result, it is necessary to provide some older evidence. But, it’s honestly questionable how relevant any of this evidence is.
For example, I’ve seen evidence from 2015 that says the US should engage in diplomacy to prevent the conflict in Yemen from turning into a civil war that’s worse than Syria’s civil war…but that’s already happened! I’ve seen 2018 evidence that says the US should work toward a resolution of the Syrian conflict, but Russia backs Assad (the leader of Syria) and Russia obviously isn’t going to negotiate with the US. I’ve seen 2015-2020 evidence that the US should push Turkey to be nicer to the Kurds or stop incursions in Syria, but the US has no influence over Turkey now because it both needs its support in the war against Russia and because it needs its support to admit Sweden and Finland into NATO. Most evidence that is from before the February 2022 Russian invasion of the Ukraine is simply too old.
West Asia: Projections for 2022 July 2022 Vivekananda International Foundation
A great source that puts the whole resolution into context (definitely field and topic contextual) 3-4 pages quick read. Summarizes major conflicts in the region. Not exhaustive but includes: Syria, Libya, The Yemen War, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, US Iran Dynamics, China’s participation and the topics potential impact on Climate Action
FOREIGN POLICY: THE MIDDLE EAST Great Background with links and videos
The U.S. has long served as a pillar of global security and stability, promoting democracy and prosperity and opposing human rights abuses and repressive rogue regimes. Read on for more about the specific national security threats that face the U.S. in the Middle East, a region that has long been a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy, and home to both some of our most important allies and most pressing challenges.
Strategic Re Engagement in the Middle East: Toward a More Balanced and Long-Term Approach for U.S. Policy – The Biden administration can rebalance America’s policy in the Middle East through diplomacy, economic statecraft, and security cooperation—all while shifting away from direct military action.
Peace prospects rise in West Asia after US’ perceived retreat from region
The diplomatic retreat of the US in the Middle East
‘Frustrated and powerless’: In fight with China for global influence, diplomacy is America’s biggest weakness Oct 2022