As we set it, there are a few different types of counterplans.
Reduction vs. Suspension. This will debated out in the theory debate and on topicality – “reduce,” but one of the most common counterplans on this resolution will be to suspend sales vs. reduce arms sales.
Negative teams will claim that reductions are permanent and eliminate any incentive for the target of the reduction to reform its behavior in any particular way (such as complying with human rights norms). Negative teams will argue for suspending sales instead of reducing claims, claiming that the suspension will trigger reform.
This will be a very strong counterplan because nearly all affirmative authors argue for suspensions and not reductions.
Conditions. “Suspension” is certainly a form of a conditions counterplan, but another way to run a conditions counterplan is to condition the reduction (as opposed to suspension) on another actor doing something. For example, a counterplan may condition reductions in arms sales to Taiwan on China taking action to resolve disputes in the South China Sea. A strategic approach to this counterplan is to ask for something very small from China, for example, to make it easy for China to say yes, because if China says yes then the arms sales will be reduced.
Reforms counterplans. These counterplans reform the delivery of the arms sales so they are carried out in a way that is non-threatening. For example, this counterplan is in the Emory file —
The United States federal government should not incrementally reduce its arms sales to Taiwan (Republic of China). The United States federal government should require that existing and future arms sales to Taiwan (republic of China) be done in a non-bundled fashion, be for defensive purposes and technologies only, and never total more than $1billion dollars in price tag.
Agent counterplans. Agent questions generally refer to what branch of the government would essentially adopt the plan – executive (the President), legislative (Congress), or judicial (federal courts/Supreme Court).
In the context of this topic, the President could decide not to follow-through with an arms sale (or terminate a contract), the Congress could pass legislation blocking a sale, or the courts could rule the President doesn’t have the authority to authorize the sale.
There are two ways to answer this question.
One, the Affirmative can pick and then choose to defend that agent option against counterplans that have another agent. The could, for example, argue it is better to have the President act than the courts because court involvement in foreign policy sets a dangerous precedent against needed executive flexibility.
Two, teams can debate what “normal means” means – what is the likely way an arms sale is to be reduced? This is tough because it depends on how you define “reduce” (see that essay), but as this article explains, it is really the executive branch (the President) that control arms sales process/whether or not arms sales happen. If that is true, and if the affirmative has to defend normal means, then the negative could run a counterplan to have the Congress pass a law reducing sales or to have the Courts rule the President doesn’t have the authority to carry out the sale.
Advantage counterplans. Advantage counterplans argue the advantage should be solved in other ways and that the other action would avoid the disadvantage(s) to reducing sales. For example, the negative may read a counterplan to offer a favorable trade deal to China instead of reducing arms sales to Taiwan. They will argue that the counterplan solves for the relations advantage the affirmative might read and will avoid the disadvantages to reducing arms sales.
There are many different advantage counterplans that teams could read and debaters should always be thinking about different ways to solve advantages.
Consult counterplans. Consultation counterplans are popular “old school” debate arguments that have the US essentially offer the plan to another country (China, Russia, etc) or organization (NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) for its acceptance or rejection. The trick to the counterplan is that the other actor will say yes but will be happy that we asked, improving relations with that actor. These counterplans have become less popular lately because the debate community has come to view them as theoretically suspect, but they will likely be run on this topic.
For a more in-depth understanding of consult counterplans, check out Dan Slamon’s 1998 essay. Dan was one of the best at running the consult NATO counterplan and the arguments have not really changed since this essay was published.
Domestic process counterplans. There are always popular process counterplans that instead of directly carry out the action of the resolution have an actor within the government propose the reduction that is advocate for. So, for example, the President might propose reducing arms sales to Saudi Arabia to Congress. Negative teams will then say that Congress will go along with the reduction and that the proposal process will improve Presidential-Congressional relations. These counterplans will probably be more difficult on this topic because most parts of the federal government support arms sales, but they are still likely to be run and they are the reason that having politics cards is always a must, as that is the most common net benefit.