Katherine Cooley of SAIS reports that four brave students from the Georgetown School of Foreign Service and Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) gathered April 15 before a crowd of onlookers for the annual SAIS-Georgetown debate hosted by the SAIS-Georgetown Exchange Club. The question at hand was whether the United States should substantially reduce its overseas commitments, and sides were chosen by coin flip just minutes before the debate began.
Arguing for Georgetown were Cassandra Florian and David Rosenblum, two first year MA candidates focusing in international relations and security. Cassandra opened the debate, outlining the Georgetown argument in favor of an American reduction of overseas commitments. Commanding the attention of a rowdy auditorium, she explained that the US’s foreign commitments are currently unsustainable, ineffective, and incompatible with its security goals. Elaborating on these points, Georgetown cited recent statements by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen that the deficit is the single largest threat to American security and that American military resources, both human and mechanical, are being degraded and exhausted at their current level of deployment. Related to the effectiveness of overseas commitments, Georgetown questioned the impact and outcomes of ongoing American operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and suggested the US is facing too high an opportunity cost to continue. Warning that at its current level of commitments the United States was bound crumble upon itself like a modern-day Rome, David stressed that the “free ride for the rest of the world is over”.
SAIS was represented in the debate by Anne Angsten. a first year MA candidate in the Energy, Resources, and Environment program from Germany, and Daniel Kornfield, a first year MA candidate concentrating in Latin American Studies. SAIS’s argument in defense of US foreign commitments hinged on the value of the “global commons” including the internet, trading routes, and outer space. SAIS stressed that the global commons is curated by the United States through development of the internet, protection of the seas and international trade, and ongoing investment in technology developments that propel global innovation and development. Anne argued that, “If the United States withdrew from its overseas commitments to security, diplomacy, foreign aid, and humanitarian assistance, it would threaten the foundation of the global commons. Anne illustrated this idea arguing that modern day Germany, strong political ally of the US and financial backbone of the European Union, would not have been possible without the American Marshall Plan. Daniel complemented Anne’s remarks by stating that America’s military expenditures benefit the US and all of its allies, enabling them to invest in things like education, health, economic development, institutional deepening, and a host of other things that reflect American values. He argued that nowhere in history has a multi-polar world been sustainable, and asked Georgetown which major power they would most prefer to fill America’s shoes, “Russia, China, or Iran?”
Although SAIS and the defense of American overseas commitments emerged victorious, the event was a success for both teams. The spring SAIS-Georgetown debate is a longstanding tradition between the two institutions, providing a forum for intellectual exchange and friendly rivalry.