A disad, which is policy debate jargon for disadvantage, is an argument run by the negative against the affirmative case. Disads are basically reasons largely unrelated to the harm area of an affirmative case that the affirmative plan is a bad idea. A disad has three or four parts: uniqueness, links, internal links, and impacts. Internal links are not always present. A basic chain of logic found in a disad would look something like this: Right now the President is not going to get his tax policy passed. If the plan happens, the opposing party will see it as an olive branch and will pass the tax policy. The policy will wreak havoc on the economy, which will cause global war. This particular argument involving the legislation is called a political disad.
The parts of a disad:
A. Uniqueness – This part of the disad explains why the argument is unique to the affirmative case; in other words, this is why the disad will not happen in the status quo. In the above example, the uniqueness is that right now the President is not able to pass his policy; nothing bad will happen in the status quo, because the tax policy is not getting passed no matter what.
B. Links – This part shows how the disad relates to the plan. The idea is to show that the case will cause something to happen that will shift the current course of events in the status quo. The link in the example is that the opposing party views the plan as an olive branch, which will cause the policy in question to pass.
C. Internal Links – These are sometimes hard to distinguish from links. The difference is that internal links do not relate directly to the plan, only to previous links. This distinction is really not important in a round, though. Internal links serve as ways to get from the link to the ultimate impact of the disad. They are often miniature impacts on their own. From above, the internal link is that the tax policy will crash the economy. This serves to propel the argument from just the tax policy to global war, but economic collapse is probably bad without the ensuing war.
D. Impacts – These are the real meat of the disad; they are also the most unrealistic part. These are the reasons why the disad would be so bad, were it to happen. These must usually have enough magnitude to outweigh a significant portion, if not all, of the affirmative case. Traditionally, impacts involve some sort of global nuclear war, or at least some weapons of mass destruction. Hearing several scenarios for war involving weapons of mass destruction occurring is not uncommon in a policy debate round. Of course, global war caused by economic decline would be the impact in the previous example. And if you are wondering about the validity of these arguments, they are all carded (documented). Sir Walter Russel Mead happens to write good information on the particular economic collapse leads to global war argument.
Answering the disad:
With such an amazing amount of evidence against the affirmative, whatever are they to do? Those in favor of changing the status quo should not fear; there are myriad options for fighting back! Here are some options the affirmative has:
Claiming the disad is non-unique – The affirmative team will claim that the disad is going to happen in the status quo no matter what. The impact becomes irrelevant if it is inevitable. To non-unique the example, the affirmative team would read a piece of evidence saying that the tax policy will pass in the status quo. That way, with or without the case it will happen.
Claiming the disad does not link – This is fairly self-explanatory; just prove that the disad actually does not relate to your case. The affirmative could simply find cards saying that the other party does not care at all about their particular case; therefore, they won’t see it as an olive branch.
Link turning the disad – With this argument, the affirmative attempts to show that their case in fact prevents the disad. Rather than appearing as an olive branch in the example, as the negative claims, the affirmative would claim the opposing party hates the plan and would in fact strengthen their resolve against it.
Impact turning the disad – Doing this is less common than link turning, but it is still a valuable strategy. The affirmative claims that the impacts to the disad are actually good, therefore it is good that the plan is causing them. It is generally hard to claim that nuclear war is good (the argument does exist and is referred to as the spark), but sometimes the impact is just left at economic decline. What would technically be internal link turning, is also referred to as impact turning, so a trick affirmative team that could find evidence saying economic decline is good and won’t lead to nuclear war could impact turn the example disad that way.
Note: As with most of debate, one must consider how these arguments intertwine. Usually, one should read non-uniques with link turns. While claiming the exact opposite of the negative team about what the plan does with relation to the disad is a strong way to prove the plan doesn’t cause the impact, it is even stronger when you hook it up to the fact that it will happen in the status quo. At the beginning the disad looks like this: X won’t happen in status quo, Y causes it. With just a link turn you have: X won’t happen in status quo, Y prevents it. With both, you prevent a bad thing from happening!: X is going to happen, Y prevents it. By doing this, you gain an advantage for your case! Also, NEVER run an impact turn and a link turn. This is called double turning yourself. When you do this, you are saying that you are preventing a good thing from happening, and you just wasted a lot of time. No links and non-uniques are generally safe to run at any time, but be aware that if you have a really strong impact turn and a no link and the negative team concedes your no link, the disad could just go away because you both agree that your case is irrelevant to the matter, regardless of what the impact is.
Winning with the disad:
Disads are essential to most negative strategies for multiple reasons. First, they find a way to respond to the advantages of an affirmative case. Most cases claim to solve for things such as rape, hunger, or nuclear war and disads give the negative a way to challenge those. Granted, hunger is a terrible thing, but so is global nuclear war. They also are applicable to almost any topical case; the negative merely needs to have links to the resolution. For instance, if the resolution calls for passing an ocean policy, then the negative would only have to find evidence saying that ocean policy would appear as an olive branch to the Democrats; they do not need to have specific evidence to each case. Of course, specific evidence is useful and teams should have some for the more popular cases. And if you can’t find a generic disad to run, you can always run topicality, because odds are they are untopical.
To win with the disad, negatives should be sure to make lots of impact calculus, which is comparing the impacts of all the disadvantages in the round with the advantages of the affirmative plan. Impact calculus is actually important for both teams, and is a good way to communicate with the judge.
Disads are a staple argument in debate and if you watch a policy debate round, you will most likely see one. They are basically one of three ways of winning a debate round. The other two involve topicality and kritiks. They work best in conjunction with solvency arguments. Proving that the case causes bad things to happen and that it won’t solve for its own advantages is an extremely effective and popular negative strategy.
Something else important that didn't really belong anywhere else: Disads also work particularly well with counterplans. If one runs a disad that links to the case but not the counterplan and the counterplan solves the case's harms, then the counterplan is obviously preferable. For instance, in the example scenario, one could run a counterplan to have the European Union do the plan, thereby avoiding the link to American politics.