At ModelUN, we simulate the United Nations. A ModelUN conference is a hands-on way to learn how international relations work, how to behave as a diplomat, and – wherever you see your career path take you – a golden opportunity to learn how to be a global leader. After all, slipping into the role of a diplomat to a UN body not only requires you to put your knowledge of current affairs, international relations and the mechanics of being a diplomat into action while aiming to represent your nation’s views to your best ability. Being a MUNer also means trying to cut deals that are not only good for you, but good for the simulated international community as a whole, crafting your own network of cooperators and pulling through intrigue and competition.
But then, is ModelUN really a simulation of the UN? It depends on how you look at it.
For sure, every ModelUN conference simulates a session of at least one UN body, in which students take the role of delegates who work together to reach a resolution, and thus to take action on a certain matter of international importance.
However, ModelUN conferences are usually no accurate replications of the procedural or interpersonal structure of the United Nations.
To consider the procedural setup of ModelUNs, take the Rules of Procedure of the General Assembly (A/520/Rev.17), a 115-page document thoughtfully regulating international collaboration in the scope of this organ. Although some attempts have been made to put the unmodified rules to international negotiations into action, most UN simulations take the liberty to craft their own guidelines.
While it seems permissible to adapt the rules of procedure to achieve increased comprehensibility, and to meet the requirements of external circumstances such as committee staff and total duration of the session, the true spirit of the regulations is difficult to preserve. At ModelUNs, delegates often require a second, a supporter, to be allowed to submit certain motions to a vote, giving rise to the question why the voice of one nation would need support of others before it could be fully heard, if the international community is really a congregation of equally valued voices. Voting itself is far more frequent in ModelUN than in the real United Nations, where it is usually enough to ask for objections rather than to require a vote, because agreement is often found through negotiations before a vote is even considered. Committee presidents, frequently referred to as chairs at ModelUNs, often overstep the role of a gentle regulatory hand ensuring fair debates and providing structural support designated to them by the United Nations.
Perhaps most importantly, the spirit of United Nations interlocutions is a spirit of finding consensus. In ModelUN, however, this spirit is often undercut by fuelling competitiveness, a cut-throat-mentality and self-centeredness through the distinctions awarded to whomever is considered an outstanding delegate by the committee’s chairperson. It would be wrong condemn competitiveness and a healthy realism for a competitor’s possible hidden agenda. However, the MUN community faces a great challenge in channeling the desire to reward delegates for outstanding diplomatic skill. The community – small and big players alike – must reflect on what truly makes a good delegate, and depart from seeing ModelUN as a one-shot competition bound to the scope of the 5 or so committee days. We need to understand ModelUN as an opportunity to build (simulated) professional relationships that last – which requires the delegates to network differently and to play fair, bringing them closer to what collaboration means in both the UN itself and the business world.
Indeed, the skills delegates can learn from ModelUN settings reach far beyond the scope of MUN, embodying the tools for becoming a young leader acting with responsibility in mind. Being a ModelUN delegate should mean being an eloquent public speaker, an elegant persuader, a well-vested resolution writer, and a determined yet fair negotiator, with the goal to find sustainable, equitable solutions to the problems one takes on. These are the kind of skills that we are dedicated to teaching delegates working with us in the scope of our project eMUN-fellows.net, a Germany-wide on- and offline project getting people ready for MUN and – which is at least equally as important – beyond.
The ModelUN community at large is beginning to realize that it takes more than a snappy topic and gold-rimmed awards to claim to be a simulation of the United Nations – ModelUN still needs to grow to fit into the shoes of a UN simulation. As active members of this adolescent community, I have seen a number of MUN initiatives aiming higher. The community is embarking on this path with the help of the United Nations themselves, for instance fuelled through their UN4MUN workshop, and through our own initiatives. Whether by rethinking conference policies to reinstate closer approximations of the UN procedures such as at Stockholm Model United Nations, which I had the pleasure of experiencing first-hand as a president of the Security Council, or through training programs for delegates to learn the tools of the trade of being a responsible young leader, such as eMUN-fellows.net, ModelUN is beginning to rise to its potential as an accurate simulation of the routines at the United Nations, and as a learning opportunity not only for knowledge on international relations, but also for the skills that make the world go round. I see it as our responsibility to unlock the potential of ModelUN, and to truly put our MUNing into the service of the delegates we attract. As MUNers, it is our responsibility to provide our delegates with insights on how the UN really works, and how to really work in an international negotiation setting – otherwise, claiming to be a simulation of the UN would be a steep case of false advertisement.
In a nutshell, ModelUN can become a good simulation of the United Nations, and a good learning opportunity. But only if it really starts to grow up.