Model United Nations: What It Is and Why We Need It

(from the September issue)

By Vishal Narayanaswamy


New York City is home to an incredibly popular Facebook photoblog, the Naked Cowboy, and dozens of restaurants claiming to be the “Original Ray’s Pizza”, but just next to the East River in Manhattan’s Turtle Bay neighborhood stands the hub of global diplomacy- the Headquarters of the United Nations. This month, at the 69th session of the UN General Assembly (GA), all 193 member nations will gather at this site to deliberate and discuss ongoing global crises, the financing of multilateral operations, and the state of international relations. As delegates from everywhere from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe prepare to meet in New York, we can expect the General Assembly’s agenda to focus on peacefully mediating disputes- such as this summer’s flare-ups in Israel and Ukraine- as well as setting a pragmatic roadmap for achieving the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of eight international development-oriented goals ranging from eradicating poverty to ensuring environmental sustainability. As the first deadline for evaluating the success of the MDGs is 2015, member states will likely emphasize the latter issue in the General Assembly, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has already launched a “500 Days of Action” campaign designed to draw attention to progress made by the MDGs.

And yet, while more effort is increasingly put in to highlight the good that the international community can collaboratively achieve, it seems that fewer people may actually care. Today, a gridlocked Congress on the domestic front and an often times- on issues ranging from Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea to the Syrian Civil War- equally impotent United Nations on the international front have eroded confidence in the spirit of collaboration. What a terrible shame this is, for in a time of division and distrust, we must make efforts to foster diplomacy. While we may think that the solution to these issues is an overwhelmingly complex and hopeless series of societal changes, thinking on a smaller scale may yield a surprising level of hope. From building students’ ability to knowledgably debate and speak to inspiring a future career in diplomacy and international relations, Model United Nations is the answer.

As was the case with many of my now-senior classmates, I spent the last months of junior year scurrying around the school gathering signatures for my National Honor Society application. In the midst of my mad dash to get teacher signatures and recommendations, I noticed an oddity on the application. Model UN (MUN) appeared as an option under “academic clubs”- checkable for one’s résumé-building purposes- yet no such club, to my knowledge, currently existed. Upon further inquiry, I learned that MUN had been defunct at JMM for a number of years, after waning student interest saw the club meet with a League of Nations-like fate. Intrigued by the idea of MUN, I set out to restart the program. However, much like the vast majority of Americans, I hadn’t the smallest clue as to how the UN- model or not- functioned. And so, with my proud ignorance in mind, it was off to camp!

In July, I attended a Model United Nations camp at Georgetown University organized by Best Delegate, the leading trainers, consultants, and experts on Model UN. There, I learned the foundational basics of the UN, its obligations and duties, and how Model UN prepares a cohesive simulation of everyone’s favorite intergovernmental organization. As I learned, MUN conferences will typically last for three or four days, allowing ample time for speaking, constructive debate, and collaborate resolution-writing. There, students will role-play as delegates for a UN member nation, researching their country’s policy on a particular issue ahead of time so as to be well-informed during the conference. A MUN conference itself is split up into many committees, each representing the different organs of the UN General Assembly or other specialized agencies such as the World Health Organization, in which delegates debate and collaborate to ultimately craft resolutions that address the conference’s highlighted issue. Within committees, debate is split into moderated and unmoderated caucuses, with the former allowing delegates to give speeches highlighting their country’s policies and stances on particular issues and the latter permitting the informal creation of working “blocs”, or groups, of delegates whose countries share similar policy stances and resolution goals. With this knowledge in hand, I then attended Harvard University’s Model United Nations conference in Hyderabad, India in August, seeing firsthand how delegates in committees of nearly 200 members each could debate the nuances of nuclear globalism (the conference’s selected topic) and collaboratively form working blocs and resolutions. While not only providing an exciting travel opportunity, HMUN India exposed me to an array of skilled international students and diverse spectrum of political viewpoints.

After my invigorating exploration of diplomacy, debate, and damn good curry, my goal is simple: to restart Model UN at Memorial. However, one’s personal experiences can only account for so much. Perhaps the most evident reason as to why JMM needs MUN lies in the activity’s uniqueness. Unlike the competitive atmosphere of traditional debate, MUN values and rewards collaboration- for example, cooperating with other delegates to craft a resolution that addresses common needs. Simply put, the only way to “win” at MUN, and be the best delegate, is to bring out the best in other delegates.

And so, in a world where US-Russian relations are at their worst since the Cold War, the delegate cooperatively debating territorial sovereignty at a conference today may be the diplomat resolving the Ukrainian conflict tomorrow. In a world where the Syrian regime continues to violate humanitarian law by using chemical weapons against its own citizens, the delegate forming blocs to discuss human rights treaties today may be the diplomat uniting the global community against Bashar al-Assad tomorrow. In a world where Qassam rockets and Iron Dome missiles continue to be fired in the Gaza Strip, the delegates discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today may be the ones brokering a two-state solution tomorrow.

And in a world where students value the spirit of cooperative debate and collaborative thinking, the delegates of Model United Nations today may well be the leaders of the world tomorrow.


The headquarters of the United Nations in New York City. (Photo Credit: The Huffington Post).
The headquarters of the United Nations in New York City. (Photo Credit: The Huffington Post).



Vishal Narayanaswamy (’15) is a senior and current Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Sword & Shield.

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