Model United Nations

Model United Nations, also known as Model UN or MUN, is an educational simulation and/or academic activity in which students can learn about diplomacy, international relations, and the United Nations. MUN involves and teaches participants researching, public speaking, debating, and writing skills, in addition to critical thinking, teamwork, and leadership abilities. Usually an extracurricular activity, some schools also offer Model UN as a class. It is meant to engage students and allow them to develop deeper understanding into current world issues.

Participants in Model United Nations conferences, known as delegates, are placed in committees and assigned countries to represent, or occasionally other organizations or political figures, where they represent members of that body. They are presented with their assignments in advance, along with a topic or topics that their committee will discuss. Delegates conduct research before conferences and formulate positions that they will then debate with their fellow delegates in the committee, staying true to the actual position of the member they represent. At the end of a conference, the best-performing delegates in each committee, as well as delegations, are sometimes recognized with awards.

Model UN participants include students at middle school, high school, and college/university levels, with most conferences catering to just one of these three levels (high school and college conferences being most common). Delegates usually attend conferences together as delegations sent by their respective schools’ or universities’ Model UN clubs, though some delegates attend conferences independently.

Model UN began as a series of student-led Model League of Nations simulations.  It is believed that the first Model League of Nations conferences were held in the 1920s, before transitioning to Model UN after the formation of the League’s successor organization, the United Nations, in 1945. Today, some Model United Nations conferences include simulations of the League of Nations among their committee offerings.

The first Model United Nations was held at St. Lawrence University from 11–13 February 1949. It was initiated by Dr. Harry Reiff, Head of the History and Government Department, with the assistance of departmental colleague Otto L. George Dr. Reiff was a technical advisor on the United States delegation to the 1945 San Francisco Conference (where the UN Charter was written) and the UN Organizational Conference in London in 1945-46 (where the UN was established).  The 1949 St. Lawrence University Model UN conference included delegates from regional conferences and universities, including Adelphi, Alfred, Champlain, Clarkson, McGill, Middlebury, Potsdam, St. Michael’s, and Vermont. The conference continued annually for many years at St. Lawrence and has recently been revived on the campus. Other Model UN conference were developed later at Berkeley, Harvard and the National Model United Nations Harvard Model United Nations (HMUN), and National Model United Nations (NMUN NY) as well as many other colleges and universities.

In 1987, a few American exchange students founded TEIMUN in The Hague. In recent decades, Model UN has spread to East and South Asia, the Middle East, Europe, North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa. Other major conference organizers such as Indian International Model United Nations, Harvard, THIMUN establishing additional conferences in these regions to meet burgeoning demand. The Ivy League Model United Nations, an arm of the Model UN at the University of Pennsylvania, hosts conferences for high-school-aged delegates in India and China, as well.

In order to maintain decorum, most Model UN committees use parliamentary procedure derived from Robert’s Rules of Order. However, most crisis committees forgo the formality of parliamentary procedure so as to ensure smoother operation. In addition, recently the United Nations has spearheaded efforts to introduce new Model UN rules of procedure that are more closely aligned with those used by the actual UN Since there is no governing body for MUNs, each conference differs in the rules of procedure. The following rules of procedure apply to general MUNs but may not apply to every MUN:

MUNs are run by a group of administrators known as the dais. A dais is headed by a Secretary-General. Each committee usually has a chair (also known as moderator), a member of the dais that enforces the rules of procedure. A delegate may request the committee as a whole to perform a particular action; this is known as a motion. Documents aiming to address the issue of the committee are known as resolutions and are voted for ratification.

MUN committees can be divided into three general sessions: formal debate, moderated caucus, and unmoderated caucus. In a formal debate, the staff maintains a list of speakers and the delegates follow the order written on the ‘speaker list’. Speakers may be added to the speaker list by raising their placards or sending a note to the chair. During this time, delegates talk to the entire committee. They make speeches, answer questions, and debate on resolutions and amendments. If there are no other motions, the committee goes back to formal debate by default. There is usually a time limit. In a moderated caucus, the committee goes into a recess and the rules of procedure are suspended. Anyone may speak if recognized by the chair. A vote on a motion is necessary to go into a moderated caucus. There is a comparatively shorter time limit per speech. In an unmoderated caucus, the delegates informally meet with other delegates and the staff for discussions.

Academic aspects
Participation in Model UN is meant to foster negotiation, speaking and communication skills. In addition, crisis committees, which deal with crisis scenarios which can be contemporary or historical, can develop leadership skills and the ability to adapt and deal with unexpected situations. Material issues of diplomacy and policy are also approached through a quasi-academic process. In preparation for a conference, topics are chosen for each committee, and typically, research and background guides (called Study Guides) are made available by the organizers of a conference for each committee. Delegates of each committee are often expected to pre-formulate the position of the country or group they represent, based on these background guides, and submit the result of this preparation to their committee as a so-called Position Paper.[ The purpose of this procedure is to familiarize delegates with the substantial topics of debate, encourage academic research and writing, and to enable substantial preparation for conferences.

While several guides on the techniques of writing Position Papers, including templates and examples, are available, no conferences publish their Study Guides, Position Papers or Resolutions. Currently, only one subscription-based Position Paper database is available. Mun is not arguing the nature of a question, proving research facts, or standing up and defending a foreign policy agenda but providing solutions that every nation, human and nature can endeavour and use to resolve crises and rise in the risk of uniting strength to maintain international peace and security. This is the difference between the parliament and the UN, distinguishing power struggle from diplomacy.

Traditionally, English has been the official and working language of most conferences, but, as Model UN has become more popular around the world, and as conferences in countries such as the United States have sought to appeal to underrepresented minorities (such as the Spanish-speaking community), committees using languages other than English, or which are bilingual, have become common. It should be noted, however, that this is still not yet a mainstream phenomenon, especially not in the United States, where most bilingual or Spanish language committees are found at conferences hosted in Puerto Rico or the South.