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Model United Nations (also Model UN or MUN) is an academic simulation of the United Nations that aims to educate participants about current events, topics in international relations, diplomacy and the United Nations agenda.
The participants role-play as diplomats representing a nation or NGO in a simulated session of an (committee) of the United Nations, such as the Security Council or the General Assembly. Participants research a country, take on roles as diplomats, investigate international issues, debate, deliberate, consult, and then develop solutions to world problems. More recently, simulation of other deliberative bodies, such as the United Nations Security Council, has been included in Model United Nations, even if they are completely unrelated to the UN or international affairs as a whole. In general, the participants that the executive panel considers to be most contributing are given awards, such as 'Best Delegate award'.
During a conference, participants must employ a variety of communication and critical thinking skills in order to represent the policies of their country. These skills include public speaking, group communication, research, policy analysis, active listening, negotiating, conflict resolution, note taking, and technical writing. However, school delegation formats vary from region to region.
Most Model UNs are simulations of a body in the United Nations system, such as:
Many conferences simulate other IGOs including:
In addition, solely national organizations such as the United States National Security Council are often role played, with delegates role-playing specific people (e.g. the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Defense) rather than representing countries. This may be taken one step further, having the delegate represent merely the interests of his or her office, or role-play a specific holder of the office (e.g. Hillary Clinton). Such committees are typically "crisis committees;" that is to say, they do not begin with a fixed topic but rather are forced to deal with issues as they come up. A team of conference organizers (known as a crisis staff) develops a simulated event which acts as a catalyst for a crisis. The staff continually inform the committees of changing events on the ground, to which the committee must respond; in addition, individual delegates are typically allowed to take certain actions on their own, without committee approval, subject to the interpretation and agreement of the crisis staff. However, the correspondence between single-country and crisis committees are not perfect; for instance, the UN Security Council and some NATO bodies are typically run as crisis committees, and some national cabinets are fixed-topic committees.
More unusual committees abound at the collegiate level; for instance, a college conference may simulate the Greco-Persian Wars via a committee of the Greek poleis, have a committee simulating the National Football League's annual owners meeting, as held at George Mason University MUN in 2009, or even have a committee simulating President David Palmer's cabinet from the TV show 24, simulated by the University of Pennsylvania Model UN Conference in 2007.
Many conferences also run crisis simulations in which hypothetical real world factors are included in the simulation, including representatives from various groups such as member states that topics for a crisis which can span all the committees of the conference.
Model UNs are often run using basic parliamentary procedure. This allows all delegates to be active participants. Common activities in MUN involve giving speeches to the committee and writing resolutions concerning a given topic. Additionally, at the end of longer conferences, awards are commonly given to either individual delegates, delegations, or both. The judging of this varies. For example, American conferences on the West Coast, such as BMUN, give delegates points for every action they perform, which are added. At the end of the conference, awards are given to the highest point scorer. On the other hand, conferences on the East Coast such as the Harvard National Model United Nations, delegates are judged in a more holistic manner, but perhaps to the detriment of objectivity and transparency. Giving awards is less common at smaller conferences. In addition, many larger conferences do not give awards at all, feeling that competition detracts from the simulation experience. Model U.N Conferences are also held in countries like India where the scope and participation has expanded.
Model United Nations groups are usually organized as either a club, conference, or class. A class can be a full semester class called "Model United Nations" or just one class period devoted to a short simulation; secondary schools may often incorporate the club of Model United Nations with the class of AP Comparative Government and Politics. Meanwhile, a conference is a school-wide, local, regional or international gathering of Model United Nations students who come together over a period between one and five days. There are various formats which are followed in Model United Nations Conferences and the most widely used model was developed by Shivish Soni and has been adopted by various conferences all over the world.
An example of a one-day conference is a “scrimmage,” as created by Brian Ripley, Neal Carter and Andrea Grove. The key benefit of a one-day conference is the savings on lodging expenses “since it allows teams to travel to the host university without the need to pay for a hotel.”
In the early days of Model United Nations, participants were mostly students at select colleges in the United States of America. Today, Model United Nations has greatly matured and expanded. It is now practiced all over the world in classes, clubs, and conferences. Model United Nation participants are elementary, secondary, undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students. Recently even university alumni and professionals have taken part. Participants come from public and private schools and universities, and they live in city, suburban and rural areas.
Over 90,000 students take part in Model United Nations Conferences in the United States. The United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA) has the most comprehensive calendar of Model United Nations conferences: the 2003-2004 edition lists 400+ conferences in 48 countries.
Some simulations are small, including members of only a single class. For example, 20 students can do a one-hour simulation of the (15-member) United Nations Security Council in their classroom. Other simulations can be very large, involving many committees and taking place over the span of several days. The majority of conferences generally involve anywhere from 50 to several hundred delegates, with most students living around that one region. The largest conferences can have thousands of participants from many different countries. Each simulation and conference varies greatly in number of participants and their involvement.
The concept of Model United Nations has grown substantially all across the world, with various nations joining in. One example of this is Pakistan where a number of universities have a Model UN program.
The Dominican Republic is the only country to have incorporated the concept of Model UN into its official high-school curriculum. This is in large part due to the efforts of the United Nations Association of the Dominican Republic, which has harbored substantial support from the government despite being completely apolitical.
A position paper (sometimes known as a Policy Statement) is an essay that is written by participants of some models. It describes the detailed position of a certain country on a topic or issue that the writer will debate in his or her committee. Position papers are not always required, but certain conferences mandate that each delegate send his own before the opening. It is also known as the (Foreign) Policy Statement or (F)PS.
Conferences have different format and styles for position papers. Nevertheless, UNA-USA established a format that has been adopted widely throughout the Model UN community. Most position papers consist of a heading with committee, topic, country and delegate information and body which explains in detail the position of the author's country. The position paper usually includes several pages outlining:
The format and style of Model United Nations conferences differs greatly in different countries, however the principles remain the same. The largest differences can be observed between American conferences and English conferences. In America delegates are asked to prepare skeleton resolution and a series of clauses that they would like to introduce to others' skeleton resolutions. Over the course of the conference the approved skeleton resolutions will be built upon by a series of debated amendments until they are complete. At this stage voting procedure for the resolution as a whole will occur. However, in the UK delegates are asked to prepare entire resolutions. During lobbying delegates may wish to merge their resolutions with their fellow delegates in order to attain more signatures. Whilst resolutions are still amended during debating procedure, the process is much less pivotal; thus gaining support for the basic principles of the resolution is much more important. Another more minor difference is that in American MUN debating procedure delegates may interrupt the speaker whilst they are talking with a 'Point of Order', however in England delegates must wait until the delegate has come to his closing remarks before proceeding with their 'Point of Order'.
Position papers should explain an issue from their country's point of view. It is also good practice that they include statistics about the issue that would support the cause they defend. The paper would also try to convince the other countries of the committee to their view of the issue. It would have ways to solve the situation.
Many conferences require delegates to submit a copy of their position paper, as a means to ensure that the delegates research important topics and construct strong and well-informed positions on those subjects, yet presentation is still a valuable component.
Model and civic simulation education are older than the United Nations. Records indicate that as early as the 1920s students in the United States of America were participating in collegiate simulations of the League of Nations, the predecessor to the United Nations. The modern day National Model United Nations in New York City and Harvard Model United Nations (HMUN) both began as simulations of the League of Nations in the 1920s. Though Harvard National Model United Nations (HNMUN), having been founded in 1955, often claims to be the world's oldest continuous College Model UN conference, the oldest continuous Collegiate Model UN conference is actually Model United Nations of the Far West, running annually since April 1951. The world's oldest continuous High School Model UN conferences are the Indianapolis Model United Nations and the Berkeley Model United Nations, both founded in 1952. The National Model United Nations is one of the world's largest conferences with over 5,000 participants and is most unique with a part of the conference held at the United Nations in New York City. While National Model UN hosts opening ceremonies at the UN, UNA-USA is the only organization to host actual sessions in UN committee rooms. UNA-USA As the League of Nations was dismantled and the United Nations was born in 1945, simulations of the League of Nations were transformed into Model United Nations. Some conferences still perform historical simulations, however, including League of Nations crisis situations. These simulations now have grown to over 3000 and 2000 annual participants. The largest conference to date is THIMUN, attracting over 4,200 participants each year.
While simulations are conducted in many different languages, there are six official languages of the UN. Generally, a simulation is conducted in the most spoken language or languages of the area in which the conference is being held. Normally only one language is used. Translators are not normally used.
Model UN is supported by many organizations, private groups, non-governmental organizations, inter-governmental organizations, and national governments. United Nations Associations around the world and its international organization, the World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA), have supported MUNs for decades. WFUNA organized the first collegiate MUN in China and works with MUNs all over the world. In the United States, the main support is given by UNA-USA's Global Classrooms program. Global Classrooms offers professional development workshops for educators and four curricula on peacekeeping, human rights, sustainable development, and the economics of globalization. UNA-Dominican Republic introduced MUN to the Dominican Republic and it is now a part of the national education curriculum. In Europe, support comes from THIMUN, which has affiliate conferences throughout Europe and around the world. MUN International has just created a new global membership association to help "expand and increase MUN activities"; the MUN International Network and has aided conferences in Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, and the US. Rotary International chapters around the world support MUNs, (e.g., the first international MUN in Hong Kong was organized and funded by three local Rotary Chapters.)
Many intergovernmental organizations also support MUN activities. The European Union published a policy paper just for Model UN participants. The Organization of American States oversaw the earliest Model OAS conferences. NATO often provides speakers and experts to Model NATO conferences. The United Nations Department of Public Information (UNDPI) supports Model United Nations in three key ways:
The CyberSchoolBus is the on-line education program created by the United Nations. It features a Model United Nations discussion area and a list of Model United Nations experts who answer inquiries as well as providing research tools for country research. UNA-USA offers an online guide to the UN CyberSchoolBus.
The Public Inquiries Section at UNHQ assists by helping Model United Nations groups to find speakers as well as arranging briefings at its New York offices. UNICs in Argentina, Mexico, Panama, and the UK have been extremely involved in Model United Nations activities, helping with research, Model United Nations support, and sometimes facilities. United Nations offices in The Hague, Netherlands; Nairobi, Kenya; Istanbul, Turkey; Vienna, Austria; and Geneva, Switzerland, also support Model United Nations and serve as hosts for at least one conference each year.
The Organization of American States has been involved from the very beginning in the support to international civic simulations. North Atlantic Treaty Organization annually supports the Model NATO conference in Washington, DC with speakers, consultations, and advisers. Other IGOs provide research assistance to simulations, conferences, and students. Additionally, many UN missions and embassies support Model United Nations activities. Many mission and embassy websites have recently added sections created specifically for Model United Nations. Embassies and consulates will often invite groups to discuss country positions or send a speaker out to speak to Model United Nations clubs, classes, or conferences. The overall support of simulation education activities by the international community is increasing yearly.
Additionally, national governments support or sponsor MUN programs. The US Department of State has been working in Washington, DC public schools for over fifteen years as well as providing speakers to MUN conferences around the world. In the Dominican Republic, MUN is part of the national education curriculum. Embassies and UN missions around the world have been providing consultation, speakers, and research documents for over forty years. Many have even reviewed students' MUN resolutions for policy accuracy.
Abstain. During a vote on a substantive matter, delegates may abstain rather than vote yes or no. This generally signals that a state does not support the resolution being voted on, but does not oppose it enough to vote no. Frequently abstaining is banned in Model UN sessions for minor substantive matters, such as amendments or amendments to the 2nd degree, in order to force progress in a resolution.
Adjourn. All UN or Model UN sessions end with a vote to adjourn... This means that the debate is suspended until the next meeting. This can be a short time (e.g., overnight) or a long time (until next year's conference).
Agenda. The order in which the issues before a committee will be discussed. The first duty of a committee following the roll call is usually to set the agenda.
Amendment. A change to a draft resolution on the floor. Can be of two types: a "friendly amendment" is supported by the original draft resolution's sponsors, and is passed automatically, while an "unfriendly amendment" is not supported by the original sponsors and must be voted on by the committee as a whole.
Amendment to the 2nd Degree. A change to the draft amendment on the floor. Can also be either a "friendly" or an "unfriendly" amendment. In some formats of debate, passing the amendment to the 2nd degree is equivalent to passing the original amendment; in others it merely means debate continues on the now altered amendment. In the Security Council amendments can be permitted to multiple degrees in order to allow an amendment to be designed to be acceptable to all countries.
Background guide. A guide to a topic being discussed in a Model UN committee usually written by conference organizers and distributed to delegates before the conference. The starting point for any research before a Model UN conference.
Binding. Having legal force in UN member states. Security Council resolutions are binding, as are decisions of the International Court of Justice; resolutions of the General Assembly and Economic and Social Council are not.
Bloc. A group of countries in a similar geographical region or with a similar opinion on a particular topic.
Caucus. A break in formal debate in which countries can more easily and informally discuss a topic. There are two types: moderated caucus and unmoderated caucus.
Chair. A member of the dais that moderates debate, keeps time, rules on points and motions, and enforces the rules of procedure. Also known as a Moderator.
Dais. The group of people, usually high school or college students, in charge of a Model UN committee. It generally consists of a Chair, a Director, and a Rapporteur.
Decorum. The order and respect for others that all delegates at a Model UN conference must exhibit. The Chair will call for decorum when he or she feels that the committee is not being respectful of a speaker, of the dais, or of their roles as ambassadors.
Delegate. A student acting as a representative of a member state or observer in a Model UN committee for a weekend.
Delegation. The entire group of people representing a member state or observer in all committees at a particular Model UN conference.
Director. A member of the dais that oversees the creation of working papers and draft resolutions, acts as an expert on the topic, makes sure delegates accurately reflect the policy of their countries, and ensures that decorum is maintained during caucuses.
Division of the question. During voting bloc, delegates may motion to vote on certain clauses of a resolution separately, so that only the clauses that are passed become part of the final resolution. This is known as division of the question.
Draft resolution. A document that seeks to fix the problems addressed by a Model UN committee. If passed by the committee, the draft resolution will become a resolution.
Faculty adviser. The faculty member in charge of a Model UN team, class or club.
Flow of debate. The order in which events proceed during a Model UN conference. See Flow of Debate chart.
Gavel. The tool, shaped like a small wooden hammer, that the Chair uses to keep order within a Model UN committee. Many conferences give the gavel used in a committee to the delegate recognized by the dais as the best in that committee; therefore, the term is frequently used to refer to the award given to the best delegate, even in cases where no actual gavel is given.
Formal debate. The "standard" type of debate at a Model UN conference, in which delegates speak for a certain time in an order based on a speakers' list.
Head delegate/ambassador. The student leader of a Model UN club or team. Responsible for ceremonial actions required of the delegation at a conference or answering specific questioning, such as in the Security Council.
Member state. A country that has ratified the Charter of the United Nations and whose application to join has been accepted by the General Assembly and Security Council. Currently, there are 193 member states. The only internationally recognized state that is not a member state is the Holy See.
Moderated caucus. A type of caucus in which delegates remain seated and the Chair calls on them one at a time to speak for a short period of time, enabling a freer exchange of opinions than would be possible in formal debate.
Moderator. See Chair.
Motion. A request made by a delegate that the committee as a whole do something. Some motions might be to go into a caucus, to adjourn, to introduce a draft resolution, or to move into voting bloc. See our Charts of Rules and Motions.
Observer. A state, national organization, regional organization, or non-governmental organization that is not a member of the UN but participates in its debates. Observers can vote on procedural matters but not substantive matters. An example is the Holy See.
On the floor. At a Model UN conference, when a working paper or draft resolution is first written, it may not be discussed in debate. After it is approved by the Director and introduced by the committee, it is put "on the floor" and may be discussed.
Operative clause. The part of a resolution which describes how the UN will address a problem. It begins with an action verb (decides, establishes, recommends, etc.).
Page. A delegate in a Model UN committee that has volunteered to pass notes from one delegate to another, or from a delegate to the dais, for a short period of time.
Placard. A piece of cardstock with a country's name on it that a delegate raises in the air to signal to the Chair that he or she wishes to speak.
Point. A request raised by a delegate for information or for an action relating to that delegate. Examples include a point of order, a point of inquiry, and a point of personal privilege. See our Charts of Rules and Motions.
Position paper. A summary of a country's position on a topic, written by a delegate before a Model UN conference.
Preambulatory clause. The part of a resolution that describes previous actions taken on the topic and reasons why the resolution is necessary. It begins with a participle or adjective (noting, concerned, regretting, aware of, recalling, etc.).
Procedural. Having to do with the way a committee is run, as opposed to the topic being discussed. All delegates present must vote on procedural matters and may not abstain.
Quorum. The minimum number of delegates needed to be present for a committee to meet. In the General Assembly, a quorum consists of one third of the members to begin debate, and a majority of members to pass a resolution. In the Security Council, no quorum exists for the body to debate, but nine members must be present to pass a resolution.
Rapporteur. A member of the dais whose duties include keeping the speakers' list and taking the roll call.
Resolution. A document that has been passed by an organ of the UN that aims to address a particular problem or issue. The UN equivalent of a law.
Right of reply. A right to speak in reply to a previous speaker's comment, invoked when a delegate feels personally insulted by another delegate's speech. Generally requires a written note to the Chair to be invoked.
Roll call. The first order of business in a Model UN committee, during which the Rapporteur reads aloud the names of each member state in the committee. When a delegate's country's name is called, he or she may respond "present" or "present and voting." A delegate responding "present and voting" may not abstain on a substantive vote.
Rules of procedure. The rules by which a Model UN committee is run. See our Charts of Rules and Motions.
Second. To agree with a motion being proposed. Many motions must be seconded before they can be brought to a vote.
Secretariat. The most senior staff of a Model UN conference.
Secretary-General. The leader of a Model UN conference.
Signatory. A country that wishes a draft resolution to be put on the floor and signs the draft resolution to accomplish this. A signatory need not support a resolution; it only wants it to be discussed. Usually, Model UN conferences require some minimum number of sponsors and signatories for a draft resolution to be approved.
Simple majority. 50% plus one of the number of delegates in a committee. The amount needed to pass most votes.
Speakers' list. A list that determines the order in which delegates will speak. Whenever a new topic is opened for discussion, the Chair will create a speakers' list by asking all delegates wishing to speak to raise their placards and calling on them one at a time. During debate, a delegate may indicate that he or she wishes to be added to the speakers' list by sending a note to the dais.
Sponsor. One of the writers of a draft resolution. A friendly amendment can only be created if all sponsors agree.
Substantive. Having to do with the topic being discussed. A substantive vote is a vote on a draft resolution or amendment already on the floor during voting bloc. Only member states (not observer states or non-governmental organizations) may vote on substantive issues.
Unmoderated caucus. A type of caucus in which delegates leave their seats to mingle and speak freely. Enables the free sharing of ideas to an extent not possible in formal debate or even a moderated caucus. Frequently used to sort countries into blocs and to write working papers and draft resolutions.
Working paper. A document in which the ideas of some delegates on how to resolve an issue are proposed. Frequently the precursor to a draft resolution.
Veto. The ability, held by China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States to prevent any draft resolution in the Security Council from passing by voting no.
Vote. A time at which delegates indicate whether they do or do not support a proposed action for the committee. There are two types: procedural and substantive.
Voting bloc. The period at the end of a committee session during which delegates vote on proposed amendments and draft resolutions. Nobody may enter or leave the room during voting bloc.