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Model United Nations, also known as Model UN or MUN, is an educational simulation and academic competition in which students learn about diplomacy, international relations, and the United Nations. MUN involves and teaches research, 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.
Participants in Model UN conferences, referred to as delegates, are placed in committees and assigned countries, or occasionally other organizations or political figures, to represent. 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 committee. At the end of a conference, the best-performing delegates in each committee are sometimes recognized with awards.
Model UN participants include students at the 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 UN conferences include simulations of the League of Nations among their committee offerings.
It is disputed which conference was the first Model UN conference held in the world, with the major claimants being Berkeley Model United Nations (BMUN), Harvard Model United Nations (HMUN), and National Model United Nations (NMUN NY). However, it is clear that the first was held some time in the early 1950s.
In recent decades, Model UN has spread to East and South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa, with major conference organizers such as Harvard and THIMUN establishing additional conferences in these regions to meet burgeoning demand.
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
Resolutions are the basis of all debate. They are considered the final results of conversations, writings, and negotiations. Resolutions must go through a draft, approval by the dais, and consequent debate and modification.
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.
Nearly all Model UN conferences require delegates to wear Western business attire (WBA), as dressing professionally is an important way to show respect for the nation, organization, or individual one is representing, as well as for the rest of one’s committee. At some conferences delegates may be allowed to dress in a manner that reflects their committee and topic or their assigned nation, organization, or individual (provided their portrayals are accurate and appropriate), however this is less common.
Committees at Model UN conferences can simulate a variety of bodies. From the more commonly simulated six main committees of the United Nations General Assembly and the UN Security Council, to corporate executive boards and national cabinets, Model UN committees reflect the diversity of the delegates who participate in them.
Model United Nations committees may be modern, historical, futuristic, or fantastical.
A special committee that does not have a parallel in the actual United Nations which deals with a crisis is known as a 'Crisis Committee.' In this committee, a crisis is given to a team of students and the teams must come up with solutions. The Crisis Committee focuses on a single historical event. The event may be fictional or non-fictional.
MUNs are usually organized by high school clubs or college clubs. Organizations that coordinate MUNs such as the United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA) are considered important organizing forces.
The United Nations hosts a site called the UN Cyberschoolbus which contains general information about MUNs such as: advice for researching papers for MUNs, starting MUN conferences, and methods to help finding MUNs. The program also has an international Internet forum in which participants can share information. Organizations such as the Osgood Center for International Studies have aided in the creation of MUNs.
Although Model United Nations originated in the United States, MUN clubs and conferences are not isolated to that country. Rather, like the actual UN, Model UN is found in countries around the globe. Because Model UN is decentralized and has grown autonomously around the world, there are significant differences in how MUN is done between regions.
Model UN was first developed in the United States and it is where many of the world's most respected conferences are held. The United States has several regional centers of Model UN, including the East Coast (Northeast), the West Coast (California), the Midwest, the South, and Puerto Rico.
Model United Nations first came to China in 2000, when the elite Peking University (PKU) formed the country’s first collegiate MUN team. Arriving in Chinese high schools in 2005, Model UN expanded rapidly. PKU students, after attending Harvard’s HMUN, organized the first national Model UN conference for high school students in China. PKU’s conference was initially backed by UNA-USA, however support was curtailed in 2010 due to the Great Recession.
Three national conferences, the Peking University National Model United Nations Conference for High School Students, the Fudan University International Model United Nations (FDUIMUN) conference, and the Weland Education Company’s WEMUN Expo are considered the most prestigious in China, drawing the country’s best high school delegates. Over time, lesser-known national conferences, as well as regional and even local conferences for high school students, began to develop and gradually spread to cities beyond Beijing and Shanghai.
Most MUN conferences in China are organized through private or academic enterprises, however some government-affiliated MUNs have also flourished, and recently, unofficial student-run grassroots conferences have begun to dominate the Chinese MUN scene.
The first Model United Nations conference in India was the Cathedral Model United Nations (CMUN) hosted by The Cathedral and John Connon School in Mumbai in 1996. Since then, Model UN has become increasingly popular in India, with an estimated 200 conferences held in the country in 2012 alone, most concentrated in Delhi, Mumbai, and South India. As major conference organizers have sought to expand internationally, India has seen the creation of such conferences as HMUN India, which in August 2011 became the first major conference established by a well-known group from outside India.
Model UN builds skills that are useful in a wide variety of fields, with many participants having gone on to become leaders in diplomacy, politics, law and the media.
When I was an undergraduate at Stanford, I was twice a delegate to the Model United Nations and once a member of the Secretariat (when Stanford was the host). Students are enthusiastic role-players. We had to learn how nations and their representatives could work with others. We learned about how the United Nations (and international relations) worked in practice. The experience was valuable; the conferences were educational; and it was great fun. I am delighted to learn more than half a century later the Model UN is still going strong. I should think that in today’s great global conversation it offers ... students an even more valuable experience.—U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer
As Model UN has become more well-known, numerous references to the activity have appeared in popular culture. At times inaccurate, the depiction of the activity in the mainstream media and the entertainment industry shows how Model UN is perceived, while also shaping the perception of the public in the process.
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