This past weekend I served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Transnistria, Nina Shtanski. While this may seem unlikely to my readers, there is some truth to it. At Model United Nations, students at the middle school, high school, and collegiate level embody characters and countries in order to better understand diplomacy. While sitting in committee sessions, I found out just how difficult and important cooperation is with such a diverse group of people.
While Model UN is rather different than the actual UN, the lessons learned are invaluable for the delegates who attend the various conferences held across the world. Dealing with special interests is something that diplomats must contend with constantly. As Minister Shtanski, I attempted to work with the EU and the Russian Federation, playing both sides of the European continent. [For those of you who are unaware, there is some speculation that the territory of Transnistria, a de facto state within Moldova, is the next target for Russian annexation. Google it, seriously.]Unfortunately for Miss Shtanski, other members of the committee were not pleased with my efforts, resulting in the assassination of Transnistria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. This sequence of events may seem silly, but it was the culmination of 6 peoples’ efforts within the committee who did not agree with my policies. I am unaware of assassinations of UN delegates in Geneva, but the constant combatting of personal and national interests plague the UN. An excellent example of this is the Syria issue, where the Western nations and the East were at constant odds over the humanitarian issue and state sovereignty (at least that’s what they claimed). There is some evidence that special national interests kept UN intervention out of Syria, and these interests are indicative of a much greater problem for the international community.
Model UN attempts to create a “real-life” atmosphere at their conferences. Some host schools achieve this through a system called “Crisis.” The Crisis group allows delegates to complete under the table deals with other persons and groups. Crisis is also in charge of keeping the committee room in a state of tension and adds plot points to the committee moving it forward through a timeline. The plot and timeline is determined by actions of committee members, but is then interpreted by Crisis. As you can probably imagine, many delegates develop a love-hate relationship with the Crisis staff. For example, it is thanks to Crisis that I was able to contact both the Moldovan government and the Russian Federation, but it also the reason that an elaborate plot to assassinate me was successful. Once again, Model UN has attempted to create a realistic atmosphere, but it sometimes gets a bit screwy. Crisis is attended to mirror what real delegates are doing at the United Nations, working with their home governments and others. Thankfully, for world stability, there is not quite the movement towards assassination of committee members as found this past weekend.
Although my time as Nina Shtanski was short lived, she taught me the importance of collaboration and coalition building. By working together on important directives, I built upon my knowledge of how to bring others’ opinions into a resolution. I can imagine that delegates in Geneva attempt to do the same thing. It is near impossible to pass a directive that is wholly your own ideas and interests, so collaboration becomes critical. Also important is the building of coalitions within committee. In order to feel secure about a certain position, a delegate needs to build up a coalition of like-minded people who will support him or her in decision making. As seen in the real UN and in domestic politics, competing coalitions often cause gridlock in the making and passing of legislation. It is up to delegates and politicians to cross these boundaries and create enough support among the factions to pass meaningful and helpful decisions. In theory, Model UN would help bolster this mindset, but in actuality it often fails to create a true “team atmosphere.” In fact, many committees fall into the same trap that can be seen in the P-5 of the UN. Distinct coalitions make it impossible at times to move forward on critical resolutions. The genocide in Rwanda demonstrates how the UN (and other international bodies) often fail to react quickly enough to stop impending disasters. The UN was too late in Rwanda, and must be more observant and willing to work together in order to prevent crises from occurring, OR to become involved after a crisis has begun. I, and others, are worried that the UN will drop the ball again in the Congo, as they did in Rwanda, due to conflicting views and interests.
Finally, the procedural methodology within the Model UN is critical to formatting debate. Committee delegates are forced to follow Robert’s Rules of Order in parliamentary procedure. While Model UN is somewhat relaxed, Model Arab League (a group that is based only of Arab nations) is more stringent on order and structure. I have participated in both types, and can say that is important to find a balance on the procedural rules, so that debate is fostered, but order is maintained. I will be the first to say that it completely sucks to miss your chance to speak on a resolution that is important to you, simply because of the rules. Of course the alternative is a screaming match between various delegations, which sometimes occurs regardless of parliamentary procedures.
Hilariously, many of our delegates come back “stuck” in committee-speak. As we walk around campus calling for “motions” and addressing others as “fellow delegates.” The best though is the way we students speak ‘diplomatically.’ For example, I am very fond of the expression “I agree with the sentiment of your speech my esteemed colleague, but…” Our time in Model UN has a lasting effect not only on our vocabulary, but our team building skills and public speaking abilities.
Former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, once stated “I think it’s fair to say that diplomacy today requires much more of that if you’re the United States of America than it did 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago.” I firmly stand behind in her in that sentiment. A war fatigued America needs better trained and better qualified diplomats around the world to further US and world security. We may still be a ways off from world peace, but by placing emphasis on diplomacy, there is a path to a more peaceful and stable world. Granted, I do not believe that Model United Nations is the proper training to become a diplomat. Even so, in my experience, Model UN can be a great teacher of many lessons critical to being a diplomat. For a young adult, it can become the first step to feeling called to a life of diplomatic work.
Model UN develops public speaking skills and collaboration techniques for students around the world. Here at CNU, we have a small but passionate Model International team, who loves the world of diplomacy. We thank the Reiff Center for their contributions to our club and their support of our vision. I would also like to thank the College of William and Mary for hosting an exciting conference, which will foster the diplomatic spirit for years to come. And as final side note to my character this past weekend, Long live Transnistria!
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Reiff Center For Human Rights and Conflict Resolution or Christopher Newport University.