The concept of the United Nations as the ultimate transnational and intergovernmental organization may be too overwhelming, or even majestic, for the layman. After all, the 193-member state organization has been around since 1945, which acts as the international peacekeeper and perceived harbinger of humanitarian aid in cases of man-made and/or human disasters.
Truth be told, you may find ourselves a bit unfounded when discussing matters of national foreign policy and international social issues, especially for a student of global politics as a mere novice in the diplomatic realm. But alas, you are not alone. Thousands, even millions, of students like you and me feel the same way towards this and there is but one great solution to overcome this: Model United Nations.
What is Model United Nations?
Model United Nations, also known as Model UN, or shorter as MUN, is an educational simulation and/or academic competition in which students and young adults alike can learn about diplomacy, international relations, and the United Nations in its entirety. Model UN involves and teaches researching, public speaking, debating, and writing skills.
Participants in Model UN conferences are placed in committees and assigned countries where they represent diplomats of that specific country. Presented with their topics, or agenda, beforehand, the participants, also called delegates, conduct research before the conference proper and formulate positions that they will then debate with their fellow delegates in the committee, staying true to the foreign policy of the state they represent.
The first Model UN conference began in 1927 in Harvard University, which was then named as Model League of Nations, coined after the UN’s predecessor, which dissolved in 1941 just after Second World War commenced. The first Model United Nations was held in the United States in February 1949, after being 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 and the UN Organizational Conference in London in 1945-1946.
Though similar in structure, that each committee is headed by a set of Dais (i.e. a set of members knowledgeable of a MUN’s rules of procedure), no MUN is the same. Each Model UN is distinct in itself. Each with their own rules of procedure, set of committees, and of course, the amount of experience a delegate garners at the end of the conference.
As an avid MUNer myself, there are three skills learned through the course of every Model UN that are definitely helpful through every endeavor made, stretching from the realm of the academia to the workplace.
First is critical thinking. Critical thinking means making clear, reasoned judgments. During the process of critical thinking, ideas should be reasoned, well thought out, and judged. Apart from the classroom, Model United Nations is the one of the best avenues to bring out someone’s critical thinking skills. In a conference where intellectual and constructive debate is required, a delegate will need to defend himself from misinformed accusations and ad hominem, among others.
Critical thinking may be most imperative for delegates with controversial countries assigned to them. However, these may depend on the agenda in place. For topics concerning human rights violations, the Russian Federation, the People’s Republic of China, and the United States of America may be the most vulnerable to speak on said topic. India may be the same for technology transfers, Brazil and Colombia for coffee exports, and other agenda that the MUN Secretariat may deem fit.
Second, teamwork is key for any Model United Nations conference. Success of any MUN conference is mostly dependent on the number of resolutions agreed upon by the delegates in a committee. Besides, what may be the most apparent symbol of international unity, amity, and cooperation if not for resolutions that represent and handle the common aspirations of every country in the committee?
Model United Nations, like the real UN, is an organization based on compromise. Teamwork is about the synergy that all delegates should aspire in all topics that concern them. Partnerships without collaboration in an organization like the United Nations may as well be akin to the values held by those in the now-defunct League of Nations.
Lastly, leadership abilities is one, if not the most important, element in all Model United Nations. Witnessing this personally, most, if not all, Model UN participants will always exhibit some added element of leadership that they have not realized when they entered in the first place. Leadership is the diplomatic glue that binds all participants and turns them into real delegates by heart.
The Motive Force
As a form of encouragement, I implore all those who read this article, young and old, to participate in one of the Model United Nations conferences closest to your institution. As of the writing of this article, there are now more than 20 MUN conferences around the country that are held yearly in schools, colleges, and universities.
Aside from the life skills mentioned above, you get to have the best asset you can have in every conference available known to students and professionals alike: a set of newfound friends that any sensible person will definitely cherish throughout their Model UN experience and beyond. To date, I have been part of a total 24 model conferences, including Model United Nations, Model Asia-Europe Meetings, Model ASEANs, and Model Congresses. With this, the amount of camaraderie, fraternity, and conviviality garnered during my stints will be irreplaceable and unmatched by any amount of foreign policy knowledge and experience I’ve garnered since my undergraduate years.
As students, we can already do our part in being society’s harbingers of change. From activities of volunteerism to participating in Model United Nations, we can all take part in delivering change in the local and international sphere. What better way to start us young? Of course, MUN will be a stepping-stone for greater things, and I’m most glad to be stepping on a most solid foundation such as the United Nations.
Jaconiah Shelumiel T. Manalaysay is your next door diplomat. Graduating from the University of the Philippines-Diliman with a degree in Political Science, Jake is currently finishing his MA in Political Science, major in Global Politics from the Ateneo de Manila University. His research interests include Philippine foreign policy, international relations, political theory, and comparative politics. A game show fanatic and Model United Nations addict, he is currently affiliated as a Research Fellow at the Philippine-California Advanced Research Institute in Manila.