We’ve all been there: the last four speakers agreed with the same policy that has been debated for the past thirty minutes. Delegates motion for yet another ten minute moderated caucus with one minute speaking time, and the same countries that spoke last time deliver the same emotionless speeches communicating the general importance of solving the problem and recommending the same course of action as every other country.
Whether it’s a small, intimate Ad Hoc committee or a General Assembly with more delegates than the real UN, debate can naturally become stationary. In a standard weekend four day conference, this usually occurs after the long continuous sessions of Saturday, when everyone can’t wait to get something to eat or get back to their hotel room.
Moments of stagnancy in committee are indeed frustrating, especially for those who are genuinely passionate about international politics and understand the urgency that is intrinsic in the topic being debated. Despite the annoyance, the moments when committee becomes painfully cyclical are when you are presented with a valuable opportunity to set the committee in a different direction and show your chair you’ve got what it takes for real diplomacy.
In big General Assemblies, it is unlikely that there won’t be anyone wishing to speak during a moderated caucus, but the abundant speeches can get very repetitive. When this happens, delegates usually agree with previous delegates (you’re probably familiar with the infamous “to echo the sentiments of the previous delegate…”) or debate exceedingly trivial and specific tangents of the topic at hand. In these instances, you must point out the sensitive topics–the kind that divide the committee–that haven’t been mentioned, because nobody wants to break the peacefully comfortable, yet false, consensus.
Nothing reinvigorates debate like a controversial statement.
Wake everybody up a bit: deliver a passionate speech, raise your voice a little, condemn the committee’s apparent lack of urgency to address an issue that has, most likely, sourced some degree of human suffering. Speak on the broader obligations of the United Nations and the responsibility of world leaders/politicians/diplomats owed to innocent civilian populations. When a moderated caucus isn’t going anywhere, motion for an unmoderated caucus and break up the massive blocs that are undoubtedly ripe with unspoken disagreement.
It can also be helpful to take a short break to clear the mind. A motion to suspend the rules for a few minutes is likely to be welcomed by everyone, especially towards the end of a long day.
Stagnancy is just as likely to happen in crisis committees. When most delegates are scribbling crisis notes and almost no one is willing to speak is the clearest sign of a small committee failing to move forward. The best course of action is a Round Robin. This special motion is like a short speakers list, where everyone in the committee is forced to deliver a brief speech. Take advantage to this motion and set the topic of the Round Robin to something that is relevant to you.
Other options are revealing personal information that you may have discovered through crisis notes or signing off a joint crisis note that will solve the problem that is holding the committee back, or at least stir things up a bit.
Another interesting alternative is to call for an interview or a meeting with a character from outside the committee. Warning: when crisis delegates aren’t capable of handling a situation like this, crisis staffers usually put the committee in a ‘bunker’ where they can’t send more crisis notes. Though this may be a frustrating outcome as a result of an incompetent crisis staff, it could also be a deliberate effort on behalf of the staff to force the committee to re-engage in debate instead of relying solely on sketchy crisis notes which fail to serve the larger goal of the committee agenda.
At the end of the day, the most advanced delegates always aim to control the flow of debate. In instances of exhaustion, committee burnout, or a lack of collective productivity, you are handed an opportunity to set the topic of discussion to virtually whatever you want. Take advantage of that opportunity and choose to bring up something you happened to research more than others: demonstrate your in-depth preparation and score points with your chair. Anything at all that offers new energy, reinstates urgency, or redefines the course of discussion to something new will bolster both your leadership status and the overall effectiveness of the committee as a whole.