I’ll go ahead and say what everyone has thought at some point in their Model United Nations careers. The one thing that seems to terrify people into admitting, or if they do, has them terrified to answer the question ‘What’s next?’ or scarier, ‘How to we fix it?’
Model United Nations is Dead.
Think about it. Model UN, while growing in popularity, is a lie. And I’m perfectly fine with that.
Point One: Nobody wants to simulate the United Nations anymore
The most popular committees in high school and college are those that have nothing to do with the UN. Even more, the farther away from the UN you stray, chances are, the more popular the committee. Summit of Terrorist Organizations? Seen it. The West Wing (yes, based on the TV show). Seen it. And of course– God help me– Harry Potterand Lord of the Rings committees. Unfortunately, seen it.
These committees, with few exceptions, are the most popular and highly regarded committees at many conferences. Heck, some of the most respected conferences run entirely Crisis Committees with few, if any, UN bodies.
Which brings me to my next point: Even the UN bodies that are simulated at conferences are simulated incorrectly.
Point Two: UN body simulations represent the farthest thing from the truth.
This past summer, I had the privilege of attending a Model United Nations workshop hosted at the United Nations and organized by the United Nations Department of Public Information. It was an eye-opening, thought-provoking, invaluable experience.
Model UN in the United States does such a poor job actually simulating the way in which UN committees and bodies operate that in one breakout discussion, many participants openly wondered if we should change the name of Model UN to something else.
The organization many of us hold with reverence operates with a different rule set, different leadership structure, different terminology, different working order, different debate structure, different agenda organization…you get the point.
As pointed out by one of the organizers, not only do we simulate the United Nations incorrectly, the ways in which we alter the simulation dramatically alters the philosophical foundation of the United Nations.
By using Parliamentary Rules of Procedure instead of the UN General Assembly Rules— apparently a huge difference– Model UN strips away the concept of sovereignty by ignored the concept of “One State, One Vote.” For example, in the General Assembly, no state holds more power than any other, therefore any state, at any time may call for a vote on a resolution.
Point Three: Model UN substantive matters differ dramatically from the UN
We’re all used to hearing the following criticisms:
- “Model UN is unrealistic”
- “Countries that work together in Model UN would never work together at the UN”
- “Everyone is off policy”
I won’t waste the effort to argue against the criticisms because they are all true! Embrace it!
Model United Nations is an incredibly powerful academic exercise for exactly those criticisms. In the United Nations, particularly the General Assembly, controversial issues hardly ever make it onto the agenda for the GA to debate. This is because of a complicated and nuanced process of assembling the agenda for a GA session. So first, what good would it do for students to address non-controversial issues? Second, if one of the goals of Model UN is to encourage negotiation and compromise, would anything ever get accomplished if every student adhered strictly to their policy?
Instead we should focus on ensuring students know their policy and know they should stray from it for the good of the simulation.
Model United Nations may not have as much to do with the UN as we may think. And that’s perfectly fine. The criticism leveled against Model UN are irrelevant to me because the activity continues to produce incredible results. At its root, Model UN is able to engage students in ways nothing else has come close to by combining specific knowledge transfer- policy research- and skills transfer- debate, negotiating, and writing.
So what if MUN doesn’t accurately reflect the UN? Maybe it’s better that MUN accomplishes more than does the UN.