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What Exactly Is a “Crisis” in Model UN?

Model UN being an activity so rich in jargon, it’s critical that we pause every once in awhile and reconsider the way we define common Model UN terms. So, what exactly is a “crisis” in Model UN? What constitutes a real crisis update? What implications does a crisis have for the committee, and how can delegates utilize those special circumstances in order to take leadership and stand out to the chair?

In ordinary conversation, a crisis refers to an immediately pressing problem or issue, whether it be a midlife identity crisis or the ongoing conflict in Sudan. However, in Model UN, the term means something far more precise. Delegates address crises in special committees where they are informed through targeted, brief crisis updates. In these committees, delegates are expected to work with their peers in order to find a solution to the crisis.

Depending on the committee, crises could range from a coup d’etat in Yemen to mango overproduction in the Philippines. In any crisis, delegates must have deeply researched the topic of the committee in order to be able to effectively address a brand new–though likely symptomatic–issue in the fast-paced environment. Since crises are so integral to the committee, debate itself is often guided more by the backroom crises rather than the front room solutions. When crisis updates are delivered, the dynamic of the committee shifts towards hyper-efficiency as delegates race to scribble down ideas for response. The quality and promptness of the committee’s response to the previous update typically defines the contents of the next crisis update, depending on the quality of the crisis staff.

The purpose of crisis updates is to simulate the reality of real life global issues.

For diplomats and members of the Foreign Service, situations often arise where one must respond to a recent event immediately: sometimes there isn’t time to wait for all the information to arrive or to draft a 20+ page resolution and debate the fine nuances of the phrasing. 

Certain geopolitical circumstances warrant an instantaneous response for the sake of preservation of human life.  For this reason, directives addressing crisis updates are typically only a few lines long, detailing specific, tangible action, but refraining from indulgence in lengthy descriptions, flowery language, or nice-to-have-but-not-quite-essential clauses. 

Despite what many delegates claim, crisis updates do not need to disrupt committee or interrupt a delegate’s crisis arc. The best delegate works to integrate his/her work in committee through resolution writing with his/her crisis arc; the same is true during crises. Delegates shouldn’t lose sight of the broader goal of the committee at large or their end goal for their crisis arc; instead, they should use crises as an opportunity to expand/utilize their portfolio powers to the fullest extent and seize leadership opportunities in debate while others succumb to the immense pressure. Furthermore, crises can be pleasant and refreshing experiences that “spice up” debate.

Unlike other Model UN committees, crises allow a more fluid flow of debate because of the ever-changing circumstances and the constant influx of new information.

This can provide an opportunity for many different delegates to take the lead in debate over the course of a committee. In order to overcome a crisis, the delegates must have imagination and creativity, making it a catalyst for innovative and decisive solutions. 

All in all, crises in Model UN are similar to those in the wider world. They destabilize the status quo, making way for new ideas. This makes crisis committees a unique form of Model UN.

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