Delegate Preparation Guide
This guide is a step-by-step aid to becoming a delegate who can actively participate at a conference. The need to spend time learning all that you can about the UN, your country, and the issues will be most evident when you arrive at the conference. The more prepared you are, the more you are going to be able to participle and get the most from the experience.
- CLAIMING YOUR NATION-STATE AND YOUR COMMITTEE
Before you can claim a country, you must form a delegation. A delegation is a group of 3 to 7 (depending on country) students who will represent one country at the Model United Nations Conference. Once you have your delegation assembled, speak to your advisor about which country you would like to represent. Claiming countries is largely first come first serve, so the sooner you gather a delegation and speak to your advisor, the more likely it is that you will be able to represent the country you request. It is never a bad idea to submit a secondary or tertiary choice along with your primary choice in case your primary choice has already been assigned.Once you have received confirmation from your advisor about which country your delegation will be representing, decide among the delegation which member will represent your nation state in which committee. The official committees that are present at each conference can change year to year, so make sure to check the Model United Nations of Alaska website or with your advisor for a full list of committees that will be present at that years conference. Once your delegation has the full list of committees, decide who will be in each committee. This is an entirely internal decision within the delegation and while you should tell your advisor, the conference organizers do not have to be notified.
Once a nation-state has been determined, the next step there is to learn all about your nation-state. There are 192 recognized nation-states at the UN, so it is highly probable that a you will not know much about your country.
When setting out to research your country, start by learning the basics. For example, details like the kind of government, population, demographics, GDP, imports and exports, education, and healthcare are all basic pieces of information that everyone should know about their country. A basic understanding of your country' history does not hurt either.
Once you have the basics down, begin exploring your country's place in the world at large. Start asking questions like what organizations does your country belong too (things like NATO or the EU), who your country's allies and enemies are, your country's direct neighbors, their influence in the UN and any ongoing national or international events your country might be involved in . Part of the Model UN experience is getting in the mindset of your country and role playing as that country. Every bit of information that you think might help you get in that mindset is a helpful one.
To start looking for information, there are many great place to look. Both the CIA World Factbook and the US Department of State websites have probably the majority of the information you need to represent your country. Also, every nation and UN agency or committee has its own website as well that can no doubt give you valuable information.Once you know what your country is, what it does, what it is concerned about, how it operates, and what it believes in, the next step is taking this information and applying it to the topic for the conference.
- STUDYING THE ISSUES
Being a bureaucratic organization, the United Nations has a tendency to produce a lot of papers and books (bureaucratic organizations have a tendency to do this. The world’s largest publisher based on the number of pages published every year is the government of the United States). The best part about the 21st century though is that people do not have to go to a library hundreds of miles away, or have to write the UN for copies of their publications. There are now on-line editions that are easy to access.
When going out to study the topic, a series of questions should be contemplated. Examples of questions that students should be looking for answers include: What is the problem? How does it affect your country? What has your country done to combat the problem? What are the various “sides” in the debate? Which aspects of the issue are most important to your country? If your country is not involved with the issue, how can it become involved? How will your country shape the debate at the conference? What arguments will other countries make? How do the positions of other countries affect your country’s position? Is there evidence or statistics that might help to backup your country’s position? Becoming familiar with the issues is the first step in researching. An excellent place to start is the UN Chronicle. Reading The Chronicle will help students get a good idea about the basics of the topics. The Chronicle, however, is more than an online resource; it now has a video dimension. The World Chronicle is a program the UN puts out about every week and a half, in which issues of the day are debated.
By the time students have read through the Chronicles, they should have a general idea where their nation-state stands on most issues. However, for a more in-depth understanding they should read government documents.
As stated before, almost every nation-state on the planet now has a website in English, where government policy papers and documents are available to read, where speeches given by foreign leaders can be examined, and where legislation that has passed can be looked at. Other areas that are to be looked at are government news sites or general news sites, such as the BBC, CNN, The Economist, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, among countless other respected news organizations for recent and up-to-date information about what is occurring in each nation-state. However, what are even more valuable are the vast improvements that the United Nations have made in these areas.
The UN has one of the best ‘searchable’ government websites. However, be aware that the UN actually has two search engines. The one that should be used most often searches the entire UN main site. Here specific committee websites, recent speeches, and draft resolutions will be searched. This one is far more helpful if students are trying to find something that relates to their topic rather than doing in-depth research. The second search engine is to examine old speeches, past resolutions, and voting records. That one is extremely helpful, but only if students know exactly what they are looking for. This UN search engine should only be used by those that have a good idea what they are looking for (a famous speech, a particular vote, a distinct resolution). Using this UN search engine can be frustrating and demoralizing. If it is too daunting to try and snake through the general UN site, the UN Cyberschoolbus provides a wealth of easy to understand and easy to use information.
That is not to say that it is impossible to use the UN Library (it may seem that way, but it is the honest truth that the site is light years better than where it was at the turn of the millennium). But it must be understood. For example, if someone types in “pandemic diseases” into the library search engine, there will be no results. The reason for this is because the engine is divided up into specific phrases, and “pandemic diseases” is not one of them. However, phrases such as “disease prevention,” “disease reporting,” “AIDS,” and the like are.
There are a couple UN documents that all Model UN participants should be aware of. These include the Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights Students should also be familiar with recently passed resolutions, and other resolutions that have an impact on the current topic. Another excellent UN resource is the Economic and Social Development page, which provides access to an index of issues as well as UN agencies that deal with the issues along with UN publications. Also valued for information are the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Health Organization. For this particular topic, other solid places to look at the issues include the Center for Disease Control and the US Department of Health and Human Services.
As valued as government sources and documents are, they are not the only source of information (nor should they be). Non-government organizations, commonly referred to as NGOs, also deal with these global issues and are a valued resource throughout the world. Some of the more prominent NGOs include Amnesty International, the Red Cross, and Human Rights Watch. But NGOs exist on almost every single issue confronting the world, and can be most simply through a web-based search (though a list of prominent NGOs is included at the end of this guide NGOs typically are advocating for change, so it is far more likely that information that is negative towards a nation-state will be presented here than in official government documents.
- SO, WHAT DO WE KNOW NOW?
A lot, actually. Students should know the history of their nation-states, the geography (both political and natural), the government, friends and allies, trade partners, the economy, communication and transportation networks, the different cultures, beliefs, and ideologies that exist in their nation-state, what organizations they belong to, what religions and languages are prevalent in their nation-state, military capabilities, and the major issues that dominate the political debate in their nation-state. They should also know who their enemies are (say, Israel and Iran) and how precarious their situation is (country at civil war, impending invasion, potential institutional collapse, economic upheaval?) Likewise, they should have an understanding of the United Nations, the committee that they will be participating in, the major issues that will be discussed, the implications of those issues, the history of those issues, how they have (or have not) been dealt with, and a basic understanding of what aspects of those issues are the major parts of the debate.
Combining these two, students should know where their nation-state stands on the issues and the proposed solutions to deal with the issues. They should know how they nation- state operates at the UN. Some nation-states are supportive of world action, others against it, and some favor it in some areas and not in others. Some nation-states are very combative at the UN (say Cuba) and give wild, angry speeches normally against the current world order and those who are seen and the driving influences of it. Others are highly supportive of the current situation and will offer glowing praise of the main powers. Some countries will say little on the official record that will get them into trouble, but make their intentions clear behind the scenes (China and Russia are well known for this) and use their influence to guide the debate in the direction they want. Some countries are deal-makers, who use their collective influence to drive compromises and resolutions that a large majority can agree to. Others fight tooth and nail and will not give a single inch to try and get what they want. Others will try and defeat anything proposed, while others will go with the flow and see what their allies, military supporters, and major trade partners think before acting. How a nation-state acts is sometimes just as important as what it believes in when accurately representing what occurs at Model United Nations.
- NOW THAT YOU KNOW ALL THIS, WHAT DO YOU DO WITH IT?
Model United Nations of Alaska centers on resolutions. Resolutions (which will be discussed in much further detail later) are proposed solutions to the issues. They can be viewed somewhat like a bill in the US governmental system. They are a proposal to deal with a conceived problem. Resolutions normally have two parts. The first part is explaining the problem, and the second part is detailing what the solution should be. Resolutions should be an accurate reflection of what their nation-state believes is the problem and what it believes the solution should be.
Other than resolutions, position papers are a key aspect of Model United Nations. Position papers are in effect statements of policy that each delegation puts together to state what their nation-state believes relative to the topic and what they wish to accomplish. Position papers can range in length from about one page to several volumes, though 1-2 pages is the usual standard. Each delegation also usually puts together individual position papers that are more committee specific (what they view the main issues are relative to the committee and what they wish to see be accomplished). These position papers usually go no longer than a page.
At Model United Nations, each delegation will be given time at Opening Ceremonies to make an Opening Statement. This is usually a summary of their position paper, a thirty second snap-shot of what their nation-state wishes to accomplish. In previous years, opening statements were also made in each committee, but because of the significant increase in delegates over the last decade that is no longer done. However, Model United Nations of Alaska offers the ability to post all position papers on-line so other delegations can read them, even if they are too long to read in general session or are not read in committee.
Another aspect that all this research helps to accomplish is debating. By having become well acquainted with their own nation-state and the topic at hand, a delegate can actively participate in debates about proposed resolutions. Knowing the main issues will allow delegates to both defend and push for resolutions they support, as well as attack and try to defeat resolutions that go against their government’s policy. Also, having a wide range of knowledge will help in proposing amendments to improve resolutions.
- WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO?
As the old saying goes “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Knowing who is going to be on the opposite side is very important. Through their research, students should know who their adversaries are. These include countries with different political ideologies (say Communism and Western Democratic Capitalism), different religious perspectives (Hindu India and Islamic Pakistan), ethnic disputes (the Balkans), border disputes, good old fashioned bad blood (Israel and Syria), trade disputes, military conflict, historical problems, and countless other reasons. Students should know who their adversaries are. Doing some research into their adversaries will help in trying to outwit them in debate or knowing where they can get votes to pass resolutions. Being prepared for the counter-arguments is almost as important as making the original argument. Debate requires responses, and the delegation most prepared to respond will be in a better position to execute their plans at Model UN, and thus have a more enjoyable time.
- RIGHT BEFORE THE CONFERENCE
The world is not a static entity. Things change on a weekly, daily, hourly, even minutely basis. Students should remain up to date on the world situation and in particular their nation-state and the topic at hand. Naturally, by keeping up with current events makes people better citizens to begin with, but in Model UN it is vital. Governments can change overnight, policies can be adopted or scrapped, and events can completely change the world order. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 are two events that fundamentally changed the world order in an instant within the last 20 years. Students who do not keep up with world events may be shocked to discover that their government no longer exists when they show up to the conference.