Unit 1: Introduction to Model United Nations

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Through simulating deliberative bodies within the UN system and other international institutions, Model United Nations (MUN) offers an opportunity for experiential education in practical global policymaking. MUN participants play the role of diplomats in global committees, commissions and council, representing the interests and policies of a member state or organization assigned to them.

In addition to providing students with in-depth knowledge of the UN system, international relations and diplomatic practice, MUN teaches students ways to shape and negotiate policy. MUN participants prepare position papers outlining their countries’ policies, give both prepared and impromptu public speeches, converse within established rules of order and draft resolutions to be passed by the body. Lessons learned in MUN are often applicable to influencing and enacting policy in local government assemblies, parent-teacher associations, unions and academic institutions.

Introductory Materials

For information on how Model UN conferences function, visit the MUN website of the USA United Nations Association. They also provide a guide for MUN beginners, including guidance on doing research, giving speeches and writing position papers. For latest Model UN news, visit the blog BestDelegate; their Resources page is particularly useful, as is their article “5 Skills Every Delegate Should Learn.” For a light-hearted guide to getting ahead in conferences, visit MyModel UN. The above video offers a good introduction to what Model UN is and how it functions.

For Frequently Asked Questions, click here.

For advice from former Model UN students, click here.

Understanding the United Nations

For basic information about the United Nations, click here, or visit the BBC’s profile of the United Nations. For more detailed information, visit the UN’s Cyberschoolbus. For UN documents, such as the Charter or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Security Council Resolutions and General Assembly Resolutions, click here. Duke University has a particularly good webpage on researching the United Nations.

Thinking about Simulations and Safe Space

Simulations like Model UN, can be incredibly powerful ways to learn about the world. Rather than merely sitting in a classroom, receiving information from a professor, Model UN has you playing the role of a diplomat — giving you the incentives to do research, put yourself in others’ shoes and learn new skills. At their best, simulations stretch you to have empathy for people in very different situations than you. Model UN helps you see the stakes involved in global policymaking.

However, there are potential pitfalls in simulations and as they engage in Model UN, students should consider some of the ethical and moral issues involved in representing “someone else.” Unfortunately, when people are placed in what they interpret as a place of power, with few restrictions — even in a simulation — ethical and moral problems can arise. Within the social sciences, researchers are now very careful about putting in place safeguards when they set up simulations for the purpose of social or psychological experiments. They want to avoid problems that arose in the past, such as with the Stanford Prison Experiments and Milgram Experiment (follow the link for more details).

Professors, organizers and head delegates should take care in managing the Model UN process, to make sure that students, particularly those representing authoritarian or very powerful states, do not “let it get to their head” and act in a bullying manner to other students. (Read this New York Times article about some of the problems that arise in Model UN conferences). At Pace University New York City, we work hard to make Model UN a “safe space”, free from harassment, bullying and intimidation. We also vet conferences carefully to make sure they have high standards and are well-organized. Remember: the purpose of Model UN is an education, not “winning” or “beating another team.”

For further details on Pace University New York City’s Model United Nations program policies designed to encourage a Safe Space environment, click here.

Useful Books to Read

For a more detailed bibliography on Model United Nations, see Annex A of this handbook. For internet, social media and app resources, see Annex C.

General Texts on the United Nations:

  • Linda Fasulo. (2009) An Insider’s Guide to the UN. 2nd Ed. New Haven, Yale University Press. (Used as the 2nd Semester textbook at Pace University New York City)
  • Jussi M. Hanhimaki. (2008) The United Nations: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, Oxford University Press. (Used as the 1st Semester textbook at Pace University New York City).
  • United Nations. (2011) Basic Facts about the United Nations. New York, U.N.
  • United Nations. (2012) United Nations at a Glance. New York, U.N.
  • Thomas G. Weiss & Sam Daws (Eds.). (2009) The Oxford Handbook on the United Nations. New York, Oxford University Press.

Model United Nations:

Popular Novels, Memoirs and Non-Fiction about the United Nations and Diplomacy:

  • Kofi Annan with Nader Mousavizadeh. (2013) Interventions: A Life in War and Peace.
    2nd Ed. New York, Penguin. (Used as a 3rd semester textbook at Pace University New York City).
  • Mark Malloch-Brown. (2012) The Unfinished Global Revolution: The Road to International Cooperation. New York, Penguin. (We have used this as a textbook at Pace University New York City in the past).

(c) Pace University, 2013. Version 3.0 BETA. For information, permissions or corrections, contact Dr. Matthew Bolton, mbolton@pace.edu

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