Unit 2: Researching Your Assignment and Writing Your Position Paper

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Researching Your Country Assignments

Your core task as a Model UN delegate is to represent a Member State (or other entity) in a simulation of the United Nations or other international policy making body. To do this, you will need to become quickly familiar with the state you are representing. The UNA-USA has a good guide to researching country assignments, available here.

For basic information, there are many useful places to find out about the country you will represent in conference:

For detailed news and analysis, check out the below sources, as well as the usual news outlets:

Make sure to set up a Google Alert for your country’s news and look at the website of the popular daily newspapers in your country. When setting up your Google Alerts, remember to create one for your country’s short, informal name (e.g. Kenya) and long, conventional name (e.g. Republic of Kenya). Consider also setting up alerts for your country’s foreign minister, ambassador to the United Nations and head of state/government (President, Prime Minister, Prince, etc.). This will help you stay informed about any news that’s relevant to your country.

Beyond the basic questions — where it is, its history, its culture and style of government — you will also need to learn to research:

  • Interests: What are some of its core economic, political, security interests?
  • Values: What values, principles, ideals, norms and ideologies guide the state’s behavior?
  • Identity: What aspects — such as language, culture and shared beliefs — are core to the state’s identity?
  • History and Precedent: What about the state’s foreign policy stayed stable over time? In what ways has it shifted?
  • Relationships: Which states tend to share its interests, values and identities? With which states does it tend to work closely? With which states does it have a tense relationship? What treaties and regional organizations is it a member of? Does it have cultural or historical affinities with another state? Does it see one area of the world as its ‘sphere of influence’?
  • Discourse: How does your state frame its foreign policy in language? How do they describe other states and international organizations? What metaphors and analogies do they use?

To do this more in-depth analysis, you will need to need to go beyond the general sources. Visit the website of your country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and/or their UN Mission to read their policy statements, key speeches and reports on their work. Read up on the scholarly literature on your country’s foreign policy as well as internal politics, culture, society and history. Either read books published by university presses (or commercial academic presses like Palgrave, SAGE, Routledge, I.B. Tauris, Lynne Rienner, James Currey, etc.) or read peer-reviewed journal articles found through Google Scholar (or the Pace University Library journal databases). Try also to immerse yourself in popular fiction, TV or film of the place you are studying.

Researching Issues

In addition to being assigned a Member State, you will also be assigned a committee or decisionmaking body, in which you will participate. Most Model UN conferences will provide a provisional agenda for each committee listing the topics to be discussed. You will need to research these topics in great depth, both generally, and to know where your country stands on them.  Before you do anything else, make sure you have read carefully the Background Guide provided by your conference’s committee on the topics you will be discussing. If these guides are written well, they will provide you with a thorough foundation in your committee and your topics.

As with your country assignments, read the scholarly and policy literature on your topics, but also try to find out which Ministry or Department of your country’s government handles these issues. See if they have made policy statements, speeches or reports on them, to get a sense of what your country’s position will be. also visit the websites of NGOs and UN agencies which focus on those issues.

For further information on researching your assigned committee topics, visit this excellent guide from the UNA-USA. For help finding relevant UN documents, click here.

The following organizations produce useful reports on topics that often come before Model UN committees:

A more detailed list is available from the UNA-USA Model UN website.

Writing a Position Paper

As you prepare for conference, the research your assigned country and topics will feed into the production of a “Position Paper.” This short, but detail-intense policy paper will outline your Member State’s position on the topics to be discussed. Some key things to remember:

  • Your State’s Position not Yours: It can be difficult, particularly for those who are new to Model UN, to put aside their own opinions and write from the position of the State they are representing. Your argument in the position paper should be in accordance with your country’s policies, interests, values and identity, not your own. As a result, there are no first person pronouns (“I” or “We”) in a position paper, nor emotive language. That is, instead of “I believe we need more investment in poverty reduction programs”, the position paper would say “The Republic of Kenya asserts the need for more investment in poverty reduction programs.
  • Make Your State Look Good: Remember that as a diplomat you act as an advocate for your country, not a detached, “objective” outsider. Like a defense attorney, you want to make your State look as good as possible, while still always telling the truth. If you do not advocate for your country’s interests in the committee, no one else will. So if your country has problems, focus on what your country is doing to overcome them, rather than the problems themselves. For example, rather than writing, “60% of the population lives under the poverty line”, write something like “over the last ten years, poverty reduction policies lifted 1 million people above the poverty line.”
  • Policy Recommendations should be Global (or Regional), Feasible and Memorable: Your Position Paper should make policy recommendations that are appropriate for the scope of the committee. For example, if you are on a UN General Assembly committee, your recommended policies should be for the entire globe, not just your own country. That said they need to be feasible: within the mandate of your committee, possible in the suggested timeframe, fundable and likely to gain political support from other States. Finally, you will be presenting these recommendations in front of many other States, each of which will be presenting their competing proposals. So your proposal needs to stand out somehow and be memorable. Pace University New York City has developed several methods for doing this — click here for more details (password required).
  • Keep on Schedule, Revise and Edit: Since your position paper is often due to the conference organizers several weeks before the conference (and probably before the end of your school semester), you will need to work quickly and efficiently. There is no time for procrastination. Get to work right away and draft a schedule in your planner to make sure you keep on track with the due dates of each draft. Note that no position paper is perfect the first time around. Perfection comes it multiple drafts, revisions and edits — seek help from your fellow students, head delegates and professor.
  • Work Together With Your Partner: Unless you will be representing your assigned country by yourself, you will need to work very closely with your partner in preparing your position paper. Not only will this make your research and writing more efficient, it will also make sure that you are both familiar with the material so that you are equally comfortable representing your country in committee.

We recommend that you start the process of writing your position paper by making an outline. For Pace University New York City Model UN students, you can access a template to help you develop an outline of your position paper here (password required). To view an example of this template filled out by Pace students, click here (password required).

For further guidance on writing a position paper, read this list of quick tips, and visit the website of the conference you are attending, as well as this guide from the UNA-USA.

Now visit the following other pages in Unit 2 of this handbook:

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

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