3.5 Strategy and Tactics for Model UN

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Back to Unit 3: Foundational Skills.

As a Model UN delegate, your purpose is to make sure that whatever resolution, report or treaty your committee passes conforms to your country’s interests and values. Ideally, the final result will advance your country’s foreign policy agenda. To achieve this end, you will need to think carefully through your strategy and tactics throughout the entire process of the committee.  You should start doing this before the conference, while writing your position paper and preparing for your committee assignment. But once you arrive in your committee, an effective delegate will constantly be adjusting and revising their strategy and tactics to ensure their agenda is passed.

Strategic Planning

A strategy is your overall “game plan”, outlining what you want from the committee, what resources and capacities are at your disposal, what your weaknesses are, what might stand in your way and what methods you will use to get what you want. You should work with your delegation partner in advance to discuss (and ideally write out) your strategic plan for the conference. In doing so, you should clarify your delegation’s:

  • Goal: Your overall goal is to make sure that whatever resolution, report or treaty that comes out of your committee reflects, protects and advances your country’s interests, values and institutional commitments. In practice this usually means getting elements of your Three Point Plan into the final approved text, and avoiding language that conflicts or contradicts it.
  • Objectives: To achieve your overall goal, you will need to define your objectives — the various things you need to have happen before your goal can be fulfilled. Objectives should be SMART — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound. It may be helpful to have these objectives written down in your binder, so that you can look at them regularly and make sure you are meeting them throughout the conference. Here are a few examples:

1) Get noticed by the chair and other delegates and create the impression of a competent, well-informed, professional, well-organized and consensus-building delegation.

2) Ensure that the agenda is set in a way that enables our delegation to advance our country’s interests and values, avoiding topics that could pose a threat.

3) Ensure committee members are aware of our Three Point Plan and are persuaded that it is an effective solution to the problems of the committee topic.

4) Build consensus around Working Paper text that incorporates elements of our Three Point Plan.

5) Guide our Working Papers through the negotiation, merging and redrafting stages to Draft Resolutions, making sure any revisions preserve our intentions.

6) Build sufficient support for our Draft Resolutions that enable them to pass the final voting and avoid unfriendly amendments.

  • Minimum and Maximum Demands: Your Position Paper, specifically your Three Point Plan, outlines the ideal result of the committee — your maximum demands from an eventual resolution, report or treaty. However, it is unlikely that you will get everything you want, since there are 193 countries in the United Nations, each with their own agendas. Therefore, you will need to discuss with your delegation partner where you think there might be room for compromise versus your minimum demands — your “red lines” or “must haves”. What are your top priorities? What are you willing to settle for? Which of the lower priorities might you be willing to give up in order to achieve your higher priorities? Researching your committee, your topics and the other countries that will likely be in the room, will help you to think about what you are likely to be able to get. Moreover, delegations that have a clear understanding of their minimum and maximum demands will appear more reasonable to other delegations, showing the capacity to negotiate and compromise.

Once you are clear on your goal, objectives and demands, you should conduct a delegation SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis to identify:

  • Strengths: To achieve all your objective, you will have to deploy resources, capacities and strengths you have at your disposal. It is often useful to inventory these in advance, by making a list and thinking about how each strength can be used carefully to get you closer to your goal. You should think about your delegation’s strengths in three different ways. First, the country you are representing may itself have a variety of resources and capacities at its disposal, including its reputation, strong links to certain other Member States, trade and foreign aid links, political weight and economic strength. Think about how you can call other delegations’ attention to these strengths to persuade them to support your agenda. Second, you and your delegation partner may have  your own individual strengths that can be used to advance your delegation’s agenda. Perhaps one of you is a particularly good at public speaking, mediating conflicts, organizing information, drafting resolution text, or managing relationships with other delegations. Think about how you can use your personal talents and abilities strategically to divide tasks between you based on what you are capable of doing. Third, think about the various resources you have at your disposal that will support your efforts in committee, including your Position Paper, your binder of information, pre-written speeches, your notebook and notecards, technologies like a laptop or Model UN app and the knowledge and support of head delegates and faculty advisors.
  • Weaknesses: As with your delegation’s strengths, you should list the various weaknesses that could work against you in committee. These include the potential weaknesses of your country (e.g. a divisive reputation, a lack of economic or political weight, an unpopular position on the topic), your delegation (e.g. difficulties with research, speaking, writing or diplomatic skills) and the resources you have at hand (e.g. a poorly organized binder, a lack of technological resources, etc.). Think carefully about how either to transform weaknesses into strengths (e.g. if you are a small country, try to use that to organize other small countries) or use your strengths to minimize the impact of your weaknesses (e.g. your country may have an unpopular policy position, but may have a strong relationship with another, more powerful state, that shares your country’s views).
  • Opportunities: Once you have catalogued your strengths and weaknesses — which are internal to your own delegation — look outward to the external opportunities in your committee that might aide your agenda. For example, perhaps there are other Pace students representing other states in your same committee, or perhaps you know people from other schools. Take advantage of your existing rapport with them to begin discussing potential ways to collaborate. Many conferences provide a list of the other countries that will be in your committee (often called a “Committee Matrix”). Look at this and see whether there may be countries that share similar regional, cultural, trade or political interests in common. Seek them out as soon as you get to conference. Think about how the wording of the topics or the set-up of the committee might play to your strengths. For example, a strict chairperson who is a stickler for the rules could be an opportunity for your delegation if you are familiar and comfortable with the rules of procedure.
  • Threats: Finally, you need to look at the potential external threats to your agenda from the committee. This may include the presence of other states that are radically opposed to your delegation’s agenda or could be a chair who fails to call on you when you raise your placard. It could be a committee that is so large it is difficult to be noticed or that favors informal caucusing when you are better at formal speeches. Think carefully about how you might be able to deploy your delegation’s Strengths and take advantage of Opportunities to address or avoid these Threats.

Situational Awareness

Even if you have made the most detailed and careful strategic plan , once you get to committee you may discover that many of the assumptions you made about are incorrect. Moreover, the dynamics within a committee can often change rapidly, making even the best strategic plan out of sync with the evolving process. As a result, you must continue to revise your plans, coming up with new objectives, identifying new opportunities and threats as the committee develops. In order to do this well you must have excellent situational awareness. This means you will need to:

  • Pay Attention to Speakers: It is often tempting to tune out when other delegations are making their formal speeches in front of the committee. But it is crucial to fight potential boredom, stay focused on what people are saying and keep good notes on where other delegations stand. Are they likely to support your agenda? Does their agenda clash with yours? Is there potential for compromise? Perhaps switch the primary responsibility for paying close attention between you and your partner.
  • Maintain Communication with Your Partner: By having two people, you can divide up the room between you and keep tabs on what is happening. Make sure you know what your partner is hearing from other delegations. But you will need to keep checking in with each other to share information, stay on the same page and not work at cross purposes.
  • Keep in Contact with Other Delegations: In informal caucusing, make sure you are talking to other delegations. You will need to keep in regular contact with those that share your agenda (be aware of any shifts in position or compromises they might make) as well as those who don’t (don’t get blindsided by something that could upset your agenda). In formal session, make sure to keep passing notes, congratulating delegations that have spoken, building links and clarifying others’ positions.
  • Keep Re-Reading the Latest Drafts of Working Paper Texts. Once the committee starts drafting working papers, the text can change rapidly, often radically. It only takes one push of the delete button for your parts of the paper to disappear. Therefore, make sure you are keeping a very close eye on what is happening to the text, backing up versions on a memory stick (so you have copies of earlier drafts in case it changes) and intervening to prevent your wording being negotiated away without you knowing it.
  • Pre-Count Votes. As will be discussed in more depth below, try to get a sense of where other delegations stand on your Draft Resolutions so you know who stands in the way, who may be wavering (and need extra persuasion) and whose votes are safe.
  • Seek Advice from Head Delegates and Faculty Advisors. If the committee moves in an unfamiliar direction and you are having trouble understanding what is happening, don’t be afraid to ask for help from other Pace senior delegates, head delegates or faculty advisors.
  • Revise Your Plan. As the dynamic of the committee shifts, keep working with your delegation partner to revise your plans, take advantage of emerging opportunities, head off potential threats and shape the dynamic in your favor.

Tactics

In operationalizing your strategic plan — putting it into action — you must carefully and prudently select tactics that are likely to get you what you want, with as few unintended consequences as possible. Tactics are like tools — if they stop working, backfire or are counterproductive, you need to change your them. Use your situational awareness to determine which tactics are most likely to advance your strategy at any given moment. Be flexible and willing to change your approach as needed. The following are a few tactics that Pace students have found effective in the past:

  • Arrive Early and Choose Your Seats Carefully. Try to arrive at your committee room 15-30 minutes before the beginning of each session to enable you to caucus with other delegates and select good seats. In many instances, the best place to sit is in the first few rows, but pay attention to which parts of the room your chair tends to call on and sit there.
  • Give Compelling Speeches. A well-delivered speech in formal session will establish your delegation’s reputation and make sure other delegations are aware of your position. Make sure that your delegation is always on the Speakers List. As soon as you have finished giving a speech, send a note to the chair requesting that you be added to the list again.
  • Sell the Three Point Plan. The Three Point Plan allows you to “brand” your position, making it memorable for other delegates. Make sure your first formal speech includes your Three Point Plan, and continue to repeat it in your caucusing with other delegates.
  • Pass Notes. You are not allowed to speak out-loud during formal session unless you are recognized by the chair. However, keep writing a steady flow of notes to other delegations (keep them on topic and appropriate!). Perhaps have one partner listen carefully to speeches and the other write notes to other delegations; then switch.
  • Establish Rapport. Try to be friendly, courteous and inclusive to other delegations, building the foundation of trust that will ease your negotiations later in the conference if and when the debate becomes more heated.
  • Divide Labor. Think carefully about how you can divide up tasks between you and your delegation partner to play to your strengths. Once you have established close working relationships with other delegations, split up the work with them too. When you start writing working papers, have one partner outside working with your working group and one inside paying attention to speeches.
  • Organize Your Bloc. If your country shares interests in common with a bigger group of states, work closely with them to divide up tasks and guarantee support. These “blocs” have in common their region (e.g. Europe, Africa, Latin America), cultural or religious identities (e.g. predominantly Catholic or Muslim states, English-speaking states, the Arab League, Scandinavian states), shared histories (e.g. Commonwealth states), long-standing alliances, similar economic interests (e.g. the “BRICS” or developing countries) or shared political views (e.g. democratic states).
  • Organize Shy, Passive and Excluded Delegates. In any committee there are delegates who are shy, passive, excluded, or  ignored by some of the more “high-flying” delegates. However, you can often find significant support for your agenda by actively including more reluctant delegates — remember that shy delegates have a vote too!
  • Peel People away from the “Big Group”. In early informal caucusing, one or two delegations will often dominate the discussion, gathering around them large groups of people who are unsure of what to do. Try to work the edges of these crowds, starting side conversations and peeling away those who are discontented with the way the discussion is going.
  • Make a Donut. If you have managed to gather a group of people around you — members of your bloc, formerly excluded delegates or those disaffected from the “Big Group” — you can start using the Donut Tactic. While you are telling other delegates about your Three Point Plan or policy position, have your delegation partner bring other people into a circle around you. As that circle grows, your delegation partner should work his/her way around the circle, telling them what you are saying (if they can’t hear you) and making sure they don’t lose interest.
  • Build Consensus. When a committee becomes highly politicized or divided, it can actually empower those delegations which are able to bridge the gap, either through shared interests, connections or mediating skills. Unless your country’s interests demand it, try to avoid being the delegation that polarizes the discussion; instead make yourself indispensable to the resolution of the conflict.
  • Be the Wordsmith or Scribe. Once your committee begins drafting Working Papers, try to be the one who translates delegations’ various policy positions into the draft text. Either be the one writing directly on a computer — or sit next to the person who is — offering suggested language.
  • Defend your Working Paper. As noted above, if you are working with a large group or you have been asked to merge your paper with another, the wording of your Working Paper can change very rapidly. Make sure you know what is happening and persuade those who are writing or editing the language to maintain your preferred wording.
  • Compromise and “Horse Trade”. It is unlikely you will get your maximum demands, so use tactical compromise or trade support with other delegations to get as much of your agenda passed as possible. Being flexible (without being a pushover) will build goodwill and make other delegations more likely to compromise with you.
  • Count Votes in Advance. Once you have a Draft Resolution, try to figure out how much support it has. While caucusing with other delegations, keep track of how likely your resolution is to pass by creating a chart with probable yes votes, probably no votes and those on the fence. Have one delegation partner play the role of the “Whip” — working with the group of supporters to ensure they stay on board. The other partner should focus on persuading the states that are undecided. Don’t waste time trying to persuade people who are unlikely to change their minds.
  • Offer Friendly Amendments. To avoid your Draft Resolution being hijacked by Unfriendly Amendments, try to work out compromise Friendly Amendments before the resolution comes to a vote. If it seems like your current text is unlikely to pass, use the possibility of amending your resolution as a way to persuade reluctant delegations.

Matthew Bolton and Jacqueline Kelleher for Pace University, 2013. Version 3.0 BETA. For information, permissions or corrections, contact Dr. Matthew Bolton, mbolton@pace.edu

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