The great thing about MUN conferences is that most of them center their topics on current events, be it ongoing conflicts, controversies taking place, recent UN missions or mandates, or even challenges being discussed in international political summits. This enables delegates to discuss the most pressing issues in the international agenda, while adding the challenge of having to follow an issue that is developing in real time, and whose timeline and progress is updated every second.
Photo Source: United Ambassadors MUN 2016 Academy, NYU Abu Dhabi, UAE.
A disadvantage to using current events as committee topics, however, is that often delegates find themselves discussing the same issues in different conferences throughout the year. Topics that seemed fresh and interesting the first time become predictable and repetitive as MUNers hear the same observations and reservations being brought up in discussion.
Often, this occurs for one key reason, and that is that delegates are unable to determine how different committees provide — or, are meant to provide — different angles to the discussion. Many delegates forget how the different competences, attendees and nature of a committee play a role in shaping the kind of discussion supposed to take place in a simulation. In this article, we will analyse how the same topic can vary in different committees, and how to ensure that it does.
The first thing to take into account when brainstorming what your approach to a topic will be is what kind of committee you’re in, naturally, but more specifically: what the nature and the goal of that committee is. The UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council) has, undoubtedly, a very different nature to the Security Council, or the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), and this nature will inevitably determine the kind of issues the discussion will bring up and centre around. Knowing what the main general focus of your committee in the UN is is a crucial step to designing and predicting the discussion on the topic, and therefore your research should always include previous work related to the nature of the body you’ll be working in, its previous work, etc.
To show this in an example: a non-specific topic such as “Consequences of the conflict in Syria”, can have multiple different takes depending on the “room” we are in: the Security Council, as a security-centred organ, will focus on strategy and conflict-related consequences. However, a body like the UNHRC will undoubtedly analyse the aftermath of the conflict in human rights and civilian terms. Additionally, regional and more specific bodies will have their own unique perspective on the issue, that ought to be carefully considered: organizations like the League of Arab States, for example, which includes many countries neighbouring Syria, will have a big concern for the situation where proximity, cultural ties and comercial relations will play a bigger part than in other discussions; other chambers, such as UN Women or UNICEF, which focus on specific members of society, will undoubtedly discuss the consequences for these individuals in particular.
Simulating regional organisations can be quite a unique experience when it comes to this, because usually topics will be issues that member countries are particularly affected by, and therefore delegates are presented with the challenge of tackling a specific problem, on a smaller, often more complex scale.
Regional bodies usually entail two things: first, and more predictively, the countries you’ll encounter and have to negotiate with, which can greatly influence the flow of the discussion (American States, Caribbean States, European Union…). In addition their presence, cultural, historical, geographic, economic or political ties among countries will play a role in what kind of concerns are highlighted in discussing the situation. To continue with the example mentioned before, the conflict in Syria can be discussed by the European Union with emphasis on the political and diplomatic consequences — or by the Arab League, more likely with a focus on economic and population issues, which neighbouring states can perceive more directly than their European counterparts.
Knowing the context of the committee you will be working in helps not only in how the discussion will be shaped, but rather, exactly how far you’ll be able to get and what kind of solutions you can bring to the table — so, in addition to the already-mentioned nature of the committee, you must also be aware of the competences your committee has. Most UN bodies are limited in one way or another; because their funding is limited, because they report to a superior panel, or because they can only make recommendations and therefore their decisions are not binding. Being aware of the power and tools at your disposal is therefore extremely important, in order to make a plan that is not only realistic, but also feasible in accordance to your committee — no one wants to hear the terrible phrase, “that’s not the competence of this committee!”. Do your research and know your instruments, and that way your contributions to the discussion will be more fruitful.
The same topic can bring very different discussions, and solutions, depending on the key factors mentioned above — that’s why research, prep and brainstorming are all crucial things to consider! Even with topics you may have already encountered as a delegate. Keep in mind that despite topics being similar, the delegates you debate with are never the same, and therefore new ideas and visions will always be brought to the table.