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The Tireless Work of Amendments

Model United Nations and its bigger, real-life counterpart, the actual United Nations, are worlds that revolve around diplomatic cooperation. The exchange of ideas, the measuring of beliefs, and the notion of compromising.

In Model United Nations, (notably: Traditional/ North American Style MUN Conferences), sometimes it goes this way, and other times, everyone is out for their own, trying to pass their document or get on with their own agenda. But not everyone can always win, and there are often delegates that, when they see their working papers rejected or, snubbed by a significant number of delegates, sink into irrelevance, feel disenchanted with the process and withdraw from it altogether, thinking “their” project has already lost, as the freshly-voted draft resolutions of rival blocs ride into the sunset. In fact, this article is to prove exactly the opposite: when your initial project fails, it is time to engage with the projects of those who had been your rivals until that point -and amendments are the best way to do so.

It could be argued that the process of proposing/ discussing amendments embodies the spirit of Model UN, as unlike your own working papers, which you can write by yourself without paying heed to anyone (or even bring into the committee already written, but let’s not go there), amendments require you to listen to other people’s ideas and projects and try to get your head around them and adapt your vision of the world to theirs. Conventional wisdom says that amendments can be of two kinds: friendly, namely the ones that are willingly accepted by the original authors of the text you are amending and unfriendly -the ones that aren’t and have to be forced unto the original text by voting. I also like to make another distinction: productive and counter-productive amendments. Although both categorizations are often aligned, a productive amendment can be unfriendly -but not vice-versa.

It’s the productive amendments that you use when you are actually on board with another project: you feel like, with some tweaks, your country could support the document in question. Generally, they do not change crucial aspects, the core so to speak, of the document, but rather seek to accommodate it to a wider audience. If this is the spirit, the faster way to pass them is as friendly, by talking to the authors and reaching a compromise. If you do this during an unmoderated caucus, you ensure that you will be able to explain correctly your goal, and that there will be no misunderstanding from the authors perceiving it as an unfriendly amendment from a hostile delegate -in these votes tensions run high and some delegates are ready to reject anything that comes from outside their traditional allies, out of fear that it might be a poisonous apple. Nonetheless, the authors of the document might not always be willing to amend their text, even if it is to reasonable demands, and with just one author not willing to accept it, the amendment will be voted on as unfriendly. If this is the case, try to win every author individually, as they will bring their own delegations to vote for it if you convince them. And of course try to talk to as many delegations as possible -friend or foe: even your geopolitical nemesis can get behind a reasonable amendment.

The more unproductive amendments ( of which we spoke before bring us to the other type of amendments, the ones that are more fun if you are a resentful, mean delegate (and we all are sometimes): the counter-productive amendments. These were most definitely not the ones I was referring to when I spoke about cooperation and sharing of ideas. Counter-productive amendments are used when you are trying to sabotage a document, either because you are still rooting for your own or because you have chosen to support another one. Or because you enjoy being spiteful, as we said. For obvious reasons, counter-productive amendments are always considered unfriendly, but they can take different shapes:

The most straightforward way of sabotaging a resolution is to hijack it. Reword the main points from your own working paper and try to introduce them into the rival paper. It is funny to see how, if you reword something well enough, delegations that were once against it might now vote in favour. Or by voting on them separately, you will get votes from different delegations, who couldn’t vote for all your points as a whole. Alternatively, you can also do unfriendly amendments to delete their main clauses if you disagree with them. If you manage to pass a few key amendments in this style you will find that it might still be their paper -but it suddenly looks a lot more like yours.

Another way is to turn the resolution on its head, by trying to introduce amendments that go against the core of the resolution. Although these tend to be difficult to pass, as they often render the resolution incongruous, if you manage to amend the text so that it turns on itself, you will have the satisfaction of seeing the sponsors vote against their own paper. Case in point: take a conservative draft resolution, sponsored by hard-liner Islamist states, but supported by a broad coalition of more liberal nations, and introduce an amendment speaking of the central role of LGBTQ rights in the human rights system. Then watch as the document implodes.

The next option should really only be used when you are in dire need of more time, and the other texts are racing past you towards a vote, while you still struggle with the formatting or with unruly delegations: to gain time, amend everything. Don’t force it, or the chairs are likely to scold you -and with reason-, but when you start to think about it there are oh-so-many little tweaks and modifications that, unless accepted as friendly, must be voted on, giving you precious time to finish your own alternative text. Disclaimer: you probably won’t win the Most Popular Delegate if you use this tactic.

Whichever way you choose to use amendments, and whether you aim to be a positive, building force or that guy, amendments in Model United Nations are often overlooked as a procedural step, when in fact they offer a whole world of opportunities, tactics and levels of engagement with other delegations that you would miss were you to focus solely in passing your own document. So next time your paper fails to pass the vote to become a draft resolution, don’t feel down: start amending.

Alvaro Gomez Del Valle

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