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Model UN is a critic to our current global governance

Aloysius Efraim Leonard
Aloysius Efraim Leonard

International relations student at Parahyangan Catholic University

Bandung  /  Fri, May 1, 2020  /  08:52 am
Model UN is a critic to our current global governance

The United Nations logo is seen in the corridors of the United Nations headquarters in New York City, the United States. (AFP/Ludovic Marin)

Don't get me wrong — I love the idea of a model United Nations.

I love the idea about us role-playing to become a delegate of a certain country that we might not even have heard of before but act as if we know everything about the country. I love the idea of making strategies on how as the United States, we should work together with China to solve the latest global health crisis or the upcoming space war. I love the idea of how we can actually meet new people from different backgrounds of studies, showing that international relations students might, after all, be having more competition in their own field in the future.

And I also appreciate that it’s becoming a trend, especially in Indonesia. Showing the world that hey, apparently as a global citizen, there's hope for us to work together hand in hand to solve pressing global issues.

Just like any other international relations student, I feel obligated to at least taste the feeling of working in the United Nations. And how can we do that, if not through doing a Model UN (MUN)?

An MUN lets you research deeply about the country you were assigned to, thus, letting us learn how to do deep research and understand not only the topic but also the foreign policy of the country we were assigned. Then, it allows you to practice your public speaking abilities. Lastly, it encourages you to negotiate with other delegates that are representing other countries that might or might not have different interests than yours (or they might just not know what is going on and just follow you around).

And if you excel in your performances, the dais, or the one who acts as the moderator and the adjudicator, will give you an award.

But that is not everything. Sometimes, what usually is forgotten is the strategy of someone while they’re doing the MUN conference.

Our strategy in an MUN is the most important thing if what we're looking for is an award. In strategizing, you will try to first name your possible allies, then in the conference, the strategy goes from who is our ally and who is not based on their dominance, on when to speak or when not to, who should we ask for lunch and who is not, to whose idea should we take as our own as it will advantage our bloc.

Yes, the conference can be nasty — but so is our current global politics.

Sure, real-world diplomacy is not only about stealing one's solution and name it our own or who is and is not our ally. Sometimes it goes beyond all that. In real-world diplomacy, we are not looking for awards — we are looking to fulfill most of our national interest, and that could mean the well-being of millions of real people.

In MUN, sometimes a delegate's biggest dilemma is whether to become an ally with other delegates that have a different stance or interest but is our friend. And then you will end up becoming allies anyway and try to find a way so that the dais will see that none of you violates your stance and still gives you an award.

But in real-world diplomacy, even being first cousins — like Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany and Czar Nicholas of Russia — does not stop a war from happening.

If right now we are discussing the COVID-19 pandemic in MUN, the delegate of the United States, realizing on how the pandemic is only going to get worse in their own country, as thousands of its citizen dies in a day and its death toll is among the highest in the world; and the delegate of China would consider working together as allies. In addition, there would also be one delegate from a neutral country who will ask them to find common ground for the good of humanity. How so? It will probably be based on the personal beliefs of the delegate that portrays them, on how they feel the COVID-19 has changed much of their lives.

But what about the real situation that we currently face? The US and China are trying to blame each other for the spread of the virus, blame the World Health Organization on its lack of transparency and transform vaccine-making into a race — as the one that creates it first will have greater international leverage. Global coordination is very lacking, every country is fighting the pandemic for themselves without any neutral country trying to make the big powers negotiate and put aside their personal interest for the betterment of humankind.

Another possible scenario in the COVID-19 discussion in an MUN is that the delegates of Southeast Asian countries will be allies, working together as a region to close the big gap of testing capabilities within the region itself. The delegates will probably create a solution in which ASEAN as the regional body will coordinate the creation of mass public testing in the region, funded by a public-private and ASEAN partnership, with experts from Singapore, to first mitigate the cases in the areas where the people are most vulnerable to be infected without showing any symptoms.

Ironically, those are the very ideas that we do not have in the real world — they are only the ideas of children who aspire to be diplomats or those who still believe that global cooperation will solve global problems. Spoiler alert: there’s no to little global cooperation in solving this crisis to begin with.

A Model UN conference shows the positive side of the UN. It shows the optimistic side of our current global diplomacy, where rich countries will willingly spend some of their money to help a poor country by giving a transfer of technology, while at the same time, the organization will conduct a cooperation mechanism to start a grassroots movement with local NGOs.

One might see that as the ideal world in which we should live, but most importantly, global leaders should see that as criticism on our current global governance mechanism. It should be seen as an aspiration of the younger generations on how the global issues that we have today can be handled: through cooperation and collaboration, that will eventually still favor our own national interest.

However, a model UN is still a model; it is not the real UN, after all. But at least it shows hope: a hope that someday, we might live in a better world (or not, since the first MUN was done when the UN was still the League of Nations). Only time will tell.

But one thing’s for sure: World leaders and people should see an MUN not only as a competition done by rich and fancy young adults but as a form of resistance and criticism to the system that they control right now. (kes)


Aloysius Efraim Leonard is the 2019 Harvard National Model United Nations Diplomatic Commendation awardee. He is currently enrolled as an international relations student at Parahyangan Catholic University, concentrating in international politics and security. In the field of MUN, he has gained several awards, including one from Harvard, and has joined more than 12 model UN conferences both as a delegate and the dais in Indonesia and other countries, such as the United States and Germany.


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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.