On stage at the UN
The term National Model United Nations refers to an annual series of simulations in which university students take on the role of UN diplomats, and propose their own solutions to pressing international issues, which may even be adopted by the professionals. Here, LMU student Alexander Hobe and Stefan Jagdhuber, a staff member of the Chair for International Relations at the Geschwister Scholl Institute for Political Science, talk about simulating the workings of the UN on location - in New York.
What actually happens at the National Model United Nations?
Stefan Jagdhuber: The National Model United Nations is the oldest and the most professional, i.e., realistic, simulation of the deliberations at the United Nations. Every year students from more than 400 universities take part in the exercise: Between 4000 and 5000 students from all over the world come to New York for the event every year. The whole thing is organized by the US National Collegiate Conference Association, whose declared intention is to make students more aware of the significance of the United Nations and to acquaint them with its functions, goals and organizational structures.
What then do the students do in New York?
Jagdhuber: With so many students milling about, the whole thing starts in complete chaos. But we coach our students very carefully for the event. In our preparatory course, we spend a great deal of time explaining how the UN is structured and the processes it follows. And each university team then represents a member State and must present and defend its diplomatic position in the General Assembly.
Alexander Hobe: The long rounds of negotiations then get underway: From 8 in the morning until 11 at night – every day, for five days – we participated in the discussions of the various UN committees, prepared reports and generally sought support for our position.
What is so exciting about this UN simulation?
Hobe: Quite apart from what one learns at UN Headquarters in New York, the preparatory course at LMU is fascinating in itself. Simply having an opportunity to explore a specific topic in all its complexity and having to consider all its ramifications is a very worthwhile experience. And one is part of a circle of people who themselves are fascinated by the issues and the challenges they present. This gives rise to a kind of team spirit, which I found very stimulating and interesting. One is motivated and works closely with others who have set themselves a specific goal: It’s just great fun. And the trip to New York is a terrific bonus.
This year, you undertook to represent Belarus at the Model United Nations. Was that an especially difficult task, arguing the case for ‘the last dictatorship in Europe’?
Hobe: I personally thought that having to present a position that is not exactly familiar or immediately appealing to one was a stimulating challenge. Playing the role of country like Belarus, which is on the ‘axis of evil’, is a more interesting task than explaining the German position on some issue or other. If one takes a position that is outside the mainstream, one has to adopt a more subtle approach to negotiations, and must be prepared to effectively counter the objections raised by the others.
Jagdhuber: Actually, we applied for the challenge of representing Belarus! We certainly do not want to force our students to see all aspects of Belarussian policies in a positive light, but they should be able to understand why Belarus acts as it does. Apart from that, each team gets to meet the UN representative of the country they play in the simulation. And playing somewhere like Cuba or Belarus poses a greater challenge.
What was the issue at stake this year?
Hobe: I worked on the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations, where the topic under discussion was Regional Arrangements in Africa – an issue that is on the agenda of the real UNO at the moment.
And what position did you take on the issue?
Hobe: It turned out to be very difficult to find one, because Belarus has never enunciated a clear stance on this subject. We chose to argue that every effort should be made to improve communications between the UN’s various peacekeeping agencies and the Organization of African Unity. For Belarus would never actually support more concrete measures in this context, because it regards all peacekeeping missions involving international troop contingents with a very critical eye.
Can the solutions that are adopted at the NMUN serve as models for the resolution of the real conflicts?
Jagdhuber: We were very surprised this year to see that a definition that had been proposed by our students had been picked up by a think-tank. Two delegates to the UN simulation came up with a definition for a type of weapons system that is a subject of public discussion at the moment. That a think-tank should adopt a definition worked out by our students is rather amazing.
Who is eligible to apply to take part in National Model United Nations?
Jagdhuber: Any student at LMU who has the necessary motivation and commitment can apply. Lots of students worry that their grasp of English might not be good enough – but normally that is not a problem. The important thing for us is that one has some prior knowledge of how the UN works and of how to argue a case effectively. Above all, we are interested in people who enjoy getting their teeth into a problem.
The examination for candidates who wish to participate in the next National Model United Nations takes place in Room M018 in LMU’s Main Building on June 25th. For further information, see: www.nmun-muenchen.de
Stefan Jagdhuber is a staff member of the Chair International Relations at the Geschwister Scholl Institute for Political Science.
Alexander Hobe is studying History and Political Science at LMU.