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Model UN: Building a Legacy for the Future of International Relations
September 2011

At 3 p.m. on September 13, 2011, the 66th regular session of the United Nations General Assembly will open. This body serves as the chief deliberative, policymaking, and representative organization of the United Nations, giving a voice to all of its 193 members. At the same time in classrooms around the world, academic simulations of the UN will give a voice to the leaders of tomorrow on the issues of today. This phenomenon is called Model United Nations (MUN), and aims to educate students about current events and international relations while giving them the ability and confidence to stand out and speak up on what they believe in.

In its beginning, Model UN participants were mostly students at select colleges in the United States. However, interest, participation in, and development of Model UN has grown functionally and expanded across the world. Today’s Model UN participants are of all ages, coming from public and private schools in cities, suburbs, and rural areas. According to the United Nations Association of the USA, more than 400,000 students participate in Model UN every year.

As participants in Model UN, delegates (as they are called in the MUN world) play the role of diplomats representing a nation or NGO in a simulated deliberative session. Delegates research the issues to be debated and the stance of their respective country, representative, or role. They then enter the fray of debate with the goal of developing solutions to world’s problems.

Traditionally, simulations are based on UN bodies, such as the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council and its specialized agencies. Additionally, intergovernmental organizations such as the Arab League and solely national organizations such as the United States National Security Council (NSC) are frequently simulated. The NSC in particular serves as an example of what is termed a crisis committee: delegates are forced to deal with issues as they are presented by a crisis staff, and individual delegates are typically allowed to take action on their own.

While Model UN brings the interests of students from the classroom to the conference room, it also helps them bridge the gap between the issues debated and the real world. This year, I have the honor to serve as the secretary-general of the 49th session of the North American Invitational Model United Nations (NAIMUN XLIX), the largest student-run Model UN conference in the world. Like many of its peer conferences, NAIMUN works to make the debate more real for delegates by augmenting the committee experience. At NAIMUN XLIX, this means extensive fundraising for an international charity; lectures by top academics and policymakers in committee; and Model UN training for an underprivileged Washington, DC, school by NAIMUN XLIX’s staff of Georgetown University students.

Model UN’s influence continues to expand, developing the students of today into the leaders of tomorrow. Through its simulation of debate and problem solving and required study of international relations, it has impacted the lives of participants and current leaders such as US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. It has inspired many students, including myself, toward deeper study of international relations and law and preparation for a career that promotes international understanding and common growth. As the nations of the world come together on September 13 for the 66th Session of the UN General Assembly, they should know that the youth of the world are watching. Through Model UN, these youth are building a legacy of international cooperation to last through the 76th, 86th, and 96th sessions, and beyond.

—Taylor Wettach
Summer 2011 Policy and Outreach Intern, The Stanley Foundation


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