If you are preparing to participate in any MUN conference now, doing proper research will be inevitable. While as a student, research may be an activity that is already familiar to most, if not all, of you, doing research for a MUN conference takes another level of depth, especially considering that you are going to act and present in the manner of a different country or delegation, getting acquainted, understanding, and being able to work with your entire committee, and to be able to find the best solutions to the issues at hand, none of which can be achieve unless you have done your own homework: proper research.
Researching the United Nations
It is impossible for you to join any MUN without properly understanding the very organization that started it all, that is the UN. Therefore, understanding the UN is not only encouraged, it is obligatory. Even if you will be severely made busy with the problems at hand and the politics of the committee rather than be bothered with ‘what is UN’ during the conference, I believe that understanding the UN will be very helpful, especially when you are trying to link what the UN has done in the past, and what can the UN do today and in the future.
As a start, chapter two of this module is a foundation for you to research more about the UN and its various bodies. For you web-surfers, visiting the UN’s website is of course a no-brainer—inevitably, it is now the main source of knowledge about the organization. A related website that I often find useful is the United Nations Yearbook, a publication issued annually by the UN, containing details of proceedings of every single meeting in the UN, its various resolutions, and often, even letters from various delegations addressed to organs of the UN.
In addition, the UN has published an official publication that elaborates in a concise but quite detailed manner all things UN, that is the Basic Facts about the United Nations (ISBN: 9789211012798), published in English. This book has a lot of facts about the UN, from its history, information about its various organs and bodies, some of the most important issues dealt by the UN, and other valuable information.
I also suggest you to visit a local UN representative office if possible. If you are in New York, it is taboo for you to miss a ‘mandatory’ visit to the UN headquarters. In your own country, the UN often has a representative office, an information center (called the United Nations Information Centre or UNIC), or even offices of some UN bodies (such as representatives of UNDP, or the headquarters of the UNESCAP if you are in Bangkok, Thailand). The UNIC offices, in particular, often offer help and assistance to students who want to participate in MUN, and they will be very glad to do so!
And no research about the UN will be complete without reading the mandatory readings, the main documents of the UN, that will explain to you the basic philosophy, values, purposes, and principles, held high by the UN in its every single work. The first is the United Nations Charter, a copy of which can be found at the end of this book. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and the Statute of the International Court of Justice (ICJ Statute) will complete the trifecta of mandatory documents.
Researching Your Committee
What should you find out about your committee?
- Procedures. Does the committee have a specific procedure that is specific to that particular committee? For instance, in the Security Council committee, a crisis is very typical—the chair halts the proceedings to tell the committee that there has been some development pertaining to the case (war breaks out, leaders assassinated, etc.). Or if you sit in the European Parliament, which uses a special voting procedure called the qualified majority voting (QMV, read the chapter on rules of procedure to find out).
- Membership. Does your committee’s membership belong to states? As you can see from the above table, some committees’ membership includes individuals, or even celebrities! It will certainly change the way you work in the committee.
- Authorities. What can your committee do when facing various situations? Does the committee possess the authority to deal with issues of international peace and security (e.g. the UNGA has no authority on that particular issue, the UNSC has that authority)?
- Source of funds. I should probably stress this one, since many draft resolutions will talk about doing things, but the issue of funding is seldom touched. How is the committee funded? Where does the budget come from? When you suggest to establish something or to do something in your draft resolution, set your budget correctly—check with the actual source of funds for that organization.
- Fields. What is the working scope of that committee? What issues are typically discussed by that committee? For instance, the Disarmament and International Security Committee, as the name suggests, has different scope of work compared to the Social, Cultural, and Humanitarian Committee.
- Chain of responsibility. Does your committee have any chain of responsibility? If yes, to whom? Most institutions within the UN system has a certain degree of chain of responsibility, mostly to the UNGA.
A good place to start researching about your committee is to read, if any, the founding document(s) of that organization. If your committee exists within the UN system, then the founding document is the UN Charter. Other organizations have their own founding documents. For instance, the IMF and World Bank Group use the Bretton Woods Agreement as the founding document. The European Union has a number of them, including the Maastricht Treaty (1992) and the currently in force Treaty of the European Union (TEU). ASEAN has two of them, the Bangkok Declaration (1967) and the new ASEAN Charter (2007).
Reading the founding document(s) will help you, since through it you can identify, sometimes in great detail, the way the organization works, the nature of the organization, the main values, purposes, and principles of the organization, the chain of responsibility, the source of funds, and more importantly, the scope and typical issues discussed by the organization. You can only participate well in a committee depending on your understanding about the committee, and you can only make a good draft resolution later on when you understand what to propose or not, in accordance to the nature of the organization.
Also, I cannot stress more that you have to at least try to visit the organization’s official website. I will list some organizations’ websites at the appendix of this module.
Researching Your Delegation
The next crucial step is you research for your delegation. I should have said “research for your country”, yet since some committees are not composed of countries, perhaps saying “research for your delegation” is slightly more embracing. However, I will dominate this discussion by explaining how you can research about your country, before everything else.
Since you are representing a certain delegation, be it a country, an organization, or even an individual, you are demanded to understand all the details, down to the smallest niches, about that country (or organization, or individual). Remember that you are acting as if you are someone from that country (or organization, or individual). Perhaps more accurately, not only you have to be as if, but you have to be someone from that country (or organization, or individual).
For a country, you may start from gathering some of the basic information regarding that country. What I always find to be a good starting point is to visit the CIA World Factbook, perhaps the most prominent source of data of (almost) all independent states of the world. Looking for geographical data, demographic statistics, economy, and government? Start from that reference.
So, what information should you find out? Take a look at the following list.
- General information, including the official name, capital city, continent and region, official language, demonym, racial groups, religion, national currency, and other data in the overview level;
- Domestic politics, including the state ideology, form of government (republic, monarchy; presidential, parliamentary), heads of state and government (president, prime minister, king/queen, emperor/sultan), the legislative, executive, and judiciary arms of the government, political history (e.g. colonialism), relations between religion and state (otherwise known as the ‘church-and-state-relations’), and level of freedom in the country;
- Foreign policy, which includes the country’s position (and interest) related to a specific issue, foundation of policy, participation in regional and international organizations, participation in various treaties, participation in, specifically, the UN, allies and oppositions of that country in international relations, and conflicts between that country and others;
- Defense and security, including the foundation of its security policy, annual defense budget, number of active military personnel in each branch (army, navy, and air force), arsenal, modernization of arsenal, and participation of the military in the UN’s various peacekeeping missions;
- Socio-economic conditions, including the country’s classification (developed, developing, least-developed), gross domestic product (including per capita), main sources of income and expenditure, natural resources, foreign debt, main export/import commodities, main trade partners, and participation in various economic cooperation organizations or blocs;
- Other information, such as the country’s Human Development Index (HDI), Gini coefficient, life expectancy rate, production and use of energy and mineral resources, Corruption Perception Index, and transnational issues.
In addition, here are some of my most favorite references—that I recommend to you as well.
- Chiefs of State and Cabinet Members of Foreign Governments. Another reference by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Chiefs of State contains a complete list of heads of state, government, and important public officials and ministers of practically every country on earth. It is a great reference if you want to see the governmental structure of a particular country.
- The World Bank Data. A website published by the World Bank Group, publishing various essential data of countries around the world, such as population, economic data, and even health and labor. Most of the data can also be traced in retrospect, meaning that you can see the progress of a particular set of data over time.
- The Military Balance. A publication by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) since the 1960s, it is practically the one-stop source of information about the military power of a country. Contained within the reference, among many, is every country’s military budget, the number of active military personnel, even down to the details of every country’s arsenals. In addition, newer editions of Military Balance also discuss global military power distribution and regional prowess.
- Official website of the foreign affairs ministry. Every country in the world has a foreign ministry, and each and every one of them usually has an official website. It can be a very useful source for you. Some even issue foreign policy white papers, elaborating a country’s foreign policy strategy for a certain period of time.
Aside from countries, it is also possible that you will be representing organizations, or even individuals. When you are researching for organizations, for instance the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), or even NGOs such as Transparency International, try to visit their official websites and seek if they have any founding document (statute, charter). You can try to find the following information:
- Organization type. Is it a national organization, regional organization, or international organization? It is intergovernmental, or non-governmental?
- Field. What does the organization work on? Specific issues such as environment or human rights? Or even generalist like ASEAN or the European Union?
- Participation. Who are the members of that organization? States, individuals, or perhaps other organizations?
- Budget. Where does the organization get its budget? What are the main sources of fund and expenditures of that organization?
The final part of your research puzzle is to discover the issue or agenda that you will be debating during the conference. Remember that you have to research for all the agenda available for your committee: If your committee offers two agenda, then you will be researching for both agenda.
The first tool for researching is of course your study guide or background guide, provided by your committee a few weeks prior to the start of the conference. It is a booklet, 20- to 30-page thick, containing some of the most basic information about all agenda of the committee. It will help you in understanding the history, root causes, and past actions over that issue, typically to help you to find out for yourself by researching in other references.
Often, a study guide will contain also ‘suggestion for further reading’ section, to help you in finding the necessary resources. Since we are living in the internet age now, often this ‘further reading’ materials reside on the internet, making it easier for you to find them.
This article is a snippet of my intensive Model United Nations training program, “An Introduction to Model United Nations”, programmed mainly for beginners or new-comers to the world of Model United Nations. For more, visit my business page.