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What is Model United Nations?

Public Speaking at MKCMUN

 Model United Nations (MUN) are simulations of the real United Nations in which student delegates assume the roles of diplomats of the countries they represent in attempting to reach solutions to the major problems facing the world today.

Model United Nations, also known as Model UN or MUN, is an extra-curricular activity in which students typically role-play delegates to the United Nations and simulate UN committees. At the end of most conferences, outstanding delegates in each committee are recognized and given an award certificate. Thousands of college students across the country and around the world participate in Model United Nations, which involves substantial researching, public speaking, debating, and writing skills, as well as critical thinking, teamwork, and leadership abilities.

Model United Nations is an authentic simulation of the U.N. General Assembly, U.N. Security Council, or other multilateral body, which catapults students into the world of diplomacy and negotiation. In Model U.N., students step into the shoes of ambassadors of U.N. member states, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe to debate current issues on the Organization’s vast agenda. The students, better known as “delegates” in Model U.N., prepare draft resolutions, plot strategy, negotiate with supporters and adversaries, resolve conflicts, and navigate the U.N.’s rules of procedure-all in the interest of mobilizing “international cooperation” to resolve problems that affect almost every country on Earth.

Model U.N.ers learn how the international community acts on its concerns about

  peace and security
  human rights
  the environment
  food and hunger
  economic development
  and more.


For over 50 years now, teachers and students have benefited from and enjoyed this interactive learning experience that not only involves young people in the study and discussion of global issues but also encourages the development of skills useful throughout their lives:

  · Research
  · Writing
  · Public speaking
  · Problem solving
  · Consensus building
  · Conflict resolution
  · Compromise and cooperation.

The popularity of Model has contributed to the rapid growth of this activity over several decades, and today upwards of 200,000 high school and college/university students participate in a Model U.N. each year. Some are classroom exercises, others school-wide, and still others regional, national, or international. Those in the last group are called “conferences” because of their larger sizes bringing participants from all over. Many conference participants are “repeaters,” since the spirit and substance of these simulations create an appetite for this activity more commonly known as “MUN Fever”. Those with MUN Fever may continue on as adults to seek out “intergenerational” simulations.

In fact, quite a few of today’s leaders in law, government, business, and the arts participated in Model U.N. during their academic career-from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and World Court Justice Stephen M. Schwebel to actor Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, A Time to Kill). And yes, Chelsea Clinton is a Model U.N. veteran as well.

History of Model UN

The Model UN started as the Model League of Nations Assembly. In 1947 the Model League of Nations Assembly made the transition the League of Nations had made in 1945 and became the Model United Nations Assembly. The Model UN program, like its forerunner, has traditionally been a student-driven organization. The program has been and remains a collection of independent conferences. In the 1980’s an important organizing force, the United Nations Association of the USA, (UNA-USA) recognized the momentum of the Model UN programs and founded its Model UN and Youth Department to coordinate and track the development of the Model UN on a global level. (Muldoon, 1995)


The purpose of the Model UN is to provide an interactive educational experience that teaches in an interesting and enjoyable way about the United Nations. The process affords participants an understanding of how the process of international debate and negotiation that we commonly call diplomacy functions. The simulation of the diplomatic processes are especially important in this post-Cold War period when the world is quickly becoming more interdependent. In this interdependent world, Model UN makes for informed global citizens who not only understand the decisions their nation makes but also how those changes effect politics nationally, regionally, and globally.


Part II: The Value of Simulating the UN

Determining the Value of the United Nations

The value of Model United Nations – simulating the United Nations – must certainly be determined in great part by the value of the United Nations itself. The United Nations’ value as an international organization is evaluated by many people toward a number of different ends. Academics attempt to apply political science models to its workings to define it and it’s impact on member states. Politicians confer differing value upon it dependant on the day and issue being discussed. Despite these differing evaluations, the true worth of the United Nations can be determined by simply analyzing the continuing existence of the United Nations as an important world body.

The Dedication of the World Community

The United Nations has the dedication of its member states. This dedication is due to recognition by member states that the role of the UN is “to provide governments with the ability to do together what they cannot achieve separately.” (Carlsson, p.2) Member states realize that the expanding problems of a planet know no national boundaries and understand that poverty, disease and pollution are a few of the plagues affecting citizens of all states. Some policies (official or non-official) of member states do not agree with the stated community goals of the UN. However, all members choose to remain members of the UN despite their differences – demonstrating the importance nations place on the institution. Theories on why states participate are gaining a new focus on the emerging global community and placing less emphasis on the state.

The Valuable Work of the United Nations

Unrealistic expectations are sometimes set for the UN by those outside the organization, while the reality of the excellent work performed by the world body goes unnoticed. As Richard Falk notes, “the U.N. is a complex actor with multiple roles that have growing importance in many domains of international life … despite this diversity, the overriding test of U.N. success or failure focuses on its handling of peace and security challenges.” (p. 626) Peace and security is an important part of what we can expect the UN to do but, misinformation or lack of information should not be a reason for ignoring the other valuable work that occupies the majority of the UN’s time.

Peacekeeping and Enforcement

Peacekeeping is just one part of the complex process of conflict resolution. With the super power conflict concluded, the face of UN peace keeping is changing as the world looks to the UN to intervene in greater numbers of more complex conflicts. The end of this period of East-West hostilities has dramatically changed the security landscape of the world, removing “the lid and permitting the explosion of violence and civil wars.” (Weiss,, p. 83) To deal with these new crises, the Security Council is moving away from its traditional role in conflicts between states, and moving into disputes which would previously have been classified as purely internal problems.

Although some recent peace keeping missions have been less than successful, the UN’s record throughout the years has been exemplary in keeping the peace between warring parties who have attained a cease fire, but are still in conflict. Situations around the world, including Cyprus and the Middle East are testament to this, as well as the UN’s role in making peace in the Korean and Iraq/Kuwait conflicts. Finally, many Cold War battles were fought at the UN, instead of on a battlefield. The UN’s role in preventing any world-wide conflict since World War II cannot be overlooked.

Peacekeeping was not originally intended to be a duty of the United Nations. It is not mentioned in the Charter of the organization and today is deployed and mandated entirely by the Security Council. It is however, based on fundamental principles of the UN Charter such as consent by all parties to the conflict, the neutrality of peacekeeping troops, and the use of force only in self-defense or to protect the mandate of the operation. (Boutros-Ghali, p. 404) The security council has recently extended the bounds of peacekeeping missions to include peace enforcement. Peace enforcement is used when peaceful means fail and the international peace and security is threatened as determined by the Security Council. Peace enforcement includes whatever measures the Security Council deems necessary to control the conflict and prevent escalation into the international arena.

Humanitarian Aid and Development

United Nations agencies have helped ease hunger and starvation in many parts of the world. The UN is the major provider and coordinator of humanitarian aid in the world. Between the estimated 23 million displaced persons forced to leave their own countries and the additional estimated 19 million refugees fleeing over international borders, the UN has responsibilities to over 40 million people whose lives are disrupted by war, repression and natural disaster. (Boutros-Ghali, p. 404)

Development relates to the UN mission in more than a simply humanitarian way. Development relates to all members of the global community, rich or poor, because it is undeniably tied to international peace and security. Without development on the widest scale, including not only resources but also social, educational and environmental development, “the young will be restless, resentful, and unproductive. People will understandably fight for resources, and creativity will be misdirected.” (Boutros-Ghali, p. 405)

Human Rights

The UN has been a constant proponent of human rights, convincing governments to recognize the rights of their citizens and establishing international awareness of the worst human rights violations. The UN Charter, signed in 1945, opened a new era of human rights awareness. It opened internal human rights issues to the scrutiny of the international eye. “In seven different references to human rights the Charter declares the promotion of human rights to be one of the basic purposes of the United Nations and specifies the responsibilities of major organs for implementing this goal.” (Bennett, p. 372) To this end, the UN General Assembly passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

The United Nations is a valuable organization as it brings together diverse members of an increasingly interdependent world to make collective decisions for the betterment of all. The worth of the United Nations can also be determined by merely analyzing the continuing existence of the United Nations as a world body. The United Nations has the dedication of its member states, this dedication is due to recognition by member states that the role of the UN is to provide a forum for negotiation among inter-dependent states. Member states realize that the expanding problems of a planet know no national boundaries and choose to utilize the UN to discuss them and attempt to regulate and even solve them. They further recognize the UN as a unique environment where problems can be discussed and the world’s best minds meet. It is evident that the UN will grow in the post-Cold War years as its member’s demands upon it grow. The mere fact that it exists and will continue to exist shows that the United Nations is a valuable resource for the world.

Unrealistic expectations are set for the UN by those outside the organization, while the reality of the excellent work performed by the world body goes unnoticed. Those unrealistic expectations are where Model United Nations programs come in. As a simulation of the United Nations and as a forum for discussion of world issues, students gain a unique knowledge of how the international system works. Model United Nations programs have the special, unique capability to educate tomorrow’s world leaders and world citizens.


Part III: The Model UN Experience

Experiential Learning

“Student receptivity and the demonstrated pedagogical value of experiential learning or ‘learning-by-doing,’ has resulted in the growing use of simulations and games in the field of international relations.” (Hazletin and Mahurin, p. 149)

In this “learning-by-doing” approach students can, through the Model UN program, be involved in the vital decisions made in the international affairs arena by diplomats and world-leaders daily. This first hand involvement leads to a deeper understanding of world issues and the context these issues are negotiated and resolved within.

Cooperative Learning

Research concludes that the Model UN environment, as a cooperative learning center, is a valuable education tool. Cooperative learning promotes higher achievement, greater motivation, more positive interpersonal relations among students, more positive attitudes toward the subject area and teacher, greater self esteem and psychological health, more accurate perspectives, and greater social skills. (Johnson and Johnson, 1988)

In simulating the actual workings of the UN, the Model UN provides an essential feature of the cooperative learning environment. In preparing to go to a Model UN, each student becomes an “expert” in one aspect of an issue or policy for their delegation. At conference all the “experts” from different delegations gather in a subcommittee to discuss their issue. The “experts” then return to their delegation in a plenary session and teach the others what they have learned. This feature is part of the cooperative learning environment where students working together to accomplish shared goals are given two responsibilities: to learn the assigned materials and make sure that all other members of the group do likewise. (Johnson and Johnson, 1988)

Multicultural Education

In 1983 Montgomery and Diehl wrote, “Based in UN policy-making bodies and issues, these games can help students break out of their own prejudices and appreciate the frustration felt by members who perceive developed nations as controlling economic growth and arresting change.” A decade later, multicultural requirements were in the process of being installed in most universities. Model UN fulfills the objectives of multicultural education as stated by James Banks, “the major theorists and researchers in multicultural education agree that the movement is designed to restructure educational institutions so that all students, including middle-class white males, will acquire the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to function effectively in a culturally and ethnically diverse nation and world.” (1993)

Future – Focused Skills

Through this hands-on approach the more than 100,000 students who participate in Model UN throughout each year gain a global perspective on world problems, leadership, speaking, writing and teamwork skills they can apply to their future lives. The nature of this active involvement in learning allows students to witness the consequences of their decisions and actions.

Beyond the verbal and writing skills students gain, Model UN can contribute to the mental development of students. They can expand both cognitive ability and subject matter tolerance. In practical terms, self-confidence of students in having participated in a large group and awareness of political issues will certainly increase.

Who Benefits?

Model UN offers opportunities for anyone who wants to learn about the processes of international diplomacy. Each country represented at a conference needs a diverse delegation to be successful. To succeed the delegation will need to have followers as well as leaders, researchers to determine a national policy, writers to convey the country’s position and speakers to present and support that position to the body.

The teamwork needed to prepare a good delegation is excellent experience for students who work mostly on papers and tests in college but are expected to function as team members in a work force. This is one aspect of Model UN that is valuable to business school students. The communication and negotiation aspects of Model UN should also be considered by some non-traditional majors as justification for attending a Model UN.

Model UN is not a program just for International Affairs or Political Science students. The broad nature of the skills learned cut across nearly all majors and it is valuable for any major if the student has an interest in the functions of international negotiation and policy-making. Former Secretary-General Daj Hammarskjold stated: “everything will be all right when people stop thinking of the United Nations as a weird Picasso abstraction and see it as a drawing they made themselves.” (Childers, p. 8) A first step in the process of understanding that will lead to a clearer understanding of the UN is education.

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