Author: Maria Møller Stoffregen
Edited by: Andrea Teresa Coloma Ruiz
There is a society consisting of students, where practically no one shares the same educational background. Some are enrolled at law school, some study political science, some are learning in the field of humanities, and for some curious reason, some study economics. This group of diverse students join together in the Danish Model United Nations Society, because of their mutual affection and intense interest for international relations.
This creates a forum where everyone is up to date on what’s happening in Ukraine, why students are protesting in Venezuela, and they definitely all know where Obama’s headed for his next trip of business. It creates a forum for discussions of current events and ideologies in an international perspective, where ideas about the world is shared and challenged. But, we don’t just sit around and converse.
This society’s main purpose is to simulate various United Nations Committees, where students will research and enact different political positions based on the countries or head of states that they have come to represent. Depending on the scale of the simulation, participants must consider political topics and research questions, positioning, flow of debate, rules of procedure, caucusing, resolution writing and even formal attire. If you are imagining this scholarly exercise right now, think more eccentrically, because the debate will always emphasizes the difference in political points of views, and it is in fact quite funny when China puts forward a point of motion, to in fact buy the Crimea territory as a resolution to the Ukraine/Russia crisis. And it is even more hilarious, when as a result, Putin howls in protest. This is how the MUN works, fuelled by our interest for international politics, we take a crisis and we imaginatively solve it, which can be quite challenging and rewarding. That is why when the opportunity to go to Harvard World Model United Nations presented itself, eight of us jumped at the opening and one of us got us all registered.
Since 1991 Harvard University has organized an annual conference hosted in various locations around the world. The first WorldMUN was held in Miedzyzdroje, Poland, just after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and we were set, by DanMUN, to attend the 23rd conference placed in Bruxelles, Belgium. Harvard WorldMUN takes pride in connecting students across borders and cultures and creating a space for discussion on international issues, developing of networks and molding of future leaders. But the weeks leading up to the conference were for my part spent being confused.
I knew that Harvard expected a certain level of preparation, but I was confused as to how exactly you prepare representing St. Lucia, the small Caribbean island I was assigned. The broadness of having to research Santa Lucia’s history, politics, government, culture and national interests just seemed impossible. How to read up on a country? I didn’t. Instead, I researched the topics that were up for discussion in the committee I had been placed in, the General Assembly (GA) of the United Nations. This is the one of the main organs of the UN, where all 193 member states of the UN are represented. Through debate, discussion and diplomacy the GA creates policies, and the topics on our GA’s agenda were the use of drones and urban violence.
As a result of me and my co-delegates research of these topics, it became clear that St. Lucia had very little to contribute to the discussion of urban violence, and even less to the discussion of drones. St. Lucia does not have cities large enough to be significantly affected by the threat of urban violence, especially when compared to the violence in Latin American cities such as Rio de Janeiro or Mexico City. And St. Lucia is not particularly affected by the use of drones either, not the armed ones at least, and we would therefore not be particularly crucial to the debate of either topic in the GA. Nevertheless, we conducted a strategy plan: if the topic of urban violence was chosen, agree with the U.S. that is a national problem, yet suggest international assistance to those countries without the resources to fight it. If the discussion fell on drones, just agree with the U.S. in general.
The conference was opened in a pompously manner, with speakers like the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, and a United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, who I believe made everyone believe they could actually perfect the world, or at least make it a little better. This is what we were promised with the MUN experience; skills in conflict resolution, negotiation, diplomacy, and dealing with global challenges in a peaceful manner. I for one believed my participation would help resolve these very real and important issues in a very fake simulation. It made me feel extremely content in being in that place at that time, and I was intoxicated with excitement about making this fake difference.
As the actual debate began, it didn’t take long before that excitement wore into frustration. With 193 countries, it’s hard for everyone to get a say. With 193 countries, it’s hard for everyone to get everyone to agree with what they’re saying. I think it’s a beautiful thought, that a hundred and ninety-three countries can meet on this platform of peace and debate and negotiate their politics back and forth, yet it scares me, because policy-making comes down to the guy who yells the loudest. Whether drones should be banned, regulated or permitted when used without a declaration of war, was in some sense, up to us to decide. And just as the Declaration of Human Rights did not fall from the sky, it is up to us as humans to determine what laws should constitute. Of the little knowledge I have on law, I quote Bourdieu who in turn quotes Weber: “a juridical or customary rule is never more than a secondary principle of the determination of practices”.
It became clear that the GA formed a social structure, wherein the positions of the different countries, St. Lucia as well, represented the very narrow-mindedness of their national interests. There was no common goal, no universal principle guiding us all in the same direction, and this is where diplomacy and negotiations became dangerous almost weapon-like skills, as a battle on an uncontroversial battlefield. Were you skilled, you could convince a country to support your goals and resolutions. Were you skilled, you were powerful. Yet this playing field was never equal. Were you a small Caribbean island, the structure of practice and representation was on your side, but the actual power was collectively distributed to those with wider reach. I cannot imagine an alternative to the GA and the beautiful thought of a platform where 193 countries meet, but I can tell you through my observations, that the 193 countries are not represented equally. And this is a problem, in wanting to make a difference, because the policies are not determined by those with righteousness and moral ethics (or whatever) on their side. It falls upon those who are most skilled in diplomacy. As it is commonly known, “the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
I went to Harvard WorldMUN, and even though we made no difference, it was an immense educational experience in what I still need to learn.