Fifteen delegates sit around a U-shaped arrangement of tables, bickering over the finer points of two competing resolutions: U.N. Security Council Resolution 3.3 and U.N. Security Council 4.2. The first, led by P5 members Russia and China, has collected signatures from a strong bloc of South American countries. 3.3 asserts that diplomacy is the only solution forward when looking at the civil war in Yemen. 4.2, however, reaffirms the legality and morality of the Saudi Arabian coalition forces. The United States’ delegate, Mr. Hirst, abruptly interrupts the unmoderated caucus to restart the debate over humanitarian aid. It’s 1:45 AM and the pivotal committee has yet to find a solution to the emerging crisis.
Voting has come down to a specific preambulatory clause: “Reaffirming the legitimacy of the Hadi government in Yemen.” Having spent the wee hours of the morning hammering out a substantive compromise on issues like refugee corridors, peace talks, and humanitarian aid, neither bloc was willing to give in on this particular pre-am which, in essence, defined the intention behind the resolution. Frustration was palpable: neckties were undone and heels laid in a pile at the door. UNSC released a press report, vague to the point of absurdity, and ultimately passed a watered-down resolution that took the least contentious points from both 3.3 and 4.2.
This didn’t happen at the sparkling UN Headquarters in New York City, but in a Vancouver Marriott trying to impersonate the Fairmont around the corner. And no, Blake Hirst isn’t the United States’ UN ambassador (that’s Samantha Power); he’s a high school student from Northern Oregon. For the past two days, I’ve represented Vitaly Ivanovich Churkin, the Russian UN ambassador. In doing so, I entered the world of Model UN, a world where high school students dress in business attire and get emotionally attached to countries’ positions — even if it’s Togo.
Surreal is how I would describe most MUN interactions. Why is it that high schoolers get so invested in a country? Some people even take it to the extreme, memorizing quotes from famous leaders and adopting teeth-grindingly bad accents. Students occasionally bring their own mini flags to plant in front of themselves, claiming the table as land for the great Republic of Angola. Committee session, though, is where things get exceedingly strange.
During “Midnight Crisis,” delegates are roused from their hotel rooms, told to put on suits, and rushed into emergency session to address a fictional world crisis. The four elevators in a hotel can never handle the thousand delegates trying to move down to the first floor, so a steady stream tramps down the stairs, some all the way from the 28th floor. The only reason people put up with this cruel form of academic torture is the possibility of winning. Not an argument, that is, but an award. “Best Delegate” is the ultimate goal. The Engraved Gavel is all that is MUN: prestige, pretentiousness, and an out-of-place connotation of violence. It’s what Mr. Hirst and I fought over.
MUN has taught me a lot, but maybe nothing more than the value of incentives. Delegates will go to any length for the possibility of winning the Engraved Gavel. Stories circulate every conference about plagiarism, underhand bullying, and even thefts of working papers to hold up resolutions. I’ve even had a rival delegate delete my Google Doc only to use language stolen from my resolution in their own, lesser version.
In Vancouver, I tried to play the intellectual-but-aloof delegate, authoring resolutions but looking down on Hirst’s emotional outbursts. This kind of delegate works to build a bloc of countries who don’t really care about the conference and are willing to vote for whatever you want. Hirst, on the other hand, took the stereotypical “power delegate” position. He adopted a belligerent persona that readily provided opportunities to highlight speaking ability while also actively and shamelessly seeking “Best Delegate.”
I would argue, in equally fiery language, that I was a better delegate, representing Russia’s interests while compromising to get things done. I firmly believe that the chairs were biased against me, based on a geopolitical difference stemming from Canada’s oil competing with Russia’s natural gas. Again, I affirm that as a delegate I more accurately represented my country’s interests and more successfully carried them out. But alas, all I won was “Best Position Paper,” the condolence award.