By Jackson Malmgren
Jackson is a Summer 2018 Program Assistant for the UNA-NCA Global Classrooms DC program. He is an undergraduate at American University majoring in international relations, and will focus on foreign policy. He brings with him five years of Model UN experience.
Model UN, much like the real United Nations, revolves around diplomacy. Diplomacy encompasses so many life skills, including creative thinking, problem solving, and negotiation, that cannot simply be taught in school. In elementary school, teachers encourage creativity and want students to ask why, but as kids get older, the curiosity fades. Model UN teaches kids to ask questions again. When representing a country, it’s not enough to say “we support refugees” or “we oppose nuclear weapons,” you have to ask why your country believes this. Trying to answer one question leads to more questions, more information about the topic, and a greater understanding of the country, its opinions, and the issue itself.
I had a tough time getting used to this, I liked facts to be plain and simple and tell me exactly what I needed. During my first conference in my sophomore year of high school, I represented New Zealand on the United Nations Environmental Programme on the topic of deforestation in the Amazon. It is very difficult to find information on a topic that is half a world away, and I realized that I have to ask a lot of questions before I can truly understand an opinion.
Each Model UN committee focuses on a general problem and gives delegates free reign to explore solutions. From combating money laundering in Europe to arms trafficking in Central America, Model UN encourages delegates to break down massive issues into dozens of smaller, solvable problems. Slowly, one by one, delegates discuss with each other potential solutions for each of the small problems. After analyzing all sides, groups begin to put pen to paper and craft elaborate, creative solutions to all aspects of a central issue. There are always going to be problems in life; Model UN gives people the skills to solve them.
Two years later, I represented Ukraine on the Security Council. This placed me at a huge disadvantage, as this was at the height of the Russian intervention in Ukraine. Facing an adversary with a veto power, I focused on solutions that many other members were sympathetic to and would put Russia on the defensive end if they chose to move forward with plans of their own. A lot of analysis went into these solutions, we chose to host Syrian peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan because of similar cultural values, precedent, and neutrality.
However, not everyone is going to agree on solutions to problems, or even that there is a problem at all. At this point, delegates negotiate with the goal of finding a solution acceptable by all sides. Sometimes these negotiations are successful, other times it simply does not work out and a new group emerges. In some cases, there is a limit to how many written resolutions there can be, and you negotiate with the other side usually late into the night, line by line, to weave together a cohesive resolution.
In order to try out for my college’s Model UN team, I needed to participate in a practice simulation. I was given Japan in a General Assembly focusing on the North Korean nuclear crisis. While a great position, it meant that I would likely be following in the footsteps of other larger countries, something that I resolved not to do. While I stuck with my traditional allies, the US and South Korea, I talked with several southeast Asian countries and recruited a few to join our bloc. Because I was the one making connections with them, they wound up backing many of my ideas. This elevated me to a position where I could negotiate as a major player with the other big countries.
Diplomacy is not about beating the other side, but painting an accurate picture of your country’s hopes, dreams, fears, ambitions, goals, culture, and overarching beliefs. Diplomacy is working with people representing literally every part of the world to find a solution to a problem that seems impossible. But like Nelson Mandela said, “it always seems impossible until it is done.”
While I’m proud of my Model UN work, I’m even more thankful that it translated over into other aspects of my life. Model UN has given me newfound respect when I travel abroad and has undoubtedly propelled me forward in my international relations major. Model UN has helped me connect with new friends and solve issues quickly.
There are other aspects about Model UN that are important; knowing how to speak on your feet, conduct extensive research, and defend your ideas are all worthwhile skills to learn for anyone in any field. However, in the end, the various diplomatic skills I have developed through Model UN are some of the most versatile and useful abilities I have. I would not be the person I am today without the Model UN experiences that have shaped me.