In the defence of fictional diplomacy

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Every time I mention Model United Nations (MUN), most of my friends end up rolling their eyes and scramble to change the topic. It’s fair enough. I understand why people may have an adverse reaction to the practice of what I refer to as ‘fictional diplomacy’, but I feel like most people are forming an opinion without undergoing a proper MUN experience.

The gist of a MUN conference is that participants, who are referred to as delegates, represent a particular country on a specific international committee of sorts, and discuss a particular topic. For example, one could represent the Kingdom of Jordan on the Disarmament and International Security Committee, discussing the issue of weapons trading within the Levant. Through extensive debate, negotiation and compromise, committees aim to produce a draft resolution addressing the issue assigned. At the conclusion of the conference, the committee then votes whether to pass or block the proposed resolution.

The purpose of MUN is to create an environment where more than just influential public speaking is required, and strong policy drafting and negotiation skills are also tested. It’s easy to classify MUN as a deformed style of debating, yet the goal is not to solely argue a particular point of view, but find a middle ground where most of your colleagues are willing to support you. I have witnessed strong orators beautifully defend their views, but completely fail at negotiating a policy supported by a majority. Not all the action occurs in the verbal sparring, but also in the construction of particular clauses and compromises. Therefore, individuals wishing to participate do not need to be the next interhall public speaking champion, or LSS negotiations winner. Rather, they need to be someone willing to develop well-rounded skills that incorporate what it means to act in a diplomatic fashion.

What is more important, is the friendships one forms whilst at a MUN conference. After three or more days of engaging debate, you’re inevitably bound to bond with those you’ve been opposing or supporting. To make this process even easier, the addition of committee dinners, social events and MUN’s own social media world, provide a scene where delegates can choose what they want to get out of their experience. Most MUN conferences in Australia are attended by students from universities across Australia. As a result, many attendees form friendships with people from nearly every major city, and the frequency of these conferences allows everyone to rekindle their friendships on a constant basis. Plus, people save thousands of dollars in accommodation when travelling inter-state.

So while you may be only pretending to solve the world’s problems, or some individuals may not actually represent a country entirely accurately, MUN conferences are a unique experience that allows participants to explore and expand their diplomatic skills. The opportunity to connect with people across the country, as well as test your speaking and negotiation capabilities, is what MUN can definitely offer to any engaged individual. So before you roll your eyes next time someone mentions MUN, why don’t you find out what you’re missing out on and attend one?

Keny Arcangeli is a member of the National Capital Model United Nations Conference Secretariat, being hosted at the ANU from September 30th to October 2nd 2016.