Although Model United Nations (MUN) is often claimed to be an accurate portrayal of the United Nations, in many ways this is not true. MUN does maintain the core values – those being, amongst others, diplomacy and cooperation – but the road from conference planning to the committee work and adoption of resolutions is different from its real-life counterpart – sometimes unrecognisable. At USMUN 2016, we aim to portray the United Nations in a more realistic way than ordinary MUN conferences (WIMUN, organised by WFUNA, is a noteworthy exception), and although complete simulation is impossible on our side due to certain limitations, this page will hopefully inform you about some of the key differences between the United Nations, Model United Nations and our very own Sussex conference. Please be aware, though, that there are also other differences between MUN and the United Nations, and that this list focuses mostly on the more noteworthy differences that the participants will notice.
This page will go through the differences thematically, with the following structure:
- Leadership Structure
- Opening of the General Assembly/Conference
- UN Documents
- Right to Reply
- Expert briefings
- Programme Budget Implications
- The Action Phase
- Closing of the General Assembly/Conference
One of the key differences between the United Nations and Model United Nations, is that the MUN conferences often are based on parliamentary procedures – more specifically on a book called Robert’s Rules of Order originally published in 1876 (though revised eleven times since, latest in 2011). However, the United Nations is not a parliament, nor does it follow parliamentary procedures. As such, different terminologies have been employed – and although some seemingly overlap, they sometimes have different meanings.
In the United Nations, the dais (i.e. the chairing team) is known as the Committee Bureau.
A draft resolution is referred to as a proposal when mentioned in debate (though the formal document does say draft resolution, and calling it as such is not, strictly speaking, wrong).
When tabling a resolution in MUN, you remove a proposal from discussion permanently; in the United Nations, tabling a resolution means to introduce it – to put it on the table for discussion.
In MUN, you have friendly and unfriendly amendments. In the United Nations, you have revisions and amendments. Revisions of a draft proposal are by its sponsor(s), are given to the correct authorities before tabling the amendment, and require no consensus in the committee before being adopted as is. Amendments are modifications to the proposal done after the tabling of the amendment, and require support in the committee to pass.
In MUN, you have formal sessions, moderated caucuses and unmoderated caucuses. In the United Nations, you have formal and informal consultations, and the informal consultations can be divided into formal informal and informal consultations. Formal consultations are like the formal sessions in MUN with a set speakers’ list, formal informal consultations are much like moderated caucuses and informal consultations are like unmoderated caucuses.
In MUN, the committees are moderated by directors, in the United Nations they are called chairpersons.
Present and Voting is not something that is said during roll call, and which removes the representative’s opportunities to abstain, but rather a descriptive term that describes a country which was present and voted affirmatively or negatively on a draft resolution.
At USMUN 2016, we will use the real UN terminology.
2. Leadership Structure
The leadership structure is often quite different from the real thing in MUN conference, which is natural given the limitations that do exist.
Although the United Nations has Secretary-General, Deputy-Secretary-General and Under-Secretary-Generals, these do often have different roles than what is seen in the MUN world. For instance, you will not encounter a Under-Secretary-General for socials, or Under-Secretary-General for Chairing. Instead, you have the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, or the Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services. There are many different Under-Secretary-General positions in the UN system, many of which are not directly applicable to the MUN simulation.
The General Assembly
The General Assembly also have a number of positions that are not often portrayed. In fact, most conferences at university level do not simulate the General Assembly at all, focusing all the time on the work done in the committees. In the General Assembly, the most important position is the President of the General Assembly (PGA), who acts as the main chairperson at plenary meetings, and organises thematic debates throughout the General Assembly session. There are also twenty-one Vice-Presidents of the General Assembly, who assume the role as the Acting President when the PGA is absent. All of these positions are filled through election.
Each of the committees has one chairperson, three vice-chairpersons, a rapporteur and a secretary. These six people are all elected and form what is known as the Committee Bureau. The roles of chairpersons and vice-chairpersons should already be known to the regular MUNers, whereas the two other positions rarely occur in simulations of the UN. The Secretary will keep track of everything that is discussed and drafted during the meetings, and drafts a report on the work which is then reviewed by a rapporteur. It is the rapporteur’s job to present this report at the closing plenary meeting. The Committee Bureau as an entity has a number of responsibilities, one of the more substantive is supporting representatives reaching a consensus on the topics discussed.
The General Committee comprises of the PGA, his Vice Presidents and the committee chairpersons. Its work is chiefly administrative, making recommendations on the agenda, the allocation of agenda items to committees, time frames, the conduct of meetings, documents, et cetera.
At USMUN 2016, our structure will deviate from the actual United Nations. You can read about our Secretariat here. Although we will do a reduced simulation of the General Assembly plenary meetings, our Secretary-General will assume the role as the President of the General Assembly, and we will certainly not have 21 Vice Presidents. None of the chairpersons will be elected, but decisions are done through applications. Committees will lack both rapporteurs and secretaries, but will have one chairperson and one vice-chairperson.
3. Opening of the General Assembly / Conference
In the United Nations, the opening of General Assembly takes place over multiple weeks. It officially starts on a Tuesday in the third week of September, in which the PGA declares the plenary session open, followed by a minute of silent prayer or meditation. The following days are administrative of nature, where the General Committee meets, and where the General Assembly officially adopts its programme and organisation of work, the agenda and the allocation of agenda items, amongst other things. Usually, during the second week, high-level plenary meetings are held alongside behind-the-scenes work, before the General Debate – known for the speeches by state leaders – is held in week three and four. It’s only after this the committees start working.
In ordinary MUNs, the opening is rather different, and very ceremonial. MUNs at university level do usually not simulate the GA plenary at all, and instead invite a significant political or diplomatic figure to hold a keynote speech. There is usually also a speech by the Secretary-General of the conference. At some point, the delegates are informed about logistical and administrative matters, and there might – especially at bigger conferences such as Harvard WorldMUN – be a music, dance or creative performance of some sort. This opening ceremony usually last for a couple of hours, and committee work start after this ceremony.
At USMUN 2016, we will do a hybrid of the ordinary MUN format and the UN system. Although the opening of General Assembly in the UN is much more comprehensive, we will be guided by the following structure (possibly with some alterations):
- Meeting Declared open by the President of the General Assembly
- Statement by the PGA
- Minute of Silent Prayer or meditation
- Statement from Guest Speaker
- Logistical Matters
- General Debate
The speakers’ list for the general debate will be decided upon in advance, and is supposed to outline a few issues or points the delegation as a whole finds particularly important.
4. United Nations documents
Although a lot of MUNs are guided by real UN documents, they sometimes do not follow the format of these documents accurately, nor do they use similar document symbols as the real United Nations. Since this is fairly easy to achieve, and will make it easier to refer to by future participants and secretariats, we will implement these things in our conference. Of course, a document explaining how these symbols will be uploaded in due course.
As mentioned earlier, there are three types of consultations in the United Nations: Formal, formal informal and informal consultations. At the United Nations, only one formal consultation is arranged per agenda item, and representatives may speak only once during this consultation. Depending on whether the delegate speaks only for his or her own country or for a group of countries, the speakers’ time is either 10 or 15 minutes. Both formal informals and informals are held when the meeting has been postponed (i.e. in recess), and are as such not moved for directly. Instead, a representative may move for the postponement of the meeting, and after that decide the procedures during the postponement. These informal meetings may also occur long before the actual agenda item is being discussed, something that is commonplace in the UN but hard to replicate in a MUN setting.
In MUN, formal informal consultations are known as moderated caucuses, and informal consultations are known as unmoderated caucuses. These are moved for directly. In formal consultations, representatives may speak a number of times, and these consultations are usually held over multiple meetings. Speakers’ Time is usually limited to somewhere in between 45 seconds and two minutes.
At USMUN 2016, we will keep the MUN structure for formal consultations, and one will be able to move directly for a formal informal consultation, though informal consultations can be achieved by moving for a postponement of debate.
In the United Nations, only one point is entertained, and that is the Point of Order. Just like in MUN, this point is raised when the representative strongly believes that the rules of procedure have not been complied with by the chair to the detriment of the representatives or to the debate, and wants to complain about this. There is no such things as points of information, points of (parliamentary) inquiry or points of personal privilege, as is the case in MUN. If any such point is wished for, those are dealt with during breaks or informal consultations, not during the formal debate.
We do realise that removing points of inquiry and personal privilege would potentially limit a delegate’s ability to participate within our simulation, however. As such, we will entertain points of order, points of inquiry and points of personal privilege.
During formal debate, in MUN it is common that a representative has to yield their time to the chairperson, otherwise the representative might be subject to two thirty-second comments by other representatives. Often, the representative may yield the remainder of his time to the chairperson, he or she can yield to questions (points of information) or to another delegate.
At the United Nations, however, there is no such thing as yields in formal consultations, and there will be no yields at USMUN 2016 either. There will be no need to yield the time to the chairperson, and you will not be able to spend the remainder of your speakers’ time to answer questions or to give that time to another delegate.
8. Right to Reply
The Right of Reply exists in both MUN and in the United Nations, but it has vastly different roles. In MUN, it is used only when the representative feels that his nation’s integrity has been attacked by a verbal statement of another representative. In the United Nations, however, it is actually used to reply to a speech, regardless of the content of that speech. If you have read the section about consultations, you might remember that a representative may only speak once during a formal consultation. However, if the representative feels the particular need to reply to a particular speech, that representative may raise a right to reply. This can be done up to two times per formal consultation.
At our conference, delegates will be able to speak more than once during the formal consultations, and, as such, the the right to reply serves no purpose. For that reason, to maintain the sense of realism, we have decided to remove the right of reply from the rules of procedure completely.
9. Expert briefings
At the first committee meeting, at the United Nations, the representatives are usually briefed by an expert on the agenda item that is to be discussed. This briefing is then followed by an interactive session where the representatives can ask questions to this expert.
This is rarely simulated by MUN simulations, though at USMUN 2016, we will aim to include this as part of our simulation. If you are willing to act as one of these experts, please do contact us.
10. Programme Budget Implications
In the United Nations, before a draft proposal can be adopted, its implications with regards to its financial costs need to be accounted for. This is evaluated by the Fifth Committee of the General Assembly and its subsidiary bodies, and the report written, called a Programme Budget Implications report, will be presented at the General Assembly plenary before any action is taken on the proposal. In MUN, this is not simulated at all, and thus distances the participants from the actual implications of the solutions they propose.
At USMUN 2016, we do not simulate the Fifth Committee as a committee, nor is that the plan. However, we are entertaining the idea of including a limited simulation of the Fifth Committee’s role in our conference by asking a person or a group of persons to go through the proposals made in the committees and to submit a brief report on their evaluation, to be presented to and considered by the General Assembly plenary. Again, if you are interested in helping us with this task, please do contact us. Our first priority would be people with economic background, or with professional experience relating to finances.
The main differences between MUN and UN on this point is that many resolutions in the United Nations are adopted without vote, and a vote actually needs to be requested by a representative. Representatives may also explain their position or vote both immediately prior to and after the action phase (i.e. voting procedures). In MUN, adoption without vote is not possible, and explanations of a country’s vote may only occur if a roll-call vote is conducted.
At USMUN 2016, we will allow committees to adopt proposals without vote if there is complete consensus on the resolution, and explanations of the vote will be allowed on the chairperson’s discretion if time permits.
In the United Nations, in line with its democratic values, any and all proposals may be submitted and considered without the need for a number of signatories. However, at MUN conferences, a given number of signatories are needed for the proposal to be considered at all.
At our conference, no signatories will formally be needed, but the representative must believe that their proposal is constructive and worthy of debate, and able to achieve support from other nations.
Countries that actively support a resolution are considered sponsors. The main author, if multiple sponsors, is known as the main sponsor whereas the others are known as co-sponsors. The number of sponsors are unlimited. In MUN, the functions of sponsors and co-sponsors are very much the same, though the maximum number of sponsors is often limited.
At USMUN 2016, we will not restrict the number of sponsors.
14. The Action Phase
The Action Phase is the time during which the committee and the General Assembly plenary takes action on the proposals – either adopting without vote or voting. In the United Nations, proposals passed in the committee have yet to be formally adopted, which occurs only if the proposal also passes in the General Assembly. Both amendments and proposals are considered in the action phase, which occurs after the debate on the agenda item has finished. The committee will first consider the amendments, before the proposal (as amended) is considered. Amendments that change most severely the text of the proposal are considered first.
In Model United Nations, amendments are often taken action on during the debate phase. When amendments are introduced, the debate on the agenda item is suspended and a focused debate on the amendments is held in its place. This often involves a number of speakers in favour and an equal number of speakers opposed to the amendment. After this, the committee then takes action on the amendment and either adopts or rejects it. The committee then resumes debate on the agenda item and the proposal(s).
At Sussex, we will follow the real procedures – all decisions will be taken at the same time, i.e. at the end of the consideration of a particular agenda item. If there are two or more amendments or proposals on the table, they will be reviewed in the order of submission. If two or more proposals or amendments overlap each other in terms of topic and actions, then the first proposal or amendment passed will take precedence, and no action will be taken on the subsequent proposals.
15. Closing Ceremony
The closing ceremony at MUN conferences are very ceremonial, and do not include any plenary session of the General Assembly at all. This is understandable, as many conferences include many bodies and organs who do not report nor are under the jurisdiction of the General Assembly. The ceremony often includes a speech by the Secretary-General, an award ceremony, and the ceremonial act of closing the conference by hitting the gavel.
At our conference, we will close with another plenary meeting in which final actions are taken on the draft proposals, as passed in their individual committees. This will, at our conference apply to the DISEC and SPECPOL committees. Delegates may hold closing statements after action on all proposals have been taken. The Speakers List for this will be compiled in advance of the closing ceremony itself. Following this will be the awards ceremony, after which a closing statement is given by the PGA and the ceremonial closing of the conference is performed.