Having read the introduction to MUN Research, we are now going to dive into some specifics. The structure of MUN Research is essentially a triangle with its points being Committee Research, Country Research and Topic Research.
After locating your committee, the next step would be to get acquainted with its actual competences, working procedures and topics on the agenda. It is important to understand the spirit of your committee - since deliberations at a General Assembly committee differ significantly from those taking place in the Security Council (not only they are barren of all the drama and the veto-wielding powers).
Pay attention to the rules of procedure, official documents (statements, reports, resolutions, decisions), and the language used in sessions. Also, look for videos of actual sessions and see how diplomats interact.
There is a whole lot of research sources on the United Nations. For details, see our MUN Research Resources section.Country Research
Once you have located your committee inside the United Nations system organizational chart and understood its modus operandi, you are expected to figure out how the country you are assigned fares in that particular committee as well as its position on a specific issue. However, before doing that, you need to get familiar with some basic facts about the country you are representing.
The experience shows that MUNers’ favourite backgrounder is the World Factbook. It is a rich and regularly updated portal of country profiles (with glossary, data, flags, maps, country comparisons), and is considered to be an authority in the field. You can also look for other sources of data (e.g. national statistics offices, Atlas of World Affairs, etc.), but none is as comprehensive and offering such easy country comparison as the World Factbook.
In case you are representing an international organization, or other non-state entity (e.g. NGO), try doing the background research based on available information using the same principles.
Below are some important building blocks of your country profile research:
A famous British geographer Sir Halford J. Mackinder in 1904 wrote about the impact of distances, terrain and climate on the conduct of international relations. Knowing your country’s geographical position, relations with neighbours and its standing in a wider region or vis-a-vis other regions can tell you much about the prospects for future policies. Also, looking at the geographical map can help you understand the motivations and drivers behind your allies’ and competitors’ policies. However, beware of geographical determinism and geopolitical thinking - a political reality is much more complex and you should count in the other building blocks in your research as well.
It goes without saying that history is an important determinant in domestic and international politics. Knowing about the past events, important leaders, policies, and alliances can help you better situate your country on a certain topic. It is basically the patterns of amity and enmity between states and within societies that affect the future decisions of states. History being rather static variable can help us gain understanding of how things developed up to present days, but beware of using historical determinism in thinking about the future.
In the words of a leading American political scientist Harold Lasswell, Politics is about “Who gets What, When, and How”. Basically, it covers almost every aspect of purposeful human behaviour. It concerns the process of determining goals, choosing means and achieving ends through various political strategies (negotiation, cooperation, conflict). Politics, too, can be defined as “the art of the possible” (Bismarck), or as “what states make of it” (Wendt).
Think about how to formulate and protect the interests of your country, but be ready to achieve those while giving way to the logic of international society. Diplomacy is an essential part of such international relations (and international society), where rules and institutions are the drivers of state behavior.
So, try to take the best out of Realism, Liberalism and Constructivism during your pre-conference research and make a win-win strategy for your delegation and the committee.
No country can take care of itself without having economic concerns in mind. Handling of scarce resources and their optimum distribution in order to achieve competing political goals is a true art. Thus, policies at hand depend on the aggregate capacities a country possesses, as well as the ability of its leadership to maximize their use. Planning for a grandiose diplomatic network worldwide is just not an option for a small island state, while great powers can think of building powerful navies and using generous funds to support their public diplomacies abroad. Although this does not mean you cannot punch above your country's weight! It is possible, but you have to play your strategy smart and not to exaggerate.
Although International Relations have largely implied a certain state-centric vision of the world, a well-planned research shall pay attention to the levels of society and people-to-people dynamics in the world. Knowing about ethnic structure, culture, habits, and general social cohesion can help you master the country role-play. Poor understanding of cultural differences or how societies perceive one another can lead to an underperformance in session, and subsequently, dampen the effect of your policies.
Last (or first), but not least important, you should know how the United Nations works and what logic and culture lay behind it. Pay attention to a particular style of multilateral diplomacy at the UN, with its diplomatic protocol, rules of procedure, and resolution writing.
Please remember that “gunboat-style diplomacy” is something considered unacceptable by the letter of the Charter of the United Nations. Prepare yourself to act as patient, skillful and courteous a diplomat who cares about maintaining international peace and security. You will learn much about the value of compromise and overcoming the constraints of strict national interests on decision making. Of course, this will come easy with your MUN experience.
*In case you are representing an international organization, or other non-state entity (e.g. NGO), try doing the background research based on available information for that particular entity.
The last, and most important step where your research skills are put to the test. Here are some tips on how to do a topic research. This is the point where you put together your committee and country knowledge in the service of tackling a specific problem issue and writing a Position Paper.
Most MUNs offer delegates detailed study guides with enough background information on the topic. After learning the topic essentials, you have to think about the actual or potential response of your country on the topic. For example, what is France’s response to the Syrian crisis? How the government in Paris has reacted so far, what position it has taken in the Security Council, etc?
Try looking to the official sources first. Also, you may want to visit the website of your country’s Ministry of Foreign affairs, or a permanent mission to the United Nations and check the policies taken on an issue. By analysing United Nations resolutions, statements and voting records you will do a great pre-conference preparation.
In case the topic happens to be fictional, or your country has not participated in such a discussion before, you then must seek for some secondary sources, e.g. news articles, books, policy papers, NGO reports. Also, in order to formulate a potential policy in such a situation, you will need to extrapolate a response from the results of the whole of research. It is the part where your creativity comes into play, but you should keep to the realistic role play (and not to overplay your country’s role) even when trying to anticipate future policies.
Next article deals with Position Paper writing. But before moving on that issue, we would like to hear about your experiences with MUN research. Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Also, be sure to check out our free eBooks:
MUNPlanet eBook: "Becoming a Model UN Delegate - An Essential Guide Through the MUN World"
- MUNPlanet eBook on how to start a Model UN conference
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