By Marie Peffenköver
It is not only since yesterday that the world is facing crises and upheavals. However, although scholars speak about a decrease in the number of conflicts and military interventions since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, one cannot get rid of the impression that the International Community never had to focus on so many trouble spots at the same time. Daesh, refugees coming to Europe, conflicts among the EU member states, radical Islamist groups in African and Asia, economic ups and downs on every continent, climate change – the new millennium has just begun and yet it would require a wand to solve all these problems sustainably.
At the Dutch Invitational Model United Nations (DIMUN) in Leiden 2016 on 16 January, the simulation tackled these crises respectively. With students coming from all over the Netherlands, albeit Utrecht, Nijmegen, Maastricht or Leiden itself, various different viewpoints and experiences added up to some fruitful debates which were ended successfully with the adoption of three resolutions in total. The two crises committees proved to be productive in another manner: With three Heads of States killed, the Delegate of Bangladesh kidnapped and the assassination of their chair at the end, both sub-committees can claim the highest death rate of the entire conference.
Facing Terror: The “What-if” Question
I personally must say that the crisis sub-committee of the South-Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) surprised me the most. Not only was it way less formal than I had expected from my first MUN conference with merely nine people present (including the chair); also, the discussion highlighted the problems in establishing cooperation against terrorism in a fictive world where there are no rules and even the killing of Heads of States is allowed (indeed, it is highly encouraged).
Both crisis committees were dealing with the same situation: The “What-if” question. What would you do if on 10 July 2017 Europe would be shaken by various terrorist attacks in Berlin and Frankfurt, with six suicide bombers in Rome, while the high number of refugees from the Middle East where warfare is still continuing are equally pressurizing the states to react? How would the United Nations react? And, over all, could they do something?
Although all states expressed the mutual will to find a communitarian solution and to collaborate in any possible way, a satisfying answer proved hard to be formulated. What would you do if you were a Head of State of an Asian country, being faced with these major crises? Close your borders as the Head of Sri Lanka proposed? “This is not going to work”, was the quick answer of the Afghan Delegate. Sent troops to fight Daesh? But what if your country is directly located at the epicentre of the terrorists’ actions? As the Delegate of Iran explained, “ISIS is right on our doorsteps and an excessive amount of troops will not be sufficient to solve the problem”.
The Craft of Warfare
Similar hard choices were to be faced by the students who represented the states in the UN’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, called DiSec. Here, to me it was most interesting to see how the group dynamics and the size of a group can influence the structure and content of a discussion in a fundamental way. Whereas in the crisis committee the debate began rather moderate (before the shouting and killing started after the lunch break), in DiSec, the chairs’ question “Are there any countries that wish to speak?” was answered by almost everyone raising their placards, sometimes truly battling about who is allowed to speak now. As a press person, this change of pace was a true challenge, but the new dynamism also offered a completely new insight: Namely that the proverb “to write one’s fingers to the bones” can really have a literal meaning.
DiSec had a very special approach to their topic of combatting piracy on the sea: the employment of Private Military Corporations (PMCs) was highly debated. PMCs are private firms offering security services and military capabilities as well as consultation for everyone who can pay enough present a special danger to the stabilization of war-shaken regions. With them lacking any political affiliation and hence loyalty, the craft of warfare becomes driven away from the monopoly of the state, giving war a new ugly and uncontrollable face of civilian violence.
Discussions regularly arise – and have also arisen during DIMUN – as the UN are employing PMCs as well, arguing that due to the ill-equipment of international troops and a lack of experience, the contracting of PMCs presents to be alternativeless. Struggling to formulate a resolution both allowing action against piracy and circumvent the use of PMCs, debates in the DiSec committee became very intense.
Additionally the talks gathered pace when one student from Leiden slipped into the role of a BBC reporter who had just found out that the Dutch gas and oil giant Shell was employing pirates to destroy the oil riffs of its competitors. Although the chairs had to pressurize the Delegates a bit to agree on the amendments and to bring the debates to an end, a Resolution was passed which also established regional taskforce as local solution (to know more, check out our article “The Shadow of the Seas”).
The Challenge of Women’s Rights in Saudi-Arabia
I found my last visit in the UN Council on Human Rights (UNCHR) the most interesting, although time allowed me to only witness the last 45 minutes of discussion. Yet, the committee had already agreed on a Draft Resolution and was in the middle of discussing several amendments when I entered the room.
The topic of the UNCHR was both old and new: Old, because it is generally known that women are extremely limited in their rights (they are, for example, not even allowed to leave their house without a male guard). New, because the message that women could vote for the first time in December 2015 presented an entirely new background for the Delegates of the UNCHR: How could the UN help the desert monarchy in promoting women’s rights?
The final adaption of the Resolution which established – inter alia – an international organization to serve as a platform to inform women about their rights revealed a (in my opinion) major flaw in the voting procedure of the UN. With a two-thirds majority, the Resolution passed. However, the states that heavily opposed the Resolution where the very ones which are seen to be the main infringers of human rights: Saudi-Arabia, Sudan, Lebanon and Iran.
Useful? “This Resolution reads like a Wikipedia entry”, was the criticism explained by the Delegate of Iran. “This is nonsense” were the harsh words of the guy representing Sudan.
Unfortunately, I did not have the time to visit the Committee on Special Politics and Decolonization (SpecPol) where the topic of PMCs was further discussed. Hopefully I will be able to do so next year.
For those of you who never participated in a MUN, I can only recommend it. Although I have not been a delegate myself, standing up in front of people, pretending to be the important and distinguished Delegate of a state, writing or blocking amendments is a lot of fun (and, yes, a bit nerdy as well).
PS: Even if you are not participating in the next DIMUN – make sure you visit the beautiful city of Leiden!