Introduction to MUN Crisis Committees

During your Model career there are three things you must do. You must make a bad pun with a country name to laugh, you must try a giant GA to cry and you must try crisis to feel more alive than you have before!

You sit down with your fellow foreign affairs ministers to discuss a nuclear deterrent to the North Korea situation when you get a message that they have launched an ICBM. You are now in the middle of an international crisis that you didn’t anticipate. What is your next move? At best, this launch was just a test, meant to send a signal. At worst, there is a nuclear warhead attached to the end of it. All of the global foreign affairs ministers of the security council members are with you in the room. Then, information begins to come at you from your advisors. You need to make note of how others around you are reacting. Did any of them expect this? How will they respond? You have to look out for your country’s interests, but to do that you need to know everyone else’s interests as well.

The decisions will be made in the room you are in. The United Nations will take a course of action taken will depend on coming to an agreement with your peers. However, is it possible that one of the other foreign ministers has some information they are keeping from everyone else. Perhaps someone in the room is in league with Pyongyang. Perhaps it’s you!

Why try Model UN crisis?

The intricacies of crisis committees, whether a UN Security Council, a single cabinet or multiple cabinets in a Joint Cabinet Crisis (or JCC), are part of what makes the world of MUN crisis so unique. A crisis yields fast paced discussions and a need for faster decision making than in any other form of Model UN simulation. While it is more challenging it can also be more rewarding. Many Model UN delegates actually prefer crisis to the conventional GA format of Model United Nations. If you’re wondering whether it’s worth dabbling in this strange world of historic and futuristic scenarios our article will tell you why you should give MUN crisis a try. At the least it’s not for you and your horizons will be broadened. At best it can change your life!

What is MUN Crisis?

When you think of Model UN you generally think of General Assembly style committee sessions. If you have participated in conferences, you have likely been involved as a delegate for your country in SPECPOL, SOCHUM, UNESCO, the Human Rights Council, or some other UN organ. These bodies are part of how the United Nations generally operates and the Model UN conferences usually simulate those committees. Issues are discussed and resolutions drafted all within the parameters of strict rules and procedures. A Model UN Crisis operates differently.

In the real world, situations arise that cannot be handled in the calm methodical setting of a committee. An international crises can flare up at any moment and they must be dealt with accordingly or things could get much worse. When this happens, emergency sessions take place at the highest level of government. These situation room situations are unpredictable. They force delegates and representatives to think quickly and decisively. Sometimes errors are made, or remedied, within a short time span.

A Model UN Crisis simulates this. It brings an element of excitement to a conference, especially for the delegates who get to sit in the hot seat. Not every conference has a Crisis committee. Generally, they can be found at larger conferences that can handle the extra staffing requirements and can provide the classrooms and other elements needed to run a good crisis.

The philosophy of a MUN crisis is as follows. A regular Model UN topic ends when a resolution is passed. You do not see the outcome of the resolution. You clap and move on to the next topic. In crisis, many smaller (or lager) decision are made which work like mini resolution except that you immediately see the outcome and have to deal with it. It is dealing with the consequences of your actions which makes crisis so unique and compelling.

Crisis Committee vs Crisis Scenario

It should be clarified that the word crisis, in Model UN, has two meanings. A crisis committee and a crisis scenario are not the same thing. A crisis scenario can be a surprise news update that is given to a conventional static GA committee some new factor to consider. This can be a nuclear attack, a riot, an earthquake or something else. The committee will discuss the new scenario using the Rules of Procedure and add some clauses about it into the resolution. A Crisis committee has constant news updates and each decision impacts the story moving forward. The remainder of the article will focus on crisis committees.

Not every Crisis will look the same either. There are a few different ways Model UN crisis committees:

Types of Model UN Crisis Committees

  1. - United Nations Crises: Normally simulating the Security Council, these delegates represent countries as in normal Model UN format. They also sometimes use regular Model UN Rules of Procedure though often don’t complete full resolutions because of the constant updates.

  2. - Single Cabinet Crises: Delegates represent individual people and interests smaller than a country. Everyone is in one room and in one committee. This can be the United States National Security Council, the Nigerian National Security Council or the Chinese Politburo Standing Committee. They can also be NGO’s or corporations, like the board of directors at News Corp or even Disney. The key element is that it is one cabinet against the scenario planned by the crisis directors and backroom staff.

  3. - Joint Cabinet Crisis (JCC): This is similar to the Single Cabinet Crisis but instead of just one cabinet there are two, or more, cabinets who are usually focused on improving their position in relation to the others. This could be the United States against Russia or North Korea against South Korea. They can also be non political cabinets, for example Facebook against Google.

Within these types of crisis there are other distinctions that differentiate between types of crisis.

Individual vs Collective Directives

Collective Directive Crisis (CDC)

Some cabinets will make decisions similar to a United Nations General Assembly, or Security Council. A vote is taken and when the desired majority is reached actions are taken. In these simulations decision are only taken together and are decided by majority unless the chair is a playing character and they choose to overrule the decision of the room. Sometimes specific delegates, or characters, will get unique information which can change their position but most of the action happens on the floor of the debate and the backroom adapts to the collective committee decisions.

Individual Directive Crisis (IDC)

More common for Joint Cabinet Crisis simulations, the IDC also includes the elements of a CDC but the IDC MUN also includes an interpersonal element. In some IDC committees limit the personal directives to supplying information and instructions. In others, delegates can use their personal resources and abilities to influence the crisis through actions influencing the story on an individual and collective level. For example, a general in the committee can privately order 500 of his troops to storm the base and kill the committee chair, putting him in charge of the cabinet. If this directive is written well, and accepted by the backroom.

In an IDC Model UN delegates play against the other cabinets and also against each other. Their characters can advance personally outside of the committee (someone builds a successful chair of bakeries) or within the committee (They were a colonel but thanks to a successful framing are not the commander of the entire army). In a CDC MUN characters can occasionally switch between cabinets. However in an IDC MUN switching between cabinets is very common. Also, even if a character dies the delegate does not sit out the rest of the crisis. In an IDC, after a character is killed, a delegate will get a new characters, often in a different committee.

Contemporary vs Alternative / Historical Crisis

While many crisis committees will start the same day as the conference starts in real time a Model UN crisis is not limited to that. Crisis committees can also be historical, future crisis and even simulat fictional settings. For example a Historical Model UN crisis could simulate Peter the Great's Advisory Council to the Tsar in 1710, the fall of the Roman Republic in 509 BCE or the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. A futuristic crisis could be the Russian invasion of the baltic states in 2024, a solar flare that knocks out all technology in the western United States in 2036 or a battle for the world's remaining oil reserves in 2055. A fictional crisis could be Elrond's Council in Rivendell from the Lord of the Rings series, the King’s Small Council from the HBO show Game of Thrones or a fictional 2022 in a world where the United States civil war ended in a split nation. In short, there is much room for imagination with Model UN crisis.

Paper Directives vs. Digital Directives

Paper Directives, the original crisis directives, are hand written on note paper and are read, and responded to, by the backroom. The plus side of paper directives is that it is old school and crisis committees that use it say it brings about a form of interpersonal debate lost to many Model UN conferences due to the lack of electronics. Some of the downsides of paper directives are that they are slower to move to and from the backroom, harder to keep track of and are sometimes difficult to read due to bad handwriting.

Digital Directives can be delivered via email, google forms or custom made software, such as DEUS crisis platform. Electronic directives have a form where the delegates writes their request. In this age of Model UN innovation, with constantly improving software, digital directives and crisis software are constantly improving in speed and effectiveness. It also avoids bad handwriting and has less of a change of directives getting lost. Some of the downsides of digital directives are that, without active engagement from the chairs, delegates can spend their entire conference on their computers and minimally engage with other delegates in the cabinet. In both cases, directives are what makes the crisis committees more fun and engaging and, depending on how effective the crisis staff are, are an important tool in making a crisis committee an enjoyable one.

Staff at a MUN Crisis

A Model UN Crisis is going to be run by the crisis staff, who are chosen by the conference secretariat. A MUN crisis is run by the Crisis Director. Depending on crisis size the director will have one of two Deputy Crisis Directors to handle the responsibilities of managing the macro story and make sure the crisis continues to go smoothly. Directors generally need to approve the more important directives offered within each respective cabinet.

Below the directors are the Backroom Staff. Depending on conference size, the backroom staff can be anywhere from one to four per cabinet. If large enough, each cabinet has a Backroom Director who is in charge of making sure no information gets lots and that all backroom staff for that cabinet know what is happening in that cabinet. The Backroom Director also needs to be able to answer any questions the Crisis Director has about the cabinet in question.

The Crisis Chairs, or Frontroom Chairs, go between silent facilitators to active players. Some crisis committees run with regular Model UN Rules of Procedure but most run as an informal unmoderated caucus with direction from the chair. If the chair is an active player, they too can send directives which can be accepted, and rejected, by the backroom. In the most flexible of crisis committees the chairs can get killed, fired or recalled allowing delegates to actively take charge of the room. In all cases the chair will remain in the room to observe to be able to evaluate performance for the awards but will usually fall to a less prominent role, allowing the delegate who succeeded in deposing them to take charge.

Additional roles can be allocated to specific backroom staff in times of need. For example, there is the role of Lord of War, who is a backroom staffer who has the job of keeping track of troop movements, troop numbers and the outcomes of  battles. There is also sometimes a Lord of Finance, but most crisis committees do not like to get into that level of technicality. These head of responsibility or not limited to these titles and each crisis can nominate staff to fill specialized roles based on need. What is important is that the team has good communication, which is what allows this complex machine to give the test, hair raising and gratifying rush of an experience that is a MUN crisis.

How a Crisis Works

A JCC generally starts at the point where the study guide ends. News updates will be regularly delivered by the crisis staff, either electronically or by a staff member coming into the room. Sometimes the backroom makes up the scenarios. However, at an IDC JCC most of the news items are caused by the individual delegates. Depending on the strength, quality and clarity of the directives, actions will take place behind the scenes which will be discovered by the rest of the cabinets in the form of some shocking revelation which will often require them to change their plans.

This process continues over the duration of the conferences as cabinets split or consolidate and treaties are signed or wars are declared. Sometimes entire cabinets are obliterated. Sometimes cabinets decide to go off script and do something never imagined by the Directors. Ideally, the backroom should facilitate whatever the delegates want to do, as long as it is plausible and within reason. The key is that, just like in a real-world emergency, things will change throughout the scenario. The delegates will need to continue to adapt, as the crisis staff will continually give new information. In the end, a victory in a Model United Nations crisis can be both for an individual character, or for the cabinet as a whole. While it is ideal for a cabinet to have a decisive win, a crisis delegate should remember that they are playing against the other cabinets and the backroom. For this reason, while staying alive is impressive, it is rising beyond your station, and having a large impact on the crisis as a whole, which is considered  a success in MUN crisis.

Why you must try crisis

In Model UN you play the game, in Model UN crisis, you are the game.

Daniel Gindis

Crisis Director OxIMUN 2016

After this entire explanation, you should now have an understanding of why crisis is such a unique part of the Model UN family. With this in mind, here are a list of the main benefits of taking part in a crisis committee of JCC.

  1. It is fast-paced

    1. In a normal committee session, things will move at a normal speed. There will be motions and speeches, position papers and draft resolutions. In a MUN Crisis, things will move at a much faster pace. You will be forced to respond in a much quicker manner than usual as the situation evolves.

  2. Learn history by living history

    1. Historical crisis scenarios will allow you to immerse yourself in the history as it unfolds. No more simply reading about events such as the Six-Day War or the attack on Pearl Harbor. In a MUN Crisis, you can be the representatives that has to deal with these events as they happen. A MUN Crisis will deepen your understanding of history.

  3. A different way of thinking

    1. Get on the speakers list, espouse your country’s position, write a positions paper, draft a resolution. As fun as that is, you know how it works and what leads to what. A MUN Crisis is not planned and predictable. Nobody really knows what will happen next. Just when you think you have a solution to a problem, the crisis staff informs you that a someone important has been assassinated. Now what do you do? You think of a new solution and quickly write the next directive.

  4. A new kind of diplomacy

    1. Diplomacy is a way of life for Model UN, whether it is through normal channels or through cocktail diplomacy. In a MUN Crisis, you will need to bring all your diplomatic skills to bear and then learn some new ones as the situation unfolds. You will leave a crisis ready for the unpredictable with a sharper sense of diplomacy.

  5. You are a Model UN veteran

    1. If you have been participating in Model UN for two or three years, you are well versed in how a MUN conference full of GA committees will run. They are great learning experiences and you have gained many superb skills, but you are ready for the next level. You are ready to test those skills and learn some new ones. A Model UN Crisis is a break from the norm and perfect for experiences delegates to try something new.

  6. You want excitement

    1. There is nothing wrong with normal Model UN committee sessions, but sometimes they can seem stale. Do you want some excitement? Something that will get your adrenaline going? Pit you against your peers on a whole new level? A Model UN Crisis is perfect for you.

Conclusion

A Model UN Crisis scenario is a great way to develop your creativity and rapid response skills in a new environment. It will not be like any ordinary Model UN GA committee session and it is not supposed to be. The real world outside of Model UN operates off of both the regular and the irregular. Most days are predictable which allows the United Nations can focus on long term goals. Our world’s governments are also able to go about their business with the usual cooperation and manage expected hostility. Sometimes, though, emergencies arise.

An underwater volcano, a rogue terror organization getting their hands on biochemical weapons or an outbreak of a deadly disease shuts down a country. These kinds of situations are never handled by regular committees and can’t afford to wait for real time or conventional responses. Wheter in the present, past, future or alternative dimension, emergency sessions call top leaders, thinkers and influencers in the country to gather to come up with a solution.

A Model UN Crisis will get you into this type of situation where you can live, breath and learn to handle these kinds of emergencies. If you think you have the skills necessary to navigate these waters, or want to find out if you do, then it’s time to find yourself a Model UN Crisis!