Resolution writing is an art within itself and is a core component of understanding the basics of Model UN. Model UN Resolutions consist of multiple parts: a header, perambulatory clauses, and operative clauses. When properly written, operative clauses can be the driving force of your Model UN strategy. However, most Model United Nations delegates are never properly taught how to write a clause.
This article is to help you focus on how to write clauses properly and effectively, specifically operative clauses. They become the basis of negotiation in a committee session because they are the cornerstones of solutions to the problems you will be discussing. Clause writing is a skill and takes a mix of language skills, knowledge of the UN resolution format, writing ability, and common sense. In the following article, we are going to teach your how to understand, and write, effective operative clauses to keep you relevant in the resolution writing stage and bring you to the best chance to come out ahead during your next committee session.
Rules of Clause Writing
Independent versus Dependent Clauses
In Model UN, a clause is meant to convey a point. Whether it is a perambulatory clause stating the issues at hand, or an operative clause stating how that issue is to be dealt with, clauses tell the reader what is going on. Digging deeper into a language lesson, a clause is a collection of words that sees the subject of the sentence actively doing the verb of the sentence. If the clause can actually stand by itself as a complete sentence, with proper punctuation, it is called an independent clause. Here are some examples with the subject in bold and the verb underlined:
- James decided on the red shirt.
- I glanced out the window at the flowers.
- The cat jumped.
A dependent clause also has a subject doing a verb, but the phrase cannot stand alone. As the name suggests, it depends on an independent clause somewhere else nearby. Here are some examples with the independent clause italicized and the dependent clause in normal font:
- James decided on the red shirt, while she decided on the black shirt.
- I glanced out the window at the flowers, but you couldn’t appreciate their beauty.
- The cat jumped but the dog just stood still.
Take note, that the second part of each sentence sentence is the dependent clause. They still have a subject and a verb. They make sense with the first part that is italicized, but without that, they would not stand alone.
Flowery, Descriptive, or Vague Language
To understand the correct use of language, let us look at an example of an operative clause gone wrong:
2. Taking note, with much appreciation, of the report the Secretary-General submitted to the committee on the date of June 20, 2017 calling for the lessening of illegal wildlife trafficking by at least fifteen percent by the year 2021;
There are a few problems with the clause above. It is not concise and the language is horribly used. It does say everything that needs to be said, but takes too much space in doing so. This is the actual clause for the above embellished one, taken from a recent UN resolution about illegal wildlife trafficking:
2. Takes note with appreciation of the report of the Secretary-General;
That’s it. It is very simple. The report in which is references will be footnoted and will have already been the topic of conversation for the committee session. The actual operative clause is short and concise and the reader can move on to the next one.
Don’t be afraid to use statistics to make your point in a clause. Fact and figures are very powerful tools to use in Model UN. How can we improve on this next clause?
Requests an increase in the already miniscule budget so the welfare of children can be looked after;
The above clause contains vague phrases and language that is not necessary. For example, we don’t have any Idea what is the amount of increase is being called for. If an amount has been settled on but is not listed in the clause, there will be room for debate over the amount. If this is not an area of contention for the resolution to pass and the amount has been decided, state it clearly in the clause.
We likely already know the budget is small, so stating that in a resolution is wasting valuable space. The whole solution suggested by this operative clause clearly deals with children’s welfare and this will be known through the perambulatory clauses and committee debates. Putting it in the operative clause is not necessary. Let’s look at this clause again, but in a proper manner:
Requests a twenty percent increase in the children’s welfare budget;
In cases where the number isn’t obviously known it too should be included in the clause.
Requests a twenty percent increase in the children’s welfare budget of 870 million United States Dollars.;
Think of clause writing like a legal battle. Every word will be scrutinized, so the more vague elements you write, the more you give other delegations to pull apart and the harder the battle will be. Unless your aim is to be strategically vague, or a certain word is used for compromise, you need to be as specific as possible. Retaining clarity in the right places is critical if you want the debate to revolve around the issues at hand, not the language you use to get there.
A Stand Alone Clause vs Sub-Clauses
Each of your clauses needs to be the complete and final thoughts on the issue it is covering. If a reader were to pull clause five out of your resolution to debate it, they should be able to do so without having to pull out clauses two and six. Each clause needs to stand on its own merits. This should be combined with facts, names, dates, and exact numbers. The more you can use statistics and data to back up a clause, the more powerful it will be. Let’s see how the following clause can be improved:
Calls upon each member nation to give a portion of their GDP to assist in rebuilding institutions in Afghanistan, up to a certain amount;
This clause is vague and does not stand alone. There is not a specified amount for each country to give, nor is the certain amount stated. We also are not sure which institutions will be rebuilt. This is a better way to write the clause:
Calls upon each member nation to give .002 percent of their GDP to help rebuild critical governmental institutions in Afghanistan, up to twenty billion dollars;
If necessary, sub-clauses could be used to list how much each institution is to receive.
There will be times when sub-clauses will be necessary to make a clause complete. The following clause is taken from a 2016 UN Resolution dealing with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development:
Decides that, for the remainder of the current cycle of the high-level political forum under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council, the sets of Sustainable Development Goals to be reviewed in depth shall be:
(a) In 2017: Goals 1, 2, 3, 5, 9 and 14;
(b) In 2018: Goals 6, 7, 11, 12 and 15;
(c) In 2019: Goals 4, 8, 10, 13 and 16;
In order to keep the flow of this operative clause, the authors made the choice to break it into sub-clauses. Putting all of this information into a one-line clause would make the it too confusing for the reader. Making a, b, and c separate clauses altogether would not make sense either, as they are directly related to the main clause.
When Vague Clauses Become Important
Strategically and diplomatically, you may sometimes have to use vague language for a resolution to pass. There may be times when there is agreement on a topic overall, but not some of the specifics. For example, if developed countries have agreed to increase food aid to developing countries but are having trouble deciding on how much of an increase, vague language may be necessary just find common ground and pass a resolution acknowledging an agreement. Remember, it is always better to have an agreement in place than to leave a session with nothing to show for it. Even an agreement over a vague term for both sides can serve as a building block to create a better agreement later on. While not ideal, vague language can be useful. Here is an example of when it may be necessary:
You want this:
Calls upon all member countries to increase food aid by fifteen percent over the next three years.
Maybe there is some debate over the percent increase and the amount of years involved but it is vital to leave the session with some kind of agreement, no matter how weak. This clause can be changed:
Calls upon all member countries to increase food aid within a reasonable amount of time.
This takes out the percentage requirement as well as a specified amount of time. While the above clause is not ideal, it is more than not having any agreement. Taking the clause a step further, we can see how, instead of being vague for all countries, can give different sides the justification to act, or inaction depending on their circumstance and interpretation.
Calls upon all member countries to increase food aid according to criteria each member deems sustainable over the next three years.
Condemns any member country that continues to ignore the human rights of indigenous peoples within their boundaries;
This is a very strong statement. Any time the word condemn is used, someone will be upset. For this reason, there may be some powerful countries that will not sign with such language. China and the US have both had issues with indigenous peoples in their countries over the last few years and because both are UN Security Council members, such language may not work. Though vague and weaker, this language may work better:
Encourages each member country to work with indigenous peoples within their borders to foster better relationships;
As you can see, this is not very specific and leave it open to interpretation. Again, this is not the usual recommended path to take with a clause, but sometimes it may be necessary.
Bringing It All Together
Understanding the ins and outs of clause writing above, let us see how they are used in real United Nations resolutions.
Single full clause examples from United Nations Security Council Resolution 2362 (2017)
Condemns attempts to illicitly export petroleum, including crude oil and refined petroleum products, from Libya, including by parallel institutions which are not acting under the authority of the Government of National Accord;
9. Welcomes the appointment by the Government of National Accord of a focal point pursuant to paragraph 6 of resolution 2278, takes note of the briefing provided by the focal point to the Committee on the structure of the security forces under its control, the infrastructure in place to ensure the safe storage, registration, maintenance and distribution of military equipment by the Government security forces, and training needs, continues to emphasize the importance of the Government of National Accord exercising control over and safely storing arms, with the support of the international community, and stresses that ensuring security and defending Libya from terrorism must be the task of unified and strengthened national security forces under the sole authority of the Government of National Accord within the framework of the Libyan Political Agreement;
Sub clauses example from United Nations Environment Programme UNEP/EA.2/Res.5
5. Encourages the Executive Director, within the mandate, program of work and budget of the United Nations Environment Program, to take action to enhance coordinated, coherent and integrated delivery within the United Nations system on the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, by, interalia:
(a) Fostering partnerships and other means of cooperation with other relevant United Nations bodies;
(b) Engaging with regional coordination mechanisms, as appropriate;
(c) Actively promoting the integration of the environmental dimension into the
United Nations Development Assistance Framework at the country level;
(d) Enhancing institutional and human capacity-building at the national, regional and
Sub clauses example from United Nations Environment Programme UNEP/EA.2/Res.6
1. Requests the Executive Director, within the mandate of the United Nations Environment Programme and in collaboration
with other relevant organizations and stakeholders, to contribute to the implementation of pre-2020 global efforts to address the challenge of climate change by:
(a) Strengthening efforts in the areas of education, training, public awareness, public participation, public access to information and cooperation;
(b) Reinforcing and stepping up the United Nations Environment Programme participation in partnership programmes and initiatives;
(c) Strengthening collaboration between the United Nations Environment Programme, relevant United Nations bodies and other relevant stakeholders on work related to adaptation, mitigation and the transition to a sustainable future in a manner that reinforces synergies, avoids
duplication and maximizes efficiency and effectiveness;
(d) Accelerating support to countries, especially developing countries, for building national readiness capacity to implement the Paris Agreement, implementation capacity and capacity
to access finance and technology;
(e) Strengthening United Nations Environment Programme support to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change;
(f) Strengthening United Nations Environment Programme support for and contributions to global climate-change-related assessments;
While the last ones are vaguer than your Model Un clause should be, the clauses above show that what is scary in a bunch can be understood and broken down when looked at as a single clause. Also, we can see how a United Nations has vague language that is open to interpretation and can be a base to facilitate later specificity and further discussion. Sometimes it is a single line which makes a clause revolutionary. Also, clauses showing support, or condemnation, can be a huge deal as it tells the global community where to look. The key is to see how the clauses above follow the rules of clause writing and can be understood, and similar or better clauses can be created.
Learning to craft a powerful clause will be a game-changer for your resolution writing. When you are writing resolutions at a Model United Nations conference, it will be a joint effort with other delegations, but with strong and concise clauses, that will allow your delegation to control the the content and the process. Just remember to be specific, detailed and that each clause can stand by itself. Avoid vague language unless strategically necessary and make sure to use facts and numbers where appropriate.
The whole point of the Model UN conference is to find solutions to the most pressing global issues. Writing resolutions strategically and effectively is part of that process. As a resolution is made up of clauses, when you learn to write one clause without fear or reservation, entire resolutions will follow.