Simulation Philosophy: Keeping Pace with an Evolving United Nations

A general view of the Trusteeship Council Chamber at United Nations Headquarters. [1993]
UN Photo/Andrea Brizzi

AMUN’s Simulation Philosophy

Today’s United Nations is very different than the body envisioned 70 years ago (or even longer ago). And this makes sense: our world has changed dramatically since the end of World War II. There are almost four times as many independent States. Literacy is the norm, not the exception, in almost all parts of the world. The Internet is widely available. Climate change is one of the leading problems of our times. The United Nations has adapted, time and time again. At AMUN, our simulation philosophy is to accurately reflect the United Nations, including these ongoing evolutions. We believe that providing an accurate reflection of the United Nations, both as it was and as it is, is the best way to create a high-quality educational experience for our Representatives. In the last two years, we have made a number of changes to our simulations. These changes reflect some major trends in how the United Nations does it work.

More Action in Specialized Bodies and Agencies

The international community increasingly leans on the specialized agencies and expert bodies. We hear a great deal more than we used to about the International Civil Aviation Organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the International Telecommunications Union. This makes sense. Many of today’s global problems are highly technical—from internet governance to dual-use chemical regulations and civil aviation. These problems are not well-suited for discussion in the General Assembly, where diplomats tend to be generalists. These problems demand the attention of specialists, including private sector representation.

A Diminished ECOSOC

At its creation, ECOSOC was intended to play two primary functions: (1) serve as the venue for States to discuss policy on economic and social issues; (2) coordinate the activities of the regional commissions and functional commissions, as well as the technical and specialized agencies. Today, both of those roles have shifted elsewhere, leaving ECOSOC with a much narrower agenda. Much of this can be attributed to the expanded agendas  of  the General Assembly’s Second and Third Committees, which are incredibly active on economic development and social issues. Many issues that were on ECOSOC’s agenda two decades ago are now covered in the General Assembly. Some subsidiary bodies now report directly to the General Assembly, as well. For example, In 2006, the revamped Human Rights Council was shifted to report to the Third Committee instead of ECOSOC.

Ironically, the growing importance of the specialized agencies has made coordination by ECOSOC less important. The Secretary-General now convenes the specialized agency heads regularly, improving coordination on implementation. Many countries now do their own coordination, using their capitals to ensure that policy at each specialized agency stays on track.  

While ECOSOC used to be an annual simulation at AMUN, we now plan to run it every three or four years. In the other years, we will simulate specialized bodies instead, reflecting these changes.

The Rise of Summits and Ministerials

The United Nations hosts an increasing number of summits focused on specific issues. These summits bring together Member States (and other actors) to achieve a global consensus. They usually encourage representation at the Minister or Head of State level. While once occurring rarely, it isn’t unusual for the United Nations to host four or more summits in a given year. There were almost as many summits in the last four years as in all of the 1990s.

While most are nominally part of the General Assembly’s work, the preparations and final negotiations are almost always handled outside normal UN negotiation channels, often driven by diplomats in the capital rather than the UN delegation. In the General Assembly, more and more resolutions are effectively follow-ups to summit agreements rather than original, substantive resolutions in their own right.

This shift has both positive and negative consequences. The summits have provided a greater degree of momentum on many issues. At the same time, it can feel increasingly like the United Nations has a flavor of the month (or year), with focus shifting rapidly immediately after each summit.

At AMUN, 2017 marks the first year that we will include a major summit on the agenda: the World Summit on the Information Society.

More Non-state Actors

In 2012, the Rio+20 Summit included more input from civil society and private sector actors than any previous UN meeting. While it seemed anomalous at the time, it actually represented several decades of changing practice at the United Nations. Beginning in the mid-1990s, a growing number of UN bodies and agencies have created formal mechanisms for civil society involvement. This includes partnership efforts like the UN Global Compact, as well as consultation mechanisms.

In 2017, AMUN will simulate the Committee of Experts on Public Administration, a body composed entirely of civil society, private sector and academic experts.

Just as the United Nations continues to evolve, AMUN will too. In line with our simulation philosophy, expect to see more changes as we continue to build simulations that accurately reflect the politics and practice of the United Nations.

More to read

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