An Introduction to Roles in MUN
"We will now enter roll call. Delegates, please raise your placards when called."
As a delegate, hearing that for the first time can be the most adrenaline-inducing things you hear in your MUN career. Everybody's in suits, with a dizzying array of placards in front of you, in the midst of decorum – it creates some unbelievable tension, as you anticipate for your country to be called. The roles in the conference room can mainly be divided into delegates, chairs, and assistants, and these setups differ according to the type of conference you are attending, as well as the type of committee you are in. Here is a quick guide to who's who in the conference room, to help you become a little more familiar with the dynamics of MUN.
The delegate experience is at the core of what makes MUN great. As representatives of a nation, the delegate's core responsibility is an exercise in objectivity, as all their actions must align with a nation's policy. Accordingly, the delegate speaks in the third person, and in debate detaches themselves rom the delegate's personal views, political or religious. That means that if you’re a delegate of North Korea, you’re an an impassioned believer in Kim Jong Un's supreme power, just as much as how an American delegate may seek to defend ideals of ‘freedom’. They manifest this role through the decisions and compromises they make in steering the resolutions debated.
Delegates collaborate to create resolutions that seek to achieve the best consensus for not only their countries interests, but also the global community. They make speeches, points of information, engage in negotiations during lobbying, voting and in writing of clauses and amendments to resolutions. This responsibility serves as the foundation of Model United Nations. By exercising empathy, the delegates are the ones who generate the debate, and embody the underlying principle of MUN, simulating the dynamics of international relations, and imparting values of global citizenry. Every delegate gets an equal vote in deciding the passing of clauses or resolutions.
In the context of creating and debating a resolution, however, the roles of delegates are further broken down into roles:
The main submitter is often considered the most prestigious role in a resolution debate, but also the role that takes on the most pressure. They are the initiators and main backers of the resolution discussed and are expected to be the ones mainly responsible in answering questions regarding and defending the resolution as a whole.
Similarly, co-submitters are delegates who support the ideals of the resolution debated. Co-submitters are, in essence, the wingmen of main submitters, and they are expected to give supportive speeches for the resolution as a whole, as they may have themselves contributed to the writing of clauses in the resolution. They are able to submit friendly amendments to the resolution if they believe their resolution is in need of change, without the need to initiate debate.
Signatories are in similar positions, but tend to be still open to change, as they want to actively see the resolution debated. Naturally, they are more receptive of amendments and changes that strengthen the resolution, and tend to be good partners to sway during the creation of blocs.
Special Cases: Security Council
Despite sharing the same goals to defend their interests, delegates' roles differ depending on the type and sub-committees that the respective debate in session belongs to. In the Security Council, the delegates are further broken down into two categories: permanent and non-permanent members. The permanent members of the United Nations are the great powers, who derive their power as victors of the Second World War—the United Kingdom, Russia, China, United States, and France. What sets them apart from the non-permanent members is their ability to veto, which is the power to deny entire resolutions or clauses from passing with just one opposing vote.
Although the rest of the ten non-permanent members do not hold veto power, their votes still hold power in deciding the outcome of resolutions. Therefore, discussions in the Security Council often result in interactions akin to a tug of war between rivalling blocs for power. Accordingly, Security Council debates often most accurately reflect the struggle behind achieving good compromises, amidst managing difficult power dynamics between great powers.
On many controversial topics, observer entities will also be present, to provide additional input and valuable, alternative perspectives on the topic at hand. This may range from NGOs, such as UNWatch, to observers, such as the state of Palestine, or the Holy See. However, observers cannot vote like regular members. Nevertheless, they still play important roles in the overall debate, driving emphasis on important facets of issues while regulating other views.
At the top is the Secretariat, who serve as the head honchos of the conference. They are the conductors of an orchestra, coordinating the conference with utmost precision (ideally), making sure logistics run smoothly in each room, while synchronizing the different moving parts of the conference, whether it be press corps or chair administration. They are led by the Secretary-General, who is responsible for coordinating the conference’s schedule, managing the secretariat and delegating tasks, staffing, crafting the opening and closing ceremonies, and more. Naturally, they tend to work under pressure, as the most accountable person in the process—but through their leadership they prove their self worth in their years of MUN experience, and thus becoming a Secretary-General usually is the pinnacle in one’s MUN career. However, the Secretariat is still by large a team effort, and their efficient work combined is what forms the backbone of the entire conference.
Chairs are the adjudicators of debate, the heart of the MUN conference. They control the flow of the conversation, and ensure the functioning of sessions. But more relevant to delegates are the teams of committee chairs, most prominent of which is the head chair. Chairs control the speaker's list and keep track of who has spoken. They allocate time for each speech to keep the pace of the debate, while ensuring inclusiveness by calling on underrepresented delegates. They also write study guides, which serve as an introductory summary to the context behind issues discussed during the conference for delegates. Finally, they decide the superlatives for certain conference styles (e.g. UNA-USA)—thus making them at times, the ones delegates try to impress. That said, the goal of MUN is ultimately an exercise in diplomacy, and they should be, at the end of the day, the embodiment of those values.
Chairs are formally involved with the conference for a longer period compared to delegates, and therefore provide a greater insight into the preparation of conferences. The opportunity to chair is a unique experience, and therefore should absolutely not be be missed in ones’ MUN career, as it provides insight into a different side of MUN, behind the curtain.
Even in the midst of chaos and passionate debate, assistants serve as the conferences’ invisible hands, facilitating action in the midst of perpetual decorum. They undertake administrative tasks, including ceremonial actions such as sealing doors during voting, to functional actions like note passing between delegates during both unmoderated and moderated caucuses, as well as regular sessions. They also play a key role in debates, as they are the ones responsible for passing down, and vetting amendments to chairs, which can often turn around the fates of resolutions. All conferences and secretary generals depend on the hard work of these assistants to ensure a frictionless conference, and so, be sure to thank your note passers for their tireless work!
In the context of the debate room, they are the ones that will drag you out of the room for photographs and interviews. But behind the scenes, the conference is also a flurry of activity for them, scrambling to put together press releases, videos as well as think pieces to complement the conversations in the conference room. Just like how MUN shapes the diplomats of tomorrow, the Press Corps serve as a perfect training ground for the future generation of journalists.
Ultimately, the best way to get to know every role is by personally interacting with them at a MUN conference. Every conference brings a unique set of experiences, and everybody, in each special role contributes to the running of a good conference.