WASHINGTON, D.C.; Feb. 6, 2005—Bizarrely, the banquet for the 42nd North American Invitational Model United Nations begins at 11 a.m. Sunday, which means that some of the delegates are no-shows. Presumably they're sleeping off their middle-of-night crisis meetings. "Too bad my neocon kid isn't here," one of the teachers at my table tells me. "You would have liked to meet him." And I would have—I have a soft spot for little ideologues. It's when they grow up that they're not so entertaining.
The delegates who are sleeping in are missing out. After a soulful Irish song from one of the Methodist College kids, some Georgetown a cappella groups run through their repertoires, from doo-wop to chamber music to Sounds of the '80s that were hits before some of the diplomats were born (this is the post-Wham! generation as well as the post-Cold War generation). Then it's back to work before the evening's festivities: first Super Bowl XXXIX (NAIMUN XLII's not the only event to use Roman numerals to inflate its importance), then the Delegate Dance at which, I hope, the kids will be able to leave their diplomatic personae at the door.
After spending my first night at MUN with the South African cabinet, I have been chamber-hopping, gaining entrée with my handwritten MEDIA nametag. If experienced MUNers dominate the committees, it seems that the general assemblies are where you're more likely to find the novices. Some of the speakers in the larger rooms are as eloquent as the crème de la crème in the committees, but I also see a lot of younger kids, including one I dub the Littlest Diplomat, a boy who, perhaps up past his bedtime, reclined on a couple of chairs while his elders, relatively speaking, kept talking.
In GA, speeches are brief and much of the emphasis is on the crafting and recrafting of resolutions, a task that requires delegates to spill out of the meeting room into the hall where co-sponsors can be lined up. Take the Committee on Disarmament and International Security, where I shadowed Ben Jeffery, another Methodist College Belfast student. As in the real United Nations, complaints from Western delegates about Iran's potential nuclear weapons program are countered by complaints from Arab and Islamic nations about Israel's nukes. The obvious solution is a compromise that incorporates elements of competing resolutions and smoothes over ideological differences, so Resolutions 1.0 and 1.4 give birth to 1.5. In these cases, lots of delegations can claim pride of authorship, and these hybrid resolutions tend to be successful. When one so-called "super-resolution" was unveiled, I overheard a young diplomat whose nation didn't join the party tell an ally, "We're finished—look at all those co-sponsors."
Delegates are expected to think on their feet, and the most interesting simulations put a premium on improvisation. The Georgetown student who chaired the British cabinet kept supplying the ministers with "this just in" bulletins and ticking time bombs à la the TV show 24. Filling in for Tony Blair, she kept the cabinet hopping with a scenario in which the United States decides to short-circuit the problem of Iran's nuclear weapons by assassinating an ayatollah and gives a heads-up to the Brits beforehand.
This sets in motion a sophisticated—and sometimes cynical—debate that touches in turn on the morality of assassination, its practicalities ("Poison is cheap"), and the short shrift given to international law by the United States. "Ask them about legality," one cabinet member suggests to "Blair" as she prepares to contact the White House. "They don't think in legal terms," another minister chimes in. The leader of the House of Lords wonders whether the assassination plan is designed "to stop nuclear proliferation or establish democracy. The U.S. thinks they go hand-in-hand." The secretary of state for Wales has another idea: "Let's go to the Security Council. Our troops are exhausted in Iraq." Pushing her cabinet forward, "Blair" says, "I'm going to send a fax to Condi," but the hawks in Washington are not to be deterred. A few minutes later comes a bulletin from the BBC: A former British citizen has just tried unsuccessfully to assassinate the ayatollah. That wily CIA!
And so it went for the rest of Sunday, not always with such high drama. By Super Bowl time, the diplomats have abandoned "Western business attire" for Abercrombie & Fitch pullovers and those dreaded short skirts and chinos. A really unmoderated caucus of MUNers from New England schools cheers the Patriots on to victory, and then it's time for the delegate dance, which I don't stick around for. I also miss the final session Monday morning at which the delegates are allowed to loosen up, within reason, though I later hear that hilarity ensued without incident. Oh, and the delegation from Methodist College returned to Belfast with laurels, including a best delegate award for James McMordie, the French envoy to the "Future Security Council," and honorable mentions for Nick Hall, Ben Jeffery, and several others. "Home safe," Nick tells me in an e-mail. "Bit of an anticlimax."