At each conference, there will always be a dizzying number of committees that you will be able to choose and sign up for (or if you’re in the club, perhaps, delegated). At first this may seem a little confusing -- however, for most parts committees in Model UN tend to follow certain patterns. This is a guide to all the committee formats that you will (probably) ever encounter.
General Assembly (GA)
The General Assemblies are usually the largest committees in the conference, given that they represent ALL UN member states (193 of them!). These committees can be huge, representing often representing up to or over 100 delegations! As the most representative organ of the UN, they tackle a variety of issues from international security to sociocultural to economic issues. In larger conferences, there are multiple GAs, each specifically dedicated to a different area of debate. For example, the following General Assemblies are commonly seen in conferences:
Disarmament and International Security (First Committee)
Economic and Financial Committee (Second Committee)
Social, Humanitarian & Cultural Issues (Third Committee)
Special Political and Decolonization Committee (Fourth Committee)
Legal Committee (Sixth Committee)
And so forth.
The Security Council is perhaps the pinnacle of all councils. Comprising fifteen member states, five permanent and ten non-permanent members elected on two-year terms by their regional grouping, the Security Council discusses the most crucial issues and crises facing the world. It decides upon assertive UN actions -- for example, the implementation of international sanctions, deployment of peacekeeping missions, and even the use of military force. The most unique characteristic of the council is the veto held by five permanent members, derived from their status as victors of World War II, which has the power to effectively render whole resolutions moot. This makes discussions oriented around the lobbying and convincing of the permanent members, akin to a tug of war. Additionally, as the only council allowed to create binding resolutions and authorize the use of force, Security Council discussions take on an additional layer of weight compared to the recommendations of other councils. These two factors alone give discussions in the Security Council a dynamic that set it apart from other committees. Depending on the issue, the Security Council can take both the form of a regular committee or a crisis committee (explained later). Considering the nature of the topics discussed as well as its inherently unique power dynamic, discussions at the Security Council is almost always intense, and by result it is almost always considered one of the most prestigious councils in every conference and tends to be attended by more experienced delegates. However, don’t let this turn you off! It is also one of the most rewarding experiences you can get in MUN and should definitely be experienced at least once.
Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)
ECOSOC, otherwise known as the Economic and Social Council, is responsible for coordinating the 15 specialized agencies responsible for, according to the UN, “reflection, debate, and innovative thinking on sustainable development”, with them aiming together to achieve objectives that fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals. In the United Nations, Economic and Social Council is composed of 54 member countries, with a third of the members changing every year-- and in MUN, simulations of the ECOSOCs are mid-sized committees that tackle a variety of environmental, social, as well as economic issues, ranging from protection of women’s rights to the containment of pandemic outbreaks like Ebola. In conferences, simulations of these discussions can either take the form of general ECOSOCs that handle various topics on the agenda, or, in the case of larger conferences, be separated into their dedicated specialized agencies, such as the World Bank or the World Health Organization.
United Nations Human Rights Council
The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is dedicated towards promoting and protecting human rights around the world. The UNHRC has 47 members, which are all elected in staggered three-year terms, with consideration to proportional regional groups. Like ECOSOCs, they are also usually mid-sized committees that create policy recommendations. A sample of issues discussed by the Human Rights Committee include gender equality, and minority discrimination, or refugee issues during times of conflict.
International Criminal Court of Justice
The International Criminal Court of Justice (ICJ) is a common specialized agency seen at conferences. Comprising of 15 judges elected by the General Assembly and Security Council for nine-year terms, the ICJ is the main judicial body that helps determines the results of disputes between member states. In MUN, roles are further divided into Applicants, Respondents, and Justices of the Court, in response to cases brought up by its member states. It gives advisory opinions on how other organs of the UN, such as the Security Council and the General Assembly on how to proceed regarding cases violating international law, including for example, issues related limited to war crimes, genocide and so forth. Even though these committees are often filled by law students in college, this is not to say that students with no background in law are not eligible to participate. At high school level, many students have used their participation in ICJ committees at MUN as a springboard to pursue their interests in political science, international relations, and law.
Historical committees are simulations of significant historical events that serve to recreate the decision-making processes of leaders and committees that navigated the world through the crisis. In such committees, delegates can leverage on the power of hindsight, where they can study the actions of past actors and their respective results to find better possible solutions. Some examples are UN-specific situations, such as the UN emergency special session during the Suez Crisis. Similarly, these can also take the form of specialized agencies under crisis committee format -- for example, President Kennedy’s during the Cuban Missile Crisis, or Interwar inquiries of the Weimar Republic. Delegates are expected to navigate their proposed solutions with a sense of responsibility with the added benefit of hindsight. Yet in the process, they would also question whether the course of events and response of the international community were avoidable or inevitable.
Regional bodies are, like their name suggest, simulations of real-life organizations that are dedicated towards in solving regional issues. These are, however not common in MUN conferences given their unique natures, and thus are often offered more commonly on bigger conferences. Some examples include:
ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)
In a MUN context, such regional bodies follow the protocol of MUN debate for the sake of convenience -- however, of their respective organizations. Similarly, such conferences can also simulate domestic bodies relevant to important global issues or reflect important local contexts. Yale-MUN in New Haven, for example, holds a Mexican Senate entirely conducted in Spanish!
Other Specialized Agencies
These agencies aim to simulate non-UN-affiliated organizations that seek to accomplish specific, specialized purposes that require more focused investigations and approaches than a regular general assembly. Like regional bodies, these agencies are relatively rarer compared to main committees and therefore more likely to be seen in larger conferences. However they can often offer an interesting counterpoint to the comparatively slower discussions in the GA due to their smaller size. Such committees can vary to large degrees-- from Brexit Negotiations to OPEC. Crisis Committees
Finally, crisis committees. Crisis committees are kind of an odd one out --they are one of the most unique experiences a delegate can experience in MUN. Rather than countries, delegates undertake roleplay of a greater degree, taking up specific roles in an organization to solve an impending crisis, from ministers in national governments. The key difference of a crisis committee from regular committees is that crisis committees operate on dynamic rather than static timelines, with events developing from the statements by the chairs or press conferences held by delegates, that respond to the decisions made in the conference. Similarly, decisions are not made through resolutions, but instead replaced by directives. In addition to committee directives, delegates are also given portfolio powers commensurate with their role. For example, a delegate assigned the role of Chief of the Armed Forces in a crisis committee could have authorization to deploy military resources unilaterally as part of the individual’s portfolio actions. Crisis committees are a whole new can of worms -- indeed “succeeding” in a crisis committee, means that you have successfully represented either their character or the country, in achieving their goals. The crisis committee is increasingly becoming popular in North America, with conferences extending the conferences to non-UN fantasy topics like a simulation of the Coachella board of directors and Star Wars simulations, to divisive reception. Yet, its success serves as a tribute to the allure behind the crisis committee’s dynamic nature.