Research


Part IIIb Research

As you begin to research for a conference, you want to make sure you are sure of the country you're going to be representing, and which committee you are going to be representing that country on. You also want to check and make sure you know what topics that committee will be discussing. Generally speaking, you will be learning about these three things, and how they relate to each other.

What To Research For
    
Specifically, you want to look for information about six things, usually in the order listed below. (We'll use an example of Alex, who was assigned Algeria on the General Assembly. Let's say the General Assembly has one topic: "Reduction of Military Budgets.") The six most important things to research are:

1) Your country.
You don't need to know everything about the country, but you want to know the things that might come up in a direct or indirect way: Where is it geographically? How long has it been independent, and who (if anyone) was it a colony of? What country or bloc does it receive foreign aid from, and who does it give foreign aid to? Who are its major trading partners, and who does it align itself with most frequently? (This is usually someone who gives it a lot of foreign aid or who is a primary trading partner, such as the Marshall Islands with the United States or Iran and China, or a regional organization, such as the situation of France, Germany and the European Union. Sometimes, it is someone who wants to become part of a trading relationship or a regional organization, such as Turkey with the European Union.) Also, how is your country governed? How secure is the government's control on its people? Get a general idea of your country - this might not end up being talked about or written about, but it will help your decision making and help your research on some of the other items below.

2) Your committee.
You want to learn about your committee - What does it do? Where does it fit into the UN structure? (in other words, how important is it?) What does it have control over in terms of funds? What other committees report to it? Most importantly, what can it do and not do? For example, the Security Council is the only UN committee that can send in UN peacekeepers to a conflict zone, so if you're on the General Assembly, that's not an option for you. But if you're talking about instructing the Human Rights Council to discuss something, the General Assembly is the only committee that can do that, because the Human Rights Council reports directly to the General Assembly. Knowing what your committee can and can't do will come without more than a few minutes of research in time, but make sure you take the time to be sure for your first few conferences. (Most conferences provide a background guide with a "committee history" or "committee overview" that will help with a general understanding of the committee.)

3) Your topic(s).
Understanding of your topic from a neutral perspective is necessary to finding solutions that are logical to the problem, as well as understanding what specific proposals that other countries make during the conference might clash with your country's more generally-worded policy. Using our example, it's important to know which countries have high or low military budgets, and which actions have been taken by the international community to reduce military budgets in the past. It is important to note that the United States' military budget is nearly equal to the rest of the world's military budgets combined, to identify the current trends and understand where to work hardest - as a delegate who represents a country that wants lower military budgets, any action you recommend or that the committee takes will be perceived to be significantly less effective if it does not include a reduction in American military spending. (Most conferences provide a background guide with a section on each topic, which provides an overview of the topic and history of actions taken by individual countries and by international organizations on the issue. These background guides are an excellent starting point for a general understanding and usually include a bibliography to jump-start your research in this area.)

4) Your country's position within the committee.
This is a section of your research that might not give you anything helpful, but if you can find something here about your country and committee's relationship, it can be very helpful. What you're looking for includes: Does the committee meet in your country? Were you a founder or key leader in the creation of the committee or organization? Are you currently Chair or President of the organization? Historically, have you had conflict with the organization or been kicked out / suspended from its membership? Understanding your place in the committee shouldn't take too long, but might let you know how likely you are to be listened to. For example, Egypt was the host of the Arab League from 1945 to 1979, but the league met in Tunisia from 1979 to 1989 while Egypt's membership was suspended following the Egyptian-Israeli peace accords of 1979. Now the League meets in Cairo once again, and if you're a delegate representing Egypt on the League of Arab States, that information is helpful to you; it allows you to "welcome" fellow delegates to your country during the first session, and allows you to recognize that you are a major player in the League, to the point that your actions affect the entire organization.

5) Your country's position on your topic(s).
Researching your country's position on your topic will be the section of your research that you should spend most of your research time on. You should consult country-specific websites, such as your country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs or Department of State (or the equivalent national authority on foreign relations), and search them for the topic - your goal is to find a timely statement of policy by someone in that agency on that topic. For example, Alex as the United States would look for a statement on "Reduction of Military Budgets" made by Hillary Clinton (the American Secretary of State as of the time of this writing) or one of the Assistant or Deputy Secretaries of State for Disarmament. Ideally, Alex would also find statements by the current American President, Barack Obama. The most timely statement by the highest-ranking person is the one you should use, in case policy has changed or been overruled. Also, you should look at the country's mission to the UN (you can find many of these at www.un.int) to see if they've made statements at the UN about the topic. These are among the many places you should look for information, to answer a simple question: "What does your country want done on this issue?"

6) Your country's goals for the committee's discussion of your topic(s).
This section isn't really its own item to research - most of the time, it's where you coalesce everything else you have looked up in the previous sections. Sometimes, there are specific things you can find while researching, however. The United States in 2002-2003 had a different policy on Iraq within the Security Council than it did in NATO's North Atlantic Council, and because of the mandate of different committees, its position on Iraq within the General Assembly First Committee (on Disarmament and International Security) was also different. But if you can't find a distinct committee-specific policy for your country on your topic, you just want to combine everything else you've found and come up with the answer to the question: "What does (your country) want (your committee) to do about (your topic) at this conference?" The answer to this question will also complete a great deal of work on your position paper, when you begin to write it.

An important note on perspective:
It is important to know the truth of what's going on in your country, but what you will actually be sharing publicly will be your research on what your country says is happening there. For example, Israel is widely believed to have nuclear weapons, but denies this. Iran is widely believed to be developing nuclear weapons, but their position is that all nuclear efforts in Iran are for nuclear power and other peaceful purposes. Knowing that Israel has nuclear weapons is important for your decision-making during committee, but when writing or speaking publicly while representing Israel, you would state the official position of Israel by denying possession of nuclear weapons. Other examples include Iran's President saying that there are no homosexual Iranians, China denying human rights abuses (in Taiwan and Tibet, or with the Falun Gong), Sudan denying human rights abuses in Darfur and during the previous civil war, Israel denying their use of extra-judicial executions and collective punishment in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, etc. etc. If you represent any of these countries, or any country that denies that they have done something that everyone knows they've done, you need to play the role - deny, deny, deny.