Published on: December 18, 2012
The Oxford International Model United Nations conference opened its 10th session in picturesque Oxford Town Hall with the loud bang of a gavel. Students from as far as India and Venezuela, as well as – you guessed it – Great Barrington, USA, made the journey to the United Kingdom for Europe’s top Model UN conference, to simulate the United Nations apparatus hosted at the prestigious University.
Secretary General Imran Bhaluani, a Politics, Philosophy, and Economics student at Oxford, kicked things off in an opening address that highlighted the links between the negotiation skills learned through student simulations of the United Nations, and the negotiations of the actual UN. Bhaluani noted, “negotiation can not be restricted to the government’s table, it’s a way of life.”
The Bard College at Simon’s Rock Model UN team travelled across the pond to Oxford, UK for the conference, which ran November 2-4 2012. On my junior year abroad as a Visiting Student at St. Catherine’s College Oxford through the Simon’s Rock signature program last year, I honed the Model UN skills I’d begun at the Rock. I was involed with the Oxford University United Nations Association, traveling with the team to debate representing Oxford.
But it was my last minute participation in OxIMUN 2011, at the request of last year’s Secretary General to fill a crucial seat still empty days before the conference, that exposed me to the high quality committees and opportunity to interact with and befriend so many inspiring students from around the world, particularly from Universities that do not attend US circuit conferences, such as Cambridge and the London School of Economics. After OxIMUN 2011, I made it my goal to bring a delegation from Bard College at Simon’s Rock to the conference in 2012.
Without the support of the OxIMUN Diversity Scholarship, the Ben Stern Scholarship, as well as guidance and assistance from Maryann Tebben, Anne O’Dwyer, Sue Lyon, the Academic Affairs staff, and the generosity of the students who hosted us at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford it would not have been possible for our delegation to attend, and for this we are incredibly grateful.
The conference’s Opening Ceremonies were unparalleled. For a small liberal arts college such as ours, it is essential to travel to world-class events like OxIMUN to be exposed to speakers with the experience that such an event attracts. The featured keynote speakers had very different career experiences, and unique respective insights.
The first to address the students was Sir Richard Dalton, who drew upon his long career in the British Foreign Office (the UK equivalent of the Department of State). Dalton spoke on the challenges in his career as the British ambassador to various Middle Eastern states, from his early days working with the Palestinian Authority, to his later years, as ambassador to Iran.
The Opening Ceremony’s second speaker, Dr. Erik Jensen, brought a slightly different perspective, having had a long career in the United Nations itself. Elissa Furlong ’09, a Simon’s Rock delegate, found Jensen’s remarks particularly informative, noting, “Many students participating in Model UN aspire to work for the UN.” Furlong was inspired to see Jensen speak so fondly of his rewarding career even though “at times, it was clearly challenging.”
Equally fascinating was my informal conversation with Dr. Jensen at the formal reception, where he quite starkly highlighted the North-South divide, prevalent even in the United Nations itself. Dr. Jensen recalled times Ambassadors from other countries asked him if he could send a fax for them, as the power had been shut off in their own embassy because they could not afford the electrical bills in Manhattan. It was an illustration of the disparity of information that I would not have even thought of, that General Assembly members at times might literally be cut off from the latest news from their home nation and have to face the challenges of decision-making in that situation.
Both keynote addresses featured themes of sovereignty, a quintessential issue for the United Nations, and one that permeated student debate as well. Jensen’s discussion of the sovereignty issue focused on the necessity for reform of the United Nations Security Council. The Council has had the same permanent five members since 1948: The United States, The United Kingdom, France, Russia and China. Critics have argued that these hardly represent the 2012 world order.
Jensen, like Dalton, rejects a view of a world where states look out only for their self-interest, noting the many factors that affect us globally, such as climate change. Dalton argued that challenges such as transnational environmental responsibility ultimately mean, “In today’s interdependent world, no state enjoys absolute sovereignty.”
Sovereignty was a key theme in the debate of the OxIMUN Security Council, on which I was honored to receive a seat as elected member Morocco. With the power to sanction and the dramatic clashes of the powerful Permanent Five member states, the Security Council is one of those committees on which every career Model UN delegate dreams of serving, and for myself, this session certainly did not disappoint. From the start, the committee was exciting and sparks flew. In Parliamentary Procedure of the United Nations, if a delegate feels that her/his personal or national integrity has been insulted, she/he may ask the Chair for a right of reply. In the very first session of the Security Council, the debate was so heated, that not one, but several ‘right of replies’ were granted.
Simon’s Rock delegates Emily Baker ’09 and Moses Sukin ’11 were participating in their first university level Model UN conference. Sukin felt encouraged to quickly become an active member of his committee, and thoroughly enjoyed participating in the League of Arab states. He expressed interest in future conferences, stating, “The MUN trip to Oxford was really great. It was my first conference so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I felt really comfortable once everything got going and I was really able to enjoy the time in my committee.”
Baker expressed similar sentiments: “It was great to get the opportunity to get a taste of what the UN is like, and argue as they would over issues that are faced in real life by these committees. It was also amazing to be able to do so in Oxford, in England, and to experience Oxford life and meet new people.” She noted her chair actively encouraged delegates to speak up and contribute to committee. Knowing the amount of research Baker did in preparation for her first conference, I know how much that encouragement helped one of our delegates make the most of the session, which is particularly important in a large intimidating committee like SPECPOL, with over 100 member states present. This awareness is evident in the overall character of OxIMUN: to encourage all delegates, regardless of their level of experience, to learn from each other, participate, and have a good time.
A large part of why I was so passionate about my desire to bring a delegation from home to this conference was to allow Rockers to experience the historic city of Oxford, just for a few days. Registering for OxIMUN was my first act as President of Bard College at Simon’s Rock Model UN in spring of 2012, and it was the largest goal we had ever shot for in terms of fundraising and administrative challenges, but I can confidently say there is not a conference for which it could have been more worth it. Between the Opening Ceremonies at Oxford Town hall, to lunch at the Eagle and Child (the pub where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis met to discuss drafts), to the club night where we danced with our committee members and the OxIMUN secretariat alike (of course followed by chips & cheese at Hassan’s, a popular Kebab van on the walk back to St. Catherine’s), to hall with our committees in the historic Oxford colleges like New College and Jesus College, it was so special for me to share, if only for a few days, a great window into the Oxford culture, which our delegates were incredibly excited to visit for the first time.