How to Approach a Small Country Assignment in Model UN

by KFC on November 5, 2014

You can still be influential as a smaller country

You can still be influential as a smaller country

The vast majority of Model UN delegates will be assigned a smaller or seemingly obscure country at some point in their career. Simulating smaller countries is a challenge because they have less influence and are less active in international relations in real life. It becomes difficult to do research on that country’s policies and past actions, and that makes it difficult to educate others about their policies and solutions or to get others to follow a small country as a leader in a MUN simulation. Many delegates, particularly those who are newer or struggle with research, do not like being assigned smaller countries for all these reasons.

I was part of a club program during high school and a brand new travel team during college though, so I had spent a significant portion of my Model UN career representing smaller countries. From my experience, I have observed several approaches that I believe are the wrong and right ways to take when given a small country assignment.

Wrong Approaches

I believe there are two wrong approaches that delegates commonly use. The first wrong approach is to just complain that they are not a P5 country and how unfair it is for the powerhouses to always get assigned a P5 (and win awards easier). These delegates tend not to try or put in a full effort or dwell on their disadvantage when they see a more influential country in real life take a leadership role in a MUN simulation. Life is not fair, and complaining won’t help you be productive in this case.

The second wrong approach is to think that just because no one will probably know anything about your country, you should just make up your country’s policy and “BS” your way through committee. It might work, especially if you’re in a novice high school setting, though less likely in advanced committees or at the university level where people actually know their facts. However, you would be doing yourself an educational disservice for not learning about a certain part of the world and not learning how to deal with less influential positions.

Right Approaches

I believe there are two right approaches to such an assignment. The first right approach is the educational approach, or what I call the Best Supporting Actor approach. You want to become an expert in simulating your specific small country. Instead of stressing out that you are not an influential country, you want to role-play your country to the best extent it can realistically be in the international system. For example, you could be a great deputy to a larger country in your regional bloc, or you could act as a neutral mediator and present a third-party solution between two conflicting blocs.

images-1The second approach is the competitive approach, or what Lion in the Mirror approach. You want to become an expert at overcoming the challenge of a small country and become a leader as one. Instead of seeing yourself as limited to your small country, you want to see yourself as the bloc leader based on shared background (geographic, political, economic, etc.), similar policies, or common solutions. It helps to imagine yourself as a duplicate of the regional hegemon. Bhutan is no longer just Bhutan; it is now the leader of the large Asian bloc or the influential anti-intervention bloc and has the same power as a second China or India in committee.

I tended to use the latter approach since I came from a competitive circuit. I shared some of the preparation tactics in my blog post about my experience as Bhutan dominating the P5 here. Tactically though, it’s important to focus on research because common knowledge or the news probably do not cover this country’s policies. Specifically, the research can focus on treaties, conventions, and resolutions that the country has adopted or not adopted; country specific programs that have been implemented on the topic including domestic ones; and any statements made by government officials including UN GA speeches. These are better starting points for extrapolating country policy if it comes down to having to make part of it up.

Ultimately, Model UN is about learning. Regardless if you want to learn about the real world and how small countries fit into the system and struggle to influence policy or if you want to learn about how to compete with a disadvantageous assignment in order to challenge your skills, you should take the small country assignment as a good learning opportunity and make the most of it.

Have you been assigned a small country? How did you effectively approach it?

  • Sherman

    A very interesting and important topic for those looking to be competitive on the Circuit… as someone who went from a relatively unheralded high school team that often received second or third tier country assignments to a very well known (read: usually P5) college team, strategy really does vary massively based on country assignment.

    Your two strategies are pretty good generic breakdowns, but I would add in that in order to succeed in a small country it is absolutely key to read your chair. In a perfect world all chairs would judge performance based on sticking to your country’s real-world positions and accurately representing your assignment as a delegate. Some do, and in this case, the “Best Supporting Actor” approach will work great. In my experience, however, this is usually not the case- most chairs, at least at major North American college/HS conferences, ultimately look for the delegate which has had the greatest sway on committee, only bringing in country assignment as a tiebreaker or as a less important point in award discussions.

    In that case a delegate looking to gavel is left with no choice but the “Lion in the Mirror” approach. Being assigned a small country is perhaps hardest during initial bloc formation, when it is often difficult to gather bloc members without a P5 or other large country being involved. Unfortunately, P5 delegates at major conferences tend to be among the most competitive, so winning is usually not as simple as taking control of a working paper and rising to the top of a bloc. Instead, try to be one of the clear two or three leaders of your bloc, and don’t be afraid to be an underdog- some “competitive” delegates may underestimate you due to a small country assignment, which can be used to your advantage. When Friday night/Saturday comes it’s moving time: be as vocal as possible, show the committee and chair that you know your stuff and that you are the key player in your bloc. Then, be as involved as possible in the merging process, which is often less assignment dependent as you have hopefully already established yourself as a competitive delegate and power player in the committee.

    Let’s be clear- it is harder to win a large committee without a “top tier” country assignment. But it is not impossible- and winning or performing well in such a committee will definitely earn you a reputation as a strong delegate which will serve you well no matter whether your HS/university is a powerhouse or not.

    • kevinfelixchan

      Hi Sherman — thanks for the analysis. I think you’re right in that for better or worse most chairs do not give out awards based on who played their individual countries the best but rather who was the best delegate in the committee room. Therefore, the “Lion in the Mirror” approach or any approach that helps delegates mitigate their disadvantages makes much more sense in a competitive conference.

      You also provided good insight in that small country disadvantages become minimized as time goes on because you can now derive value and leadership from being established in a bloc and its resolution writing and merging process.

      I will note that I was once was in DISEC at a college conference where all DPRK did was troll the Western nations with hilarious insults and ended up receiving an Outstanding, presumably for being “in character.”

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