In honor of UN Day, I spent this week discussing with my students what their experience in Model UN has taught them about the real UN. We discussed the UN’s achievements, especially in development and decolonization, as well as its shortcomings, particularly in peace and security. We also took the opportunity to read the document that defines the organization – the Charter of the United Nations.
The experience made me wonder how many students go through Model UN without actually reading the UN Charter. It also made me realize that the Charter might be difficult for a teacher to discuss if he or she never studied it as a student. But there are several reasons for including the UN Charter as part of your Model UN training:
- Part of Model UN is learning about the UN and international issues. The UN Charter describes the purpose and structure of the UN, and it highlights the international issues the UN is responsible for addressing.
- Understanding the UN Charter helps you become a better delegate. It should be part of your committee research because the Charter defines the purpose and powers of many of the committees you will simulate in Model UN. You can bring up relevant parts of the Charter during speeches and caucusing, and citing relevant articles of the Charter can strengthen your resolutions.
- Reading the UN Charter is a good exercise in understanding and evaluating primary sources, which is an important part of a social studies education, as well as a useful skill for writing research papers and participating in college-level discussions.
- If you’re going to Model UN, you should probably read the document that defines the real UN!
You can read the text of the UN Charter at the official UN website here. To help you with understanding the UN and holding a discussion with your students, start with these questions below:
- What is the purpose of the UN? This is covered in the Preamble and Chapter I: Purposes and Principles. Are the UN’s purposes and principles realistic? Does the UN today live up to what it set forth 66 years ago? Check out this list of the UN’s greatest achievements.
- How do countries join the UN? Chapter II: Membership describes the requirements for UN membership. Why do countries want to join the UN? Is the membership process fair? (Consider that membership is subject to veto by the Security Council.)
- How is the UN organized? Chapter III: Organs breaks down the UN into 6 principal organs, and Chapters IV-XV describe the powers and membership of those organs. (Note that the Trusteeship Council no longer meets because it accomplished its mission of decolonization.) Does this organization make sense? Is it effective? Check out how the UN organization fits into the larger UN system here.
- Can the UN infringe on a country’s sovereignty? Article 2 is about upholding state sovereignty and ensuring that the UN does not “intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction” of a member state. However, the Security Council can authorize enforcement action under Chapter VII — but the Security Council is subject to the veto of the Permanent 5 (US, UK, France, Russia, and China). How does the UN balance its principle of sovereignty with maintaining international peace and security or promoting human rights? When should the Security Council determine that a domestic matter has become an international matter, such as in the case of human rights abuses? And what happens if those abuses take place within the territory of a Permanent 5 country?
- Does the UN challenge the status quo, or preserve it? The UN is “based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members” (Ch. I, Art. 2). But some members are more equal than others; the Permanent 5 have veto power in the Security Council (Ch. V, Art. 27). Is the UN about promoting global progress or preserving the power of the Permanent 5?