Strategy Tip: How I Dominated the P5 as Bhutan and How Your “Little Country” Can Too

by KFC on November 15, 2011

Long before my high school would get assigned countries like the UK and Japan, we always got stuck with the “little countries.” And before UCLA was respected enough to get China and France, we got assigned countries like Bhutan. No offense to Bhutan, but it’s not exactly a world power. But that’s okay because I had to learn how to win with these smaller, less influential countries and eventually I figured out how to use them to outmaneuver the Permanent Five (P5) and other big countries. So for all the delegates who always feel like they are at a disadvantage with their country assignments, here are seven ways to dominate the P5 and other powerful countries as a smaller country.

Here are seven ways — some of them mindsets and some of them tactics — I used to dominate the P5 as Bhutan and other smaller countries:

1. Re-define “power.” Don’t get too caught up with inherent advantages and don’t feel inferior. Most people think of power in terms military or economics — countries in exclusive clubs such as the UN Security Council Permanent Five (military power) or the wealthy G8/G20 countries (economic power) are naturally more powerful and are considered more advantageous country assignments. These countries can use their military and economic power to get others to act or vote a certain way. But a large military or a large economy do not necessarily make a country powerful. Rather, these are just attributes of power. Instead, you should think of power as “the ability to influence others to act the way you want them to act.” A strong military or economy can gain votes in real life, but they’re not the only ways to gain votes. If you do not have military power or economic power to influence others, then think about other attributes and ways you can influence someone to support you or vote for you (see tip #2 below).

2. Leverage other types of power. You and your country have other types of power that you may not be aware of. This can be soft power, smart power, cultural/religious affinity, and other attributes that make your country respected or make others respect you personally as a leader. If your country does not have hard power attributes such as a large military or economy, then use personal soft power instead. Convince others to vote for you because your country has the best ideas, because they like working with you, because your country has been friendly with others in the past, because your country is suffering from the same issues or has a similar level of socio-economic development and can better empathize with others than the P5 can, etc.

3. Play by your own rules. If you know you’re going to lose by the current rules, then change it up. For example, the United States is a military power and almost any country would lose head-to-head in a conventional war against it. But combatants during the Vietnam War and the current War in Afghanistan recognized that disadvantage and changed up the game of warfare to include guerrilla tactics — they re-defined the “rules” of warfare to level the playing field. Think about what are the hidden rules and how you can get the committee or countries to play by your own rules.

4. Channel a more powerful ally. If you’re going to be part of a caucus bloc that has similar policies as you and if most caucus blocs tend to have a regional hegemon (the most powerful country in the region), then you might as well act like you’re the hegemon/leader in that caucus bloc. When I was Bhutan, I would pretend I was like a second India. When I was Kazakhstan, I would act big as if I was Russia. Our policies are similar and nothing prevents me from leading India or Russia (or leading like them) in the caucus bloc. Plenty of smaller countries have figured out how to be (or see themselves as) regional leaders despite not being the biggest country in the region (i.e. Venezuela in Latin America, Singapore in ASEAN, etc.)

5. Level the playing field with bigger caucus blocs. Everyone always thinks the most powerful caucus blocs are the ones that have the militarily and economically “powerful” countries. But in Model United Nations, every vote is equal to each other. Because of this, the most powerful bloc is actually the lesser-developed countries bloc because there are many more of those countries (votes) than there are developed countries. If you are split up into regional blocs, the African bloc is actually the most powerful since it has the most votes. Rally your fellow small countries — and newer delegates in the back of the room — to form a rival counterweight to the “power countries” bloc by having more votes than them. Your small country bloc can now effectively influence which resolutions will pass during voting bloc.

6. Win with solutions. Good ideas should always win, and good ideas are not necessarily inherent to whoever is assigned a big country. Don’t be afraid of where you start — it’s what you end up proposing that matters. Other delegates will listen and want to work with you once you have solid solutions and invite other delegates to help improve and expand upon them. Beat the larger countries with substance.

7. Lead a resolution bloc and lock it in. In the How to Win Awards in Model United Nations guide, I mentioned the importance of being the first to bloc arbitrage. Your country has power once it has its draft resolution approved because others will now recognize you as the leader of a formal caucus bloc — you are no longer Bhutan but rather the leader of 20 votes or however many supporters you have. And that gives you a lot of advantages. You can convince the entire bloc to vote a certain way for the P5’s resolutions. You can vote down unfriendly amendments to your resolution, which actually means you can veto any attempt by a more powerful bloc to swallow your resolution in a hostile merger attempt (I explain this “poison pill” tactic in the How to Win Awards guide). Again, win with good ideas and put them down on paper. Then use your resolution bloc to your advantage.

Ultimately, the real lesson is that you don’t need to be a big country to win. There are plenty of examples on the high school and college circuits of powerhouse teams winning with small countries; Mira Costa High School dominated MUNUC as Seychelles in 2010 and West Point for many years has won by representing African nations because their teams were not large enough to get assigned a P5 nation. As mentioned in the photo above, what matters most is how you see yourself.

What do you think about these tips? What have other small countries done to balance out the advantages of bigger countries? 

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  • Josh Rivers

    I completely agree with many of the points in this. My first ever conference I was Latvia in the NATO Crisis committee and won Best Delegate. A tiny, relatively insignificant country in regards to economic and military power, which is essential in crisis, but when played right, and when you leverage other nations, propose ideas, and stay on the right track with things and dominantly lead the committee, it’s your voice that ultimately gets heard and as long as you stay on policy with your country, the power of your country is relatively a mute point when it comes to leadership. Sure the US, and other nations have much more power, but if their ideas are flawed and they don’t know how to use that power then you can surpass that with your positions.

    Another tip I’d like to point out is that in various situations, both in crisis committees and non-crisis committees, when allocating resources and other aspects of a country’s power, play your cards right and get the powerful countries to pay for your initiatives. If you come up with an amazing plan or something for a resolution, but your country lacks the fiscal ability to complete it, then approach a larger country and ask them to be in on it as a financial backer. Not only does this give you a command over their actions and establish you as a dominant country in the committee regardless of your country size, but it also allows for your resolution to gain more votes as that power country can bring it’s backing of your resolution back to their Bloc and thus garner more support for you.

    • Anonymous

      Great tip!

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  • Locke Lamora

    Brilliant advice. Reminds me of my time as Syria in a certain debate over the rebuilding of Somalia. Syria has its own problems, but I successfully used the “poison pill”, but defecting to Iraq’s resolution and supposedly exiling myself to the far corner of the building to type it…


    That and my time in a Soviet committee in which I secretly passed human right legislation whilst Trotsky and Stalin continually tried to assassinate each-other. While they made big speeches and slaughter each-other’s guerrilla’s, I worked my way around the committee room and whispered in a great many sympathetic ears, secretly leading Trotsky to believe he was my Master. I then presented three resolutions in a row, all of which passed unanimously because Stalin was in the Gulag (soon to escape), and Trotsky didn’t dare dissent with everyone in the room looking at him murderously.

    • Arturia Pendragon

      I like where this is going
      Yet to have my first MUN, but this sounds really interesting xD hatching plots and all

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