Cameron Cadogan, the author of this article, is the Under-Secretary General of Committees for Capital Model United Nations (CAPMUN). He formerly served as the Vice-President of Delegate Coordination and Co-Vice President of Training for the University of Ottawa Model United Nations Association (uOMUNA). He has attended more than 26 conferences along with being a chair and crisis staff multiple times. He has also performed in various “in-house” simulations. Cameron is extremely passionate about Model UN: he started in Grade Eleven. Consequently, he deeply cherishes Model UN.
This story is about Cameron’s experiences at an American conference in high school, where he participated in his first crisis committee.
On October 1st, 2017, I attended my first Model UN conference (BLEMUN). While I went in somewhat skeptical, I quickly discovered that I absolutely loved it! The research, debate, negotiation, strategizing, speaking, socializing, and many other actions were wonderful as far as I was concerned. I attended three more conferences in November of 2017 along with January and February of 2018 (SSUNS 2017, BLYTHMUN 2018, UTMUN 2018). I very much enjoyed myself there.
Much of February 2018 was dominated by preparations for another Model UN conference: WAMUNC, or Washington Area Model United Nations Conference. This one would be very different than any of my previous MUN conferences for two reasons. First, it was a “crisis committee,” or crisis for short. This means that many things, such as resolutions (directives), powers, and mannerisms would be quite different from your average GA or specialized committee. The second reason is clear from the name: Washington. It was down in Washington DC, the capital of the United States. I was going on a real trip! I hadn’t been to the US in a few years at that point. I was quite excited. I had my hair cut, gathered my belongings, and read about the history of DC. We practiced a lot at MUN meetings, though I did not truly grasp what a crisis committee truly involved. To me, WAMUNC was essentially a dream. But do all dreams come true?
Once we got down, we explored the city before going to committee the next day. The first session started off normal enough: roll call was taken, opening speeches were given. I blundered for the first of many times: my speech was rambling and unfocused. The committee was supposed to be about Obama’s cabinet in 2009. I was shocked by how fast-paced things seemed to be. Now let’s talk about crisis committees and what makes them different. In a crisis, you can communicate with a “back room,” or crisis staff, to do things in addition to things passed with the committee. While crisis is currently my favourite type of MUN committee, back then I had no idea how it worked.
The first session was relatively short, and I learned that we were doing something called a “midnight crisis.” As the name may suggest, a midnight crisis is basically a crisis committee held at midnight. The good news was, since we would be in committee at midnight, we wouldn’t have the session scheduled for the following morning that everyone else had. Committee staff visited the hotel rooms we were in to escort us to the committee room. Once we all assembled, we were informed that the crisis would be about tracking down Osama Bin Laden. Since the scope was narrow and there was quite a bit of novelty in doing Model UN at mignight in pyjamas, I had fun. Bin Laden was found and we headed back to our rooms.
The next committee session was less fun. I had quite a hard time keeping up with the pace of committee as it was much faster than what I was used to. I had not done enough research either, so I did not give many speeches and when I did, they were not particularly good. Moreover, I did not send any crisis notes! Someone sent one accusing my character of warmongering, which I found out about when I returned to the evening committee session. I don’t feel like I did (I barely spoke), but what is done is done. By then it was hard to work with people since there was a sizeable peace bloc who refused to chat with “war-mongerers” during unmods. Overall I did not enjoy the committee. I had gone in overconfident and could not deal with the pace or format. However, I swore that I would do better another time.
I went to more conferences in Grade Eleven, and also in Grade Twelve once that came around. The first conference of Grade Twelve was LCIMUN. I would be in a crisis committee, and I was absolutely hell-bent on not repeating my WAMUNC debacle. I did a lot of research, practiced speaking, and studied the format of crisis committees along with associated strategies. I went into LCIMUN as Portugal in a decolonization crisis, where the odds were stacked against me….and won Best Delegate! My first gavel. I was elated and had hope for the future.
I continued doing MUN but looked forward the most to WAMUNC 2019. Everyone in our club was excited about it. While I had several goals, the main one was to do well in committee, avenging my performance at that conference in 2018. Thankfully, I was in another crisis committee. This was also a US government cabinet position but was not historical. In fact, it was set a few years into the future, with the United States gearing up for a standoff in the Arctic with Russia and China. The committee was called “Arctic Task Force 2025: Polar Escalation.” I was going to be the United States Trade Representative, focusing on various economic issues. Research would be somewhat more challenging than usual since it was a future committee, and I was representing a fictional character, but I tried my best, investigating the history of Arctic trade and military disputes. I was determined to do well: at this conference, there would be no retreat and absolutely no thought of surrender. WAMUNC 2018 had been a disaster, and I was not going to let this happen again.
Despite my resolve of never again, I was quite nervous. First, the memory of my failure was strong. Second, it is hard to emphasize how official this conference felt to me. Not only was it in the capital of a different country but there were many other things that made it feel that way. The background guides were huge with plenty of branding: they put their logo everywhere. It was also a matter of numbers. There were around 1500 delegates from across the United States and elsewhere at the conference, which was somewhat intimidating. Indeed, I felt worried when I saw delegation after delegation check into the hotel. Back in 2018, the American schools gave the impression that they were far more professional in their outlook towards Model UN than we were. It just seemed a little overwhelming. That said, I had several advantages in March of 2019 compared to the previous year. For one, I had significantly more knowledge of crisis committees, both theoretical and practical. With the former, I had read about crisis strategies online. The latter was obvious: I now possessed experience with crisis, which I had lacked in March of 2018. I had practiced several times at our Wednesday Model UN meetings and, crucially, had won best delegate for a crisis! Combined with the sheer amount of research I did (far more than both the previous year and any other committee I’d been to at the time with the possible exception of LCIMUN) I was in a good position.
For me, the stakes felt like they were high. As far as I was concerned, my pride and honour were both on the line. So, while getting ready, my heart was initially pounding with nervous anticipation. I fretted constantly: had I done enough research? Would the American delegates be absolute monsters? Would my crisis arc work out? Eventually, I decided that there was no use endlessly dooming, so I distracted myself by talking with the other members of our delegation about their committees and giving tips that could turn out to be helpful. I ironed my shirt, cleaned my shoes, and brushed my hair. After several hours of getting ready we were all prepared to head downstairs to the opening ceremony. We arrived relatively early and took our seats. Thankfully, WAMUNC opening ceremonies were not as long and drawn out as the McGill duo. The speech was informative, but not droning by any means. I wasn’t fully paying attention, mainly thinking of important research I’d done. After a relatively short speech, we were sent off to our committee rooms. I marched toward my room, feeling determined.
After arriving, the terror I had felt rapidly disappeared. The people in my committee were cordial and knowledgeable. After introductions, we got straight into the action. We had to find an efficient way to build up the American presence in the Arctic. I began sending crisis notes immediately, requesting more money for my department (which I received). I talked to other delegates during the unmod, discussing ideal strategies as well as talking about what it was like to live in Canada, which many of the Americans were quite curious about. Despite being rather short even by the standards of first committee sessions, it was lovely. I went back to the hotel room thinking that, even if I wasn’t the most successful in crisis, it would certainly be better than last year. Talking to the rest of the delegation, their opinions were mixed. Some liked their committees, others did not. With that said, what mattered was that I had a good time. I went to bed looking forward to the next day.
There was another thing to look forward to, and that was my birthday. When I woke up on the 22nd, I slipped out of the hotel and made my way to a McDonalds for breakfast. I reflected on the highs and lows of being 17 and hoped that great things would happen in my eighteenth year. Indeed, I was now an adult, which was hard to believe. Time really flew by like it was nothing. I went back to the hotel and waited for everyone else to wake up. Once the others were up and dressed, we went out on a tour of Washington, specifically the area around the National Mall. We were shown a government building (which one, I am unable to remember) and overall had a good time. I was over the moon. I enjoyed the tour, enjoyed the company of my delegation, and enjoyed my committee, which resumed after we returned to the hotel. We continued trying to build up American power in the Arctic. This involved investing in new technologies, working with allies, and building bases in Alaska. I really felt like I was making an impact. Most of the requests I sent to crisis were granted, and the things I was doing were helping the committee.
Crisis notes should be clear, specific, and gradual, building up to your arc over time to strengthen your position and ensure that you get what you want in the later stages of committee. To my delight, the speeches I made were significantly better than in 2018! I even received a note from the dais complimenting my performance. During committee I did my best to write down general notes about what I would say, which helped when it came time to participate in moderated caucuses. I also wrote down what many other delegates said, which helped me to remember who to talk to in unmods. I would often send notes after someone said something I agreed with, helping to build working relationships with other delegates.
Several public directives were passed. What I liked about this committee was that most people were working together! There was not any sort of gridlock that happens in many committees. It was smooth, well-organized, and generally enjoyable. When you’re in a bad committee (or even one that is decent, but is not amazing), time can feel like it is sluggish and meandering along at a leisurely pace. This did not apply to Polar Escalation, however. Time seemed to pass surprisingly quickly: it was clear that I was having a great time. We were dismissed again at the end of the day, and I was disappointed that it had to end. Thankfully, we would be returning sooner than most, as we had a midnight crisis. Members of the dais collected us and brought us down to the committee room, where we would be informed of the crisis.
A note of encouragement I received from the dais.
The main issue in our midnight crisis was dealing with a Russian weapon called “guillotine,” which could threaten American fleets in the Arctic. We were preoccupied with countering the weapon, using weapons such as ABM systems, SAMs, kinetic weapons, direct energy weapons, cyberwarfare and nukes. I managed to gather a group of delegates and come up with a solution, stopping the weapon and helping to solve the crisis. I returned to bed fully satisfied.
I was thrown into committee again in the following afternoon. While technically not the last committee session, we would not be attending on the final day due to us needing to catch a flight. So, I wanted to make it count. I did lots of work in crisis, spoke quite a bit, and cooperated with delegates. Unsurprisingly given the fact that it was a crisis, several delegates were revealed to be traitors/spies and “arrested,” returning as reassigned characters. When the committee session ended, I felt great. This committee had been the best one I had ever been to at that point, and I was sad to see it end.
As evening came, we went out for our delegation dinner. It was a grand old time, filled with laughing and joking. They sung happy birthday and I was gifted a toy plane. I enjoyed hanging out with my fellow MUN club members. When we spent hours travelling to the airport before our flight, I wasn’t mad, because I had had an epic time.
I was exhausted after the conference, and immediately went to sleep when I arrived home. As such, I missed several texts and messages. These messages turned out to be very important. You see, we had left the hotel early to get to the airport in time (multi-hour journey via public transit), consequently missing the final committee session along with the awards ceremony. The latter was crucial because someone had won an award. That someone? Me! When I woke up early in the morning, I was shocked. True, I had done well in committee, but I did not feel that it had been award worthy. Especially given the award I won, which was Best Delegate of all things! To win best delegate at a prestigious conference such as WAMUNC was amazing, and unthinkable before it happened. That was the absolute apex of my high school Model United Nations experience.
I look back at WAMUNC 2019 fondly. While I have won other Best Delegate awards, WAMUNC stands out because it was like a comeback story. I had gone from a delegate who had no idea how a crisis committee worked to one who could win in a fast-paced, research intensive committee. I always aim to replicate my WAMUNC 2019 performance at other conferences: not necessarily winning an award, but speaking well, working with others, learning, and having fun. At its core, that is what Model UN is all about. I very much hope that readers have fun at all the conferences they go to!