Felix Cairns, International Model NATO Conference 2013

Felix Cairns, an International Relations 3rd Year student in POLSIS recently took part in the Model NATO Conference 2013 in Washington, United States, alongside fellow Government and Society students.

Felix Cairns"I was introduced to simulated diplomacy through the University of Birmingham Model United Nations Society in my first year by taking part in the European Model Arab League, or EUROMAL (now the University of Birmingham Model Arab League (UoBMAL)). The opportunity to take on the mind-set a diplomat in a stimulating and challenging environment that perfectly complemented my degree studies was fantastic. Throughout my second year I attended a many of the society’s weekly training simulations and I became more acquainted with the rules and techniques.

In my final year I enrolled on a module on European Security taught by Head School of Government and Society and resident NATO expert Professor Mark Webber. Our weekly sessions were an excellent grounding in the history and background of European Security and the Alliance in general, and I found myself becoming more and more interested in the work of NATO. Hence, when the opportunity to apply for a position in the

University’s delegation to the 28th International Model NATO in Washington D.C. in February 2013 presented itself in an email in mid-October I jumped at the chance. The field had been widened to include final year undergraduates having been open to postgraduates for the three preceding years of the University’s involvement, so competition for places was tough. We were required to write a 1000 word brief to Professor Webber, who accompanied the delegation, examining the implications of the Syrian crisis for NATO. A few weeks after submission, I was notified that I’d been successful in my application, and I joined a six strong team that were due to represent Turkey at the conference. We spent the next few months becoming acquainted with the historical background of Turkish foreign policy as well as studying the particular positions we would have to enact during the conference.

The conference took place over four days at the Washington Plaza Hotel, with a plenary session hosted by Professor Michael Nwanze at Howard University. There were 30 delegations (28 NATO members and 2 partners) that debated substantive issues in 7 committees with the aim of reaching consensus on a final communiqué on the final day. Prior to the opening of debate, each delegation had received a briefing from a diplomat at their representative embassies. We had the great privilege of being briefed by Counsellor Ömer Murat at the Turkish Embassy, where we were brought up to scratch with the finer details of Turkish policies as well as being inspired to become Turkish citizens for the remainder of our trip! 

All delegations stayed in the same hotel, so were advised to remain “in-role” throughout the conference. And we found ourselves becoming embroiled in fascinating debates over meals and drinks with some very capable students from universities across America, Canada and Europe. It became evident to me that diplomacy requires a constant engagement in and consideration for major world issues, and that productive discussion can occur anywhere, from the formal debates in the conference, to the less formal encounters in lifts and at the bar!

During formal debate, you learn to master the art of public speaking, which can prove especially challenging given time constraints on speakers. In order to be successful, brief, but to-the-point statements must be given. Opportunities to clarify and expand upon your positions are recognised during "unmoderated caucuses" as well as breaks. The standout delegates come to the fore here, working hard to persuade other delegates to make concessions as well as beginning to draft language on the issue at hand. Drafting language is a skill in itself, and with little prior experience, you learn a lot from your peers in the often-pedantic method in writing resolutions and using diplomatic language. It also gave each of us the opportunity to experience first-hand the frustration that comes hand in hand with diplomacy, especially at NATO.

Outside of formal debate, you meet a significant number of people from incredibly varied backgrounds, all united by interest and purpose. The beauty of international conferences is the opportunity delegates have to broaden their horizons socially and intellectually, as well as bringing together communities of people that may never meet under normal circumstances. The social aspect of the International Model NATO Conference perfectly complemented the academic side, and you learn a lot from peers and staff alike. Networking is a term that is often used by careers-enthusiasts, but the conference provides a fantastic opportunity to network with people that you are likely to remain in contact with, even if they are an ocean and several times zones away from you.

For anyone who plans to attend the conference in the future, I would give the following pieces of advice. First, be prepared to do extensive research before you leave – the quality of the debate and amount knowledge at the conference is staggering (for example, some students are even aware of specific helicopter models of their adopted country’s armed forces). Second, consider joining the University’s own Model United Nations Society - they are well acquainted with the rules that apply to many models and can give you a good grounding. Finally, expect to work hard and run on adrenaline during the conference, but also prepare to have a great time.

It was an enormous privilege to represent the University (and Turkey!) at an international conference, and I’d like to thank Professor Webber and Ms Leigh-Ann Knowles for their hard work in preparing and organising the delegation. I wish anybody hoping to make the grade for the delegation next year the best of luck."

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