How to Do Position Papers
By Brian Endless, American Model United Nations
Written by Andrea Oleksyn, McGill University
Position papers and resolutions are key components of being a successful delegate at a Model United Nations conference. The benefits of writing an effective position paper prior to the conference, and working together with the other delegates in the committee to draft a concise and well-written resolution are obvious. Resolutions are the primary tools of discussion in the United Nations. They form the basis for all U.N. debate, bringing one or several issues to the floor in a form that representatives can discuss, amend, reject or ratify.
There are two different types of position papers, both of which address the position of the delegate’s country in foreign and domestic affairs. A public position paper is an official statement that is one willing to show other delegations. It is a general overview that will not give away a country’s negotiating system. A private position paper, or "white paper", is a thought piece focusing on the policies and expectations of a country. Submissions of a position paper may be requires prior to a conference, according to its rules. In order to learn how to write a good composition paper, each delegate should carry out two separate speeches. The first speech should be short and student-to-student, and should emphasize condensing information and public speaking. Make handouts of the key points and hand them out. The second speech should last about five minutes and should be given more formally as a delegate. It should be written in a pyramid style, meaning the delegates should enforce his or her country’s most important points effectively. This rule pertains to the position paper as well as the oral presentation. Position papers are most often the first speech you deliver at the Model U.N. Most delegates read it right from the paper. A position paper is brief, concise, and to the point. This is why a position paper makes such a great tool to use when giving your speech. Everyone should look to the Guide to Delegate Preparation when writing and preparing a position paper.
Resolutions are the finished product of a committee’s effective debating and caucusing. In the U.N., resolutions usually state a policy that the U.N. will undertake. However, policies may also be in the form of treaties, conventions, and declarations depending on the body or committee. They range from very brief to very specific. Depending on the body involves, they may call for (or suggest) a course of action, condemn an action, or require action or sanctions on behalf of the member-states.
Components of a resolution
The pre-ambulatory clause are clauses that can be taken from a delegate’s position paper. Operative clauses tell the reader how the resolution proposes to operate, or what the resolution proposes to do to address the topic area. They are your ideas and recommendations. They must clearly state the subject and the committee of the resolution. Several points should be considered while writing a resolution
In the pre-ambulatory clauses, describe the recent history of the situation and the issue as it currently exists;
Refer to past United Nations actions;
Refer to previous United Nations resolutions passed on the topic;
Don’t be blatantly political in the content of the resolution-this may damage efforts to reach a consensus on the issue;
Take into the points of view of other nations whenever possible;
Write the resolution from your country’s side with an "international" or "United Nations" perspective not just from your country’s individual point of view.
Don’t create new Committees/Commissions/Working Groups/etc. without considering funding for these groups, or if other, similar bodies already exist;
Always consider previous U.N. resolutions on the topic-don’t duplicate what other resolutions have done without referring to the appropriate sources.
Resolutions can be pre-submitted to a conference or they can be drawn up during committee session. In this workshop, the issue became a topic of contention. Mr. Endless clarified that draft resolutions and working papers are one and the same. These are often circulated during the committee sessions. At the U.N., papers written in blue ink are merely ideas, while black ink denotes an important document. The majority of those attending the session were against any resolutions drawn up prior to the conference; stating that they emphasized pre-conceived views and discouraged teamwork with other delegates. However, there is the other side of the argument, which is that delegates with preconceived resolutions are sometimes more prepared and have knowledge of their country’s position on the issue being addressed. He stated, "a pre-written resolution can jump start debates."
To demonstrate the importance of negotiation and consensus, give students a resolution-writing activity. Split everyone up into 5 with the instructions of writing a resolution with two preambulatory and two operative clauses on the issue of the 2000 United States presidential election. The sole requirement is that each group produce a document that is supported by all of its authors. This means that all involved have to reach consensus before beginning to write the resolution. Naturally, tension will arise between hard-line democrats and republicans. After approximately 10 minutes, each group will represent their resolution. One group supported by Hilary Clinton, while another backed Al Gore. A third group may circumvent internal debate by basing their resolution on "a democratically elected candidate," instead of mentioning one individual’s name. This activity enables the students in the session to become familiar with resolution writing, and gie a chance to experience the challenges faced by delegates in the U.N.
The resolution writing activity proposed by the AMUN, in their student handout is slightly different. Its goal is to write a resolution with each group member contributing at least one preambulatory and one operative clause. The next step was a more practical application of resolution writing. The exercise is designed to " introduce students to the process of caucusing on a resolution." For the group activity, the instructor or the group as a whole should have several perspectives, such as a current social or political issue. All students should come up with their own resolution first, and then practice "caucusing into one document upon which they all agree. Each group should present the process of coming up with their final resolution in front of the rest of the class. The instructor may allow the groups to combine language within clauses from several individual resolutions within the final resolution. This caucus period allows students to resolve differences of opinion and practice sharing ideas while adhering to the format of a resolution.
Both Position Papers and Resolutions are critical documents in a Model U.N. conference. There are several group activities to teach students how to improve their writing and caucusing skills in preparation for a conference. As stated in the AMUN handout; "a well written resolution, accurately asserting your country’s viewpoint and allowing for the viewpoints of others, can be very positive advance statement about your delegation."