3.6 Writing Resolutions in Model UN Conferences

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Back to Unit 3: Foundational Skills.

The goal of almost every Model United Nations committee is some kind of policy document (or documents) that reflects the consensus the majority of the member states. In most committees — for example, the General Assembly committees and Security Council — this will be in the form of Resolution. This article will explain how to write a Model UN Resolution. However, some committees produce Reports or Declarations and a few write Treaties — go to Unit 8 for further guidance on these more complex documents.

What Is a Resolution?

A resolution is one large, long, bureaucratic sentence, separated by commas and semicolons. It represents a proposed solution to a problem faced by your committee, relevant to the topic of discussion. It is the final result of the debate, discussion, writing and negotiation that occurs in your committee. You will prepare draft resolutions with a working group made up of your delegation and other like-minded member states in the committee. Ideally, you will want at least some elements of your delegation’s Three Point Plan and/or policy priorities included in the text of the Resolution. A committee will typically produce multiple Resolutions — some competing, some complimentary — and vote on them at the end of the conference.

The following outlines how to develop good Resolutions in Model UN.

For further guidance, please refer to the NMUN Delegate guide, the websites of Best Delegate and the UNA-USA or the handbook provided by the conference to which you will be going. It is also helpful to look at real examples. Click here for a database of UN General Assembly Resolutions. Click here for Security Council Resolutions.

The Process of Resolution Writing

Working Paper => Draft Resolution => Amended Draft Resolution => Resolution

Once you have discussed the topic in both formal and informal sessions and have a sense of the scope of views on it, you can begin drafting Resolutions with other delegations. Note that conferences do not allow you to bring pre-written resolutions to the conference. The point of the Model UN simulation is to engage in negotiation and consensus building to develop global policy with others. This means that no resolution should be the work of only one delegation. Good resolutions should reflect the views of the majority of the committee, incorporating the views and interests of multiple States.

Initially, you will draft Working Papers with other delegations, listing them as Co-Sponsors if they helped write it and/or agree with everything that is in the document. your Chair will likely ask for delegations to submit their Working Papers for editing and review. S/he will probably make suggestions or comments on language or may suggest you merge your paper with another one that is similar. At this point, it is relatively easy to amend and redraft your paper to accommodate others’ views.

Once s/he is satisfied with the Working Paper, the Chair will accept it as a Draft Resolution and give it a number. In most conferences, you will need a certain number of Co-Sponsors and Signatories before the Draft Resolution can be discussed on the floor of the committee in Formal Session. Signatories do not necessarily agree with the substance of the Draft Resolution, but would like it to be discussed and/or voted on. Once the Working Paper has been accepted as a Draft Resolution, it cannot be changed, except through an Amendment.

The Chair will often then allow each set of Co-Sponsors to present their Draft Resolution before the committee and may allow them to answer questions from the body, or move into Formal Session or caucusing to allow for debate. During this time, Co-Sponsors try to gauge the likelihood that a Draft Resolution will garner sufficient votes to pass. If they are worried that it will not, then they will try to find compromises and Amendments that will help it pass.

There are two kinds of Amendments. When all of the Co-Sponsors agree on an Amendment, it is called a Friendly Amendment and will be accepted by the chair without debate or a vote. S/he will merely notify the committee that the Draft Resolution has been amended by the co-sponsors and read out the new language. If a delegation agrees with the overall substance of the Draft Resolution, but wishes to change it in ways that one or more Co-Sponsors do not like, they can offer an Unfriendly Amendment, proposing changes to certain parts of the document. These Unfriendly Amendments require a certain number of Sponsors and Signatories before they will be accepted for consideration by the Chair. Unfriendly Amendments will then be voted on during voting procedure. For more information on Amendments, see the UNA-USA website. To pass, the final Resolution must get a simple majority (50% plus one) of the voting members of the committee. For further information on the process, including voting procedure, click here to go to the article on Rules of Procedure.

Putting the Resolution Together

A Resolution has three parts: a Heading, a Preamble and Operative Clauses. The Heading includes the committee name, topic of discussion, Draft Resolution number and Sponsors and Signatories (see below). For an example heading, click here.

The Preamble is non-binding and provides the rationale for the Resolution’s actions. It recalls the history of the topic, the importance and significance of the issue and proclaims the principles or ideals behind the later Operative Clauses. It tends to be less controversial than the Operative Clauses. “Preamble” derives from roots that literally mean “before walking”. It focuses on what the committee needs to know to understand the actions in the Operative Clauses. The first word of each Preambulatory Clause is italicized (or underlined) should be a verb in the “-ing” form, e.g. “Considering”, “Recalling”, “Bearing in mind”, “Noting”, “Reaffirming”. For a list of these starting words for Preambulatory Clauses, click here. Preambles may:

  • Make relevant references to the UN Charter,
  • Cite past UN resolutions or treaties relevant to the topic under discussion;
  • Mention statements by the Secretary General or relevant UN body that highlight the importance of the issue;
  • Recognize the efforts of UN agencies, regional organizations or NGOs that are dealing with the issue;
  • Provide general statements on the topic, its significance and its impact.
  • Recall documents from other UN bodies on the topic (other Resolutions, the Millenium Development Goals or declarations from UN Conferences).

Operative Clauses are the Resolution’s substantive and actionable statements of policy. Something will actually be done because of Operative Clauses (even if that “something” is only “encouraged” or “further consideration”). Though they are listed in a separate section, each Operative Clause should ideally be linked to a Preambulatory Clause (that is, the first Preambulatory Clause should provide the rationale for the first Operative Clause, and so on). The first word of each Operative Clause will be italicized or underlined and should be an action verb in the “-s” or “-es” form, e.g. “Requests”, “Reaffirms”, “Calls for”, “Endorses”, “Commends”, “Accepts”. Operative Clauses in Security Council Resolutions, which are legally binding on all member states, can be more assertive, starting with words like “Requests”, “Decides”, “Directs” or “Demands”. For a list of starting words for Operative Clauses, click here. An Operative Clause may have sub-operative clauses and sub-sub-operative clauses that clarify and detail exactly what it meant to be done.

For a sample resolution, including all of the above sections, please click here.

Sponsors and Signatories

To ensure the committee is not clogged with frivolous Resolutions and to encourage member states to work with each, a Working Paper must demonstrate that a significant proportion of the body wishes to discuss it before it will be accepted as a Draft Resolution that can be voted upon. This support is demonstrated through Sponsors and Signatories that sign on to the Working Paper and are listed in the Draft Resolution’s Heading.

Sponsors are the primary authors of the Resolution and support it in its entirety. Having three to 10 sponsors is normal, but there are exceptions. Try to have your name at the front of the list. Try to get some balance in the Sponsors, including states from various regions, political allegiances and voting blocs to show it has broad support. Your committee will be more likely to approve the resolutions if many delegates contribute ideas. Many times, powerful member states can bring several other affirmative votes on their coattails. A Friendly Amendment or withdrawal of a resolution requires all sponsors to agree. You can remove yourself from the list of sponsors if you disagree with the direction it has taken.

Signatories are not authors of the Resolution but are interested in seeing it debated on the floor. They may agree with it but have not written any of the text, may want it to be amended or even disagree with it entirely. They just believe that a debate about it would benefit the committee and the global policy discussion. In some committees accredited NGO or observers (Holy See, PLO, etc.) may be allowed to be Signatories; they are almost never allowed to be Sponsors.

Each conference’s Rules of Procedure will specify how many Sponsors and Signatories will need to sign on to a Working Paper (or an Unfriendly Amendment) before it will be considered. It is usually one fifth of the committee.

Tips on Resolution Writing

  • Be sure to follow the format for resolutions provided by the conference organizers. Each conference may have a slightly different format.
  • Create a detailed resolution. For example, if your resolution calls for a new program, think about how it will be funded and what body will manage it.
  • Try to cite facts whenever possible.
  • Be realistic. Do not create objectives for your resolution that cannot be met. Make sure your body can take the action suggested. For example, the General Assembly can’t sanction another country – only the Security Council can do so.
  • Always use diplomatic language and formal terms. Do not use abbreviations or slang.
  • Pre-written resolutions ARE NOT allowed. If you suspect someone has a pre-written resolution, do some covert investigation and let the Head Delegates know. Likewise, plagiarism is not allowed. Pre-writing a resolution or plagiarizing can result in disqualification for the entire team.
  • Most resolution writing will be done during unmoderated caucus time. Details can be hammered out during moderated caucus if there is a certain point of contention that requires debate. Often, this is done when there are many amendments. Additionally, notes can be used to garner support during formal committee, to discuss the details, and to propose changes if you feel it necessary.
  • You can work on your working papers/draft resolutions outside of committee if you are really getting a lot of work done. Always make sure one person is inside committee.
  • Bring a memory stick/flash drive to conference. Make sure to save the various stages of your resolution to it. Some delegates will be sneaky and delete clauses and act like nothing happened — DO NOT be this person. Your memory stick/flash drive ensures that you have proof of previous stages of the working paper/draft resolution.
  • Each delegate in your delegation can work on different resolutions. So at a minimum, you should be sponsors of two resolutions. If you can handle it, be sponsors of three resolutions. Just make sure that you’re not splitting your time between two groups and become a minor player in both.
  • Formal speeches can be given to explain the ideas of a resolution, but you cannot reference a working paper, as it is not officially recognized by the committee. You can only reference a draft resolution once it has been approved by the chair and formally introduced into the committee.
  • At the discretion of the Chair, sponsors may request an amount of time to discuss their draft resolution and to take questions. This is done in the format of a moderated caucus.
  • Multiple resolutions can pass as long as they do not conflict with each other. 1-3 resolutions is normal. The chair will urge members to collaborate and combine resolutions if they are duplicative or cover the same area of the topic.
  • You are not allowed to clap after speeches or at any other point in committee. The only exception is right after a resolution passes. It is inappropriate to clap after a resolution fails.

Michael Zona with input from Katie James, Kelsey McGhee and Matthew Bolton, for Pace University, 2013. Version 3.0 BETA. For information, permissions or corrections, contact Dr. Matthew Bolton, mbolton@pace.edu