In this week, we will start to learn about how to do country research and think more about our topic for debate in the MUN. You need to start some research on your country for the minMUN and your position paper, so here is a range of advice and information on how do that.
Getting Started on Country Research: Readings and Resources
Start by reading the guide from the Hague MUN, it is a very comprehensive and readable guide to both researching your country and the workings of a MUN. The Hague International Model United Nations, 2010 'How to help delegates prepare?'
If you know very little about your country you can start your research with Wikipedia, the CIA World Factbook or BBC's Country Profiles. They are fairly reliable for basic data on things like population, history, geography and the economy and help with developing an initial picture of the country that you can confirm or challenge with further research. It's generally best not to cite them in your academic work but both often provide the sources of their data, which you can then cite (if its reliable).
Other useful places to start are the website of your country’s permanent mission to the United Nations or their ministry of foreign affairs - the US Institute of Peace provide a listing.
Their embassy or mission in Australia and the Australian mission’s website in that country could also be useful.
- Note: not all countries have missions in Australia and equally Australia only has them in a limited number of countries.
- Other types of representation other than an embassy (the highest level of diplomatic representation to a country) are: high commissions, consulates, multilateral missions and representative offices. Sometimes an office is responsible for multiple countries, for example the Australian High Commission, Nigeria covers Benin, Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, Gambia, Niger and other countries.
- The US through the State Department is the best represented of any of the diplomatic services, so their websites can be helpful.
Statistics and Data
To get to know your country better you need data on things like the well being of citizens (income, health, education, poverty levels, etc), the trade profile of the country (what are the major imports and exports) and other data depending on the topic being debate. The following is a selection of sources to help you find reliable data:
- The World Bank's DataBank: the Bank has basic data sheets around economic growth and development on most countries but also through the online database, the World DataBank, you can look up a large range of specific indicators. It is a fairly easy to use, intuitive system and you can compare your country to others (the region, other low income countries, etc).
- UNDP's Human Development Index (HDI): the HDI was inspired by the great Indian economists Amartya Sen's argument that people's capabilities should be the criteria for assessing the development of a country, not the level of income per capita. It is a single index that combines data on income, education and health but HDI reports have detailed supporting data with information on a whole range of developmental outcomes. There are also tables that adjust HDI taking into account inequality and gender. Plus there is the Multidimensional Poverty Index, which is one of the most comprehensive ways of evaluating the number of people living in absolute poverty around today.
- UN stats: this site links you to the main UN statistical sources, including a UN online database, which can be searched. I find this database a bit clunky but it may be useful four countries where there is not much information.
- Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) stats: the OECD is a club for the world's richest nation-states. There online database is quite good.
- OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC): if your country is an aid recipient this site will give you data on how much they receieve and from whom. It includes and online statistics database too. Remember this data is collected by aid donors and designed to show the donors in the best light, so you need to be a little cautious about the data.
- National statistics agencies - your country will have its own national agency equivalent to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Some countries will have at least some of the information available in English.
For information on your country's voting record in the UN, visit the United Nations Bibliographic Information System. This UN library provides the voting records for all General Assembly resolutions adopted since 1946 as well as an index to speeches. The database allows users to search all speeches given by a country on a specific topic.
UN Member States on the Record gives information on the membership of each Member State, an index to their speeches in the General Assembly, Security Council and ECOSOC, draft resolutions they have sponsored, and periodic reports on human rights conventions they are parties to.
UN Global Issues gives an overview of each issue on the UN agenda; links to other UN related bodies and NGOs; past summits and conferences; and important documents on each issue.
Some UN agencies are likely to have useful country information or will be useful for focusing in on the particular version of the topic we are simulating in the MUN and that your have to write your country briefing paper on. Below is a list of a few key topics and the UN agency to go to.
- Environment: the UN Environment Program or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
- Refugees: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
- Nuclear weapons and power: International Atomic Energy Agency - non-proliferation, safety and security, peaceful uses of nuclear technology ; and the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization.
- Women: UN Women.
- Human rights: Human Rights Council. This is a topic where non-governmental organisations (NGOs) also play a vital role and are great sources of information. Try:
- Conflicts: UN Peacekeeping. Key NGOs and research agencies on peace and conflict issues include:
- International Committee of the Red Cross - they have lots of information on current conflicts and domestic and international law and conflicts and a library with over 140,000 documents on international humanitarian law, humanitarian work and ICRC activities.
- International Crisis Group - an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict.
- Development: UN Development Programme - they are the UN's coordinating body for development and work in over 170 countries. The UN's regional commissions (e.g. Economic Commission for Africa) also produce key research work on development issues. Key NGOs on development topics are:
A very useful site is the Global Policy Forum, which is an independent organisation that monitors the work of the UN and critically reviews global policy-making efforts. Some of their focus topics are: UN reforms, financing and directions, corporate influence on policy-making, food and hunger and humanitarian intervention.
Global Issues has some good briefs on a wide range of contemporary topics from poverty to global warming, the global financial crisis and the Syrian conflict.
Newspapers can be a great source though be careful of bias and not just in editorials. As general sources:
- The Economist is a good source of international news - their website only has limited access before you have to subscribe, for UOW students you can access it through the library database called Factiva, for external students you may be able to read it at your local library.
- Al Jazeera have very strong international coverage, as does BBC World and the New York Times.
Try searching for local newspapers in the country you're studying, if you're studying a relevant language here is the chance to put some of your skills to the test. If not, many countries will have an English language paper or edition, for example, Indonesia has the Jakarta Post.
There are a range of domestic sources from the country you're studying too, starting with the government's official website and they often have an English version with at least some information. One key agency to look up is your country's Ministry or Department for/of Foreign Affairs (it may also be called the State Department, External Affairs, etc.) because you need to know the country's official foreign policy. Look for a recent 'White Paper' (an authoritative report or guide from the government outlining its current position on a topic), if there isn't one read through the key issues listed on the websites and look for recent speeches by the Foreign Ministers. Other good domestic sources are local think tanks and NGOs.
- Look for academic papers analysing the foreign policy of the country you are representing - if you have access to a university or other library, start with their databases. If not start with Google Scholar or try Acadamia.edu or ResearchGate.