While conducting research, remember that your primary goal is to represent your country as realistically as possible and gather as much pertinent and useful data available. Above all else, keep in mind that you will be representing your country’s views and opinions and not your own! This is extremely important and some of the best delegates fall into this trap: even if you find yourself personally disagreeing with your country’s policies, it is your responsibility as a delegate to portray them as faithfully as possible.
Begin by researching the basic information about your country. The CIA Factbook offers information on the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for most countries and dependencies. Think about how factors such as gross domestic product (GDP), demographics, and geography influence a particular country’s foreign policy. While not particularly useful once in council, the Factbook can give you a good basic foundation of your nation’s needs and resources, and can help get into the mindset of a citizen of that state. Use the Factbook and other such sites to consider the economic, political, social, religious, or ideological motivations that influence your country’s foreign policy as a whole and particularly its position on the topics at hand.
Knowing your friends and your enemies is extremely useful. Though once in council alliances may shift, form, and break, knowing what other states may have a similar outlook on the issue before the start of the first session can be useful in order to hit the ground running. What countries are in your bloc? What nations has your country collaborated with in the past, and what nations, if any, would you refuse to cooperate with? Looking at news headlines, trading partners, and special multilateral agreements and arrangements are good ways to begin.
Has your country previously been a sponsor or signatory to any UN resolutions concerning the topics at hand? (The United Nations’ website provides archives on previous resolutions.) What other action, if any, has your country taken with respect to the problem? These resolutions could be very useful to reference in council, or to use to garner support for your idea. For example, if you are proposing an idea similar to one that was already ratified in another resolution, you can use that previous resolution and voting record to say to other delegates, “Your nation supported this idea previously – you should support it again!”
Carefully read your committee’s background guide! The information in the background guide will provide a helpful rubric to guide you through the rest of your research process and lead you to pertinent material. Especially take into account the “Questions to Consider” at the end of the background guide, which will highlight important issues that will likely be raised in debate. Never underestimate the background guide – it is written by your chair and dais who are running (and judging) your council, so what they write may direct you to important considerations, ideas, and areas to research. Having a copy of your background guide to reference in council is a must.
After looking at your country in particular, look at the greater community. Keep up-to-date with current events, especially if you are involved in a crisis committee, by following, for example, CNN, BCC, or The New York Times, among others. Many NAIMUN committees tackle issues that are ever evolving, so a situation may change drastically between the time the background guide was written and the time of the conference. Also look into the historical conflicts and background of the issue, and what some of the other major players on the topic think about the problem.
Although it is helpful to start with traditional sources, branch out to unexpected research material. Check the Economist, Foreign Policy, and Foreign Affairs as well as other periodicals and journals. While it may be helpful to consider other countries’ reflections on and perceptions of your country (the Bureau of Public Affairs of the U.S. Department of State, for instance, offers Background Notes on nearly all nations) try to seek out material originating in the country you are representing. The governments of most countries have an official website, which can be a valuable repository for news, draft policies, or press releases. Some delegates have in the past contacted their respective embassy via email or by phone, and have obtain some very valuable and exclusive information.
Understand the UN system, because the functional rules and regulations governing a certain committee affect the measures it can take. For instance, the General Assembly cannot mandate any international action; it can only make recommendations to the Security Council in the form of resolutions. The Security Council, however, can enact and enforce its rulings.
Remember also to look into the structure of your committee. If it is not a traditional United Nations committee, what is the mission, jurisdiction, and powers of your committee?
As always, contact Secretary-General Chase Wagers (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Director-General Charlotte Phillips (email@example.com) if you have any questions about researching or if you would like to suggest additions (with credit) to the section.