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The art of diplomacy: NMSU's Model U.N. team shines in national competition

Israel has just bombed Iran and the United Nations Security Council is furiously debating a resolution condemning the attack.


NMSU's Model U.N. team displaying their award at the United Nations in New York City.
NMSU's Model U.N. team at the United Nations in New York City. The team won an award for outstanding delegation at the Model U.N. competition earlier this month. (Submitted photo)

In the middle of this fictional fray was New Mexico State University's Model United Nations team.

The team, which this year represented Lebanon, once again scored high marks at the National Model U.N. competition held earlier this month in New York City. NMSU won an outstanding delegation award, which is the top prize, as well as two outstanding position papers. In addition, three members of the team scored outstanding delegate awards.

"Over the past several years at the National Model United Nations Conference, we have represented many countries in Europe," said NMSU Model U.N. President Erica Butts. "This year we really wanted to gain a new understanding of a new region, and it was a really exciting opportunity to represent Lebanon in the middle of the Arab Spring and all of the political events that are going on in that region today."

More than 5,000 college students from around the world gathered in New York for two competitions over several days. On the final day of the event, the student delegates held a crisis simulation in this case Israel attacking Iran in the U.N General Assembly. With Lebanon currently a rotating member of the Security Council, NMSU's team found itself in the thick of the action.

"The team really wanted to be challenged and move out of its zone of comfort," said Regents Professor Yosef Lapid, the team's adviser. "That's why they chose Lebanon, knowing very well that it is a very difficult country to represent because of the internal diversity and the fragmentation. Another reason why we wanted Lebanon is because Lebanon happens to be on the U.N. Security Council as a temporary member.

"These kinds of assignments are only given to teams that have a track record of success," Lapid continued. "NMSU has a track record of success because this is the 14th time that we have participated in this competition. For the last six or seven years we have continuously placed at the top of the competition."

Butts said representing Lebanon really allowed NMSU's team to shine, as evidenced by the many awards the group won. Another advantage was having Lapid as the team adviser, because he had lived in the Middle East for 20 years, including five years as a lecturer at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. And great team members didn't hurt either.

"There was a lot of pressure this year to maintain our status as a school that does consistently well at this conference," said Butts, a Roswell native who will graduate with her Master of Public Administration this spring. "But this year, every member on our team is an outstanding student both academically and in extracurricular activities. Several members of our team have leadership positions on campus. I was confident from the beginning that we would do well."

In order to represent a nation as complicated as Lebanon, Lapid said the team had to take every issue and understand it from the points of view of the government, the Shiite Hezbollah and the Christian Maronites. Looming over all is the shadow of Syria.

"This team really stepped up to the challenge and prepared extensively, and they were so well prepared I think we actually impressed the delegates of Lebanon itself," Lapid said. "We met them, we went to their mission at the United Nations, we asked them questions, we received answers, and at the end of the session the Lebanese delegate asked us to invite her to our simulation."

Although the NMSU Model U.N. team was on the losing end of the crisis simulation the United States vetoed the proposed resolution condemning Israel's attack two members won a coveted award. Randy Taylor and Collin King, who are majoring in government, each were awarded an outstanding delegate prize by the other members of the mock Security Council. Outstanding delegate awards were issued through a popular vote.

Also winning an outstanding delegate award was Zackary Quintero for his work on the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. Like the members of the Security Council, Quintero, a government and economics major, was deeply involved in contentious Middle East issues.

"Some of the negotiations I had to go through had to do with economic development and reconstruction of the Palestinian territories," he said. "What I had to negotiate was basically a commitment for the Arab League to actually make a development fund for economic reconstruction within certain areas of Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. I went to the negotiation table with Israel saying that we were going to have an immediate cease-fire in some areas and try to promote peace and sustainability within that specific area for economic development. That was pretty tough.

"We were able to not only talk to Palestinians, but also with the neighboring Arab states to come to a consensus," Quintero added. "That's the hardest part to get in any committee."

Butts and Quintero agreed that the meticulous and sometimes prickly negotiations that characterize the National Model U.N. competition can try nerves and patience, but the exercise has allowed them to develop skills that will serve them well in the real world.

"You spend days trying to get one sentence in one paper, and to have it just removed instantly is hard, but that's just part of the experience," Butts said. "I think that's probably how it happens in real life. The skills that you get in negotiating at the National Model United Nations help you to learn the rewards of cooperation, while experiencing the frustrations of negotiation. Those are skills that are transferable to all areas of your life."

While this was Butts' second Model U.N. competition, walking into the cavernous General Assembly hall remained a breathtaking experience.

"It's exciting to be in a room and sit in the same seats as the world's most important diplomats," she said. "To assume that role in a conference is a really exciting opportunity."

Quintero, meanwhile, already is looking to next year's competition and has served notice.

"NMSU is an internationally ranked school and it actually means business on the whole diplomacy level," he said.