Organising Your Content
This article is part of the Deconstructing MUN: Debate series. Check out the rest of the series below!
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For issues which emerge in the international context, states (and their populations) often face difficult trade-offs and competing priorities, which also complicates the evaluation of proposed solutions to these issues. Without first having a clear understanding of how various aspects of an issue interact with any proposed solution, you may find it challenging to perform proper analysis of these solutions.
In this article, I will share some useful models (in the form of acronyms) which you can use to organise your analysis of the issue and ensure that all proposed solutions are thoroughly evaluated based on several criteria.
A common strategy for breaking down a complex issue is to split the overarching issue into several dimensions: Social, Legal, Economic, Environmental, and Political. These dimensions, which form the acronym ‘S.L.E.E.P.’, will be presented in this article as being distinct for clarity’s sake, even though there are usually considerable overlaps between these dimensions in real-world issues.
Being cognisant of the different dimensions of an issue allows you to craft arguments which target specific dimension(s) of an issue. This enables you to be more precise in your speech content and avoid making vague claims.
Societal impacts can be broken down into their effects on specific demographic groups such as gender, income level, ethnicity, highest education level, or age. Societal impacts can not only drastically alter people’s way of life, lived experience, and psyche, but potentially also have varying consequences for different demographics.
For instance, the Ethnic Integration Policy was introduced by the Government of Singapore in 1989 to eliminate racial enclaves in public housing (Chua, 1991). While this policy achieved its intended effect with considerable success, the correlations found years later between income level, housing price, and ethnic group suggest that the policy may have contributed to inequality persisting between ethnic groups (Leong et al., 2020).
As societal impacts can be fairly broad, the social dimension often overlaps with other dimensions as well. Taxation is a form of fiscal policy that has both economic and social (in other words, socioeconomic) dimensions. If a government was to implement a 3% increase in flat income tax for all citizens, assuming no other subsidies are put in place, the societal impact on the lower-middle income class will be substantially larger as a larger portion of their nominal income will be taxed compared to those from the upper income class.
The legality of any issues determine whether actions taken are in accordance with the written laws and legal precedents set by international, regional, and domestic laws, constitutions, declarations, agreements, or statutes.
There are three distinct levels of legal systems:
1. Domestic Law
Domestic law includes the state’s penal codes or constitution and is enforced by domestic courts. There are two major traditions in the creation of legal norms and practices domestically — civil law and common law. Civil law relies on written legal codes and laws; where they specify the exact perimeters of a crime, its appropriate punishment, and what is presentable in front of a court. Countries that practice civil law include: China, Germany, and Japan.
Common law refers to the concept of judicial precedent, where judges of domestic courts have the ability to interpret and apply the laws within a reasonable guideline set out by legislators through legal codes. In other words, judiciaries are able to amend definitions and punishments on a case-by-case basis. Countries that practice common law include the United States, Canada, and Singapore.
2. Regional Law
Regional law can be referenced through legislative agreements that are reviewed and altered at the discretion of a regional legislative parliamentary assembly such as the European Union Committee of Legal Affairs. Generally, the enforcement of regional law falls primarily on the responsibility of domestic governments as it is assumed that governments which are party to a regional legal entity would have parallel laws.
However, if deemed necessary by the relevant authorities, the law can be enforced at a regional level via regional courts. This aspect of legality is mostly applicable to the European Union as most other supranational organisations do not extend integration to legal systems. However, a notable supranational court outside the EU is the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
3. International Law
International legality can be referenced through international statutes, declarations or agreements, such as the 1933 Rome Statute or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Clauses within these universal documents seek to maintain and protect human rights or underline certain principles (such as the prevention of acts of aggression or crimes against humanity). However, not all internationally-recognised legal documents or references are legally binding nor endorsed by all countries. For instance, only 118 countries have ratified the Rome Statute, with several countries such as Iran refusing to ratify as they do not wish to be subjected to international prosecution. Those found guilty of breaching international law can be prosecuted in ad hoc tribunals or the International Criminal Court (ICC). Besides laws safeguarding human rights, there are also legal systems in place to safeguard territorial sovereignty as many countries dispute over territories for historical reasons or essential natural resources. After decolonization was handled by the Committee of 24 (UN Trusteeship Council), the concept of sovereignty has been widely respected and recognised, paving the way for self-determination and the prohibition on the use of aggressive force, which has allowed the safeguarding of land territories.
For maritime territories, most countries are signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS), where the convention underlines the fundamentals of sovereignty and claims within maritime boundaries. A commonly cited example of a territorial dispute is the 1979 Pedra Branca Dispute between Singapore and Malaysia over several islets. This dispute was largely resolved in 2008 after the disputing parties brought the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Common legal instruments in international law such as bilateral and multilateral treaties are frequently used by international actors (states and international organisations with treaty-making capacity). These treaties are legally binding on these actors and impose significant legal obligations to be fulfilled by the relevant parties. While treaties do not fall under regional law, regional intergovernmental organisations may also rely on them. Common examples of such treaties include the 2003 ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) and the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon (on reformation of the EU).
Note: In practice, the rule of the domestic law always takes precedence due to the principle of sovereignty.
The economy of a country is usually an indispensable factor to its stability and continuity. Economic prosperity tends to create leverage for countries on the international and regional stage, as well as afford more resources. For many issues, this dimension would naturally be a high priority for any country.
Economic indicators to bear in mind include, but are not limited to:
Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
Government Budget and debt
Standard of Living
It is important to do sufficient research on your country’s economic status and capabilities before any conference as it will dictate the amount of resources you can contribute to an international mission or your range of policy choices. For instance, on the issue of “Structural Reforms of the Eurozone” (SMUN 2019 EC), having the Euro as a regional currency means that Eurozone countries have effectively surrendered their control over domestic interest rates and exchange rates, which also leaves them more vulnerable to unpredictable changes to the external market (Feldstein, 2010).
Economic wealth tends to convey advantages in negotiations on the bilateral and multilateral level. However, one must be cognisant of other aspects of a country’s stance; some countries such as Germany and Japan may opt for a more ‘altruistic’ stance (in cases where helping others can benefit yourself in the long-run) on economic aid to the world, yet some countries such as China have had a history of putting countries in debt traps after the initial provision of economic aid.
With the exception of environmentally-oriented committees or issues (such as the United Nations Environmental Assembly), this aspect may be a secondary concern to many countries. However, this is not to say that environmental concerns are not worth discussing.
In general, environmental concerns are largely a result of unsustainable or careless practices, leading to major impacts such as climate change, resource depletion, pollution, and soil erosion and degradation.
Common environmental issues and their impacts:
Pollution, such as contaminating the atmosphere or water resources, is prevalent in industrial-heavy countries with poor waste management systems, such as India and Bangladesh. People that breathe in polluted air or consume contaminated water risk developing serious illnesses such as bronchitis or suffer from chemical poisoning.
Anthropogenic Global Warming, where the average temperature of Earth increases gradually due to human activities, leading to glaciers melting and a rise in sea level. Over 44% of the world’s population that lives in coastal areas will be affected as sea levels are projected to rise to 65 centimetres by 2100.
Soil Erosion and Degradation leads to more floods, loss of arable land (resulting in less land for agriculture), and even polluting water sources. This also causes loss of resources and homes for aquatic species.
Commonly cited environmental initiatives:
1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
1997 Kyoto Protocol
2015 Paris Agreement
Last but not least, politics (both international and domestic) will generally remain a key factor to consider for most issues. International and domestic spheres of politics are generally not mutually exclusive, rather, they directly influence each other.
In international politics, states seek to advance their interests while maximising their influence and manoeuvering space overseas. This usually involves what we dub ‘grand strategy’ — comprising strategic maneuvres and alliances, akin to a complex ‘chess match’ with many parties involved. While this often involves public diplomacy, states with significant power, influence, or vested interests may also utilise their political advantages to garner support and further their political agenda. A common example are the Permanent 5 countries within the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), which can invoke or threaten to invoke their veto powers in order to influence the resolutions passed by the UNSC. Another frequently observed tactic is the application of political leverage by dominant countries, either economically or socially, to pressure other countries into fulfilling certain tasks or submitting to their demands.
Domestic politics generally entails the actions taken by governments and the reaction of their citizens to such actions. In most democratic countries, elected government officials are mindful of how their people might react to their performance and their re-electability, which in turn puts more political pressure on such governments. For instance, in the 1992 United Nations Operations in Somalia (UNOSOM I), when 6 US Marines died at the hands of the Somalese rebels, US citizens created immense pressure on their government to withdraw from Somalia to prevent further casualties in fear of a repeat of the Vietnam War, resulting in the eventual withdrawal of the US from UNOSOM in 1995 (Hirsch & Oakley, 1995).
As mentioned above, proposing your own solutions or critiquing solutions proposed by others can be tricky without a clear understanding of the issue and what criteria are most relevant in evaluating proposed solutions. While S.L.E.E.P. helps you with the former, analysis centered around Relevance, Impact, and Practicality (R.I.P.) addresses the latter. The ability to dissect any proposed solution is a valuable skill which would allow you to more easily persuade the rest of your committee.
Relevant solutions are those which directly tackle the problem at hand and preferably also address its root causes. As root causes may not be immediately obvious, it is always important to thoroughly research the issue to identify them in order to craft effective solutions.
For example, many cases of corruption across Africa are motivated by officials being underpaid, incentivising them to resort to illicitly steal the money entrusted to them. In a survey conducted by Transparency International in 2019, over 80% of citizens in the Democratic Republic of Congo stated that they had to bribe public officials to receive essential public services, such as personal medical treatment (Transparency International, 2019). In the same survey, over 47% of respondents also believed that African police forces were the most corrupt institution. Hence, beyond immediately trying to resolve, mitigate, and prevent corruption, delegates must also consider how the core problem of underpayment of public officials can be solved.
Timing is also essential to relevance. At times, you may even find that some committees struggle with arriving at a common ground on identifying the root causes. Without first achieving this common ground, it would be difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of any proposed solution as the problems to be addressed remain unclear. Furthermore, if you introduce ideas that are irrelevant or off-topic to the present discussion on the floor, you may risk being ignored by your fellow delegates. As such, no matter how well-developed your idea is, introducing it at an inappropriate time could cause it to fall on deaf ears.
Solutions do not necessarily have to be novel or sophisticated, but they must always be applicable to the context of the problem. Solutions can be adapted from past actions or drawn from relevant case studies and altered to fit the problem you are trying to solve.
Analysing the potential impact of proposed solutions is crucial to evaluate the pros and cons of these solutions.
Time frame (short-term vs long-term)
Scale/Magnitude (how many people will be impacted by the solution)
Possible limitations and ways to mitigate them
As an example, we will analyse the impacts of the COVID-19 Solidarity Payment, in which most Singaporeans received a one-time $600 payment from the Singapore government (CNA, 2020).
Economically, there was likely a positive impact as the relief aid gave Singaporeans some immediate cash to spend on essentials, allowing a portion of the local economy to maintain its business. In the short-run, this also served as temporary income to those furloughed due to the pandemic, while in the long-run, it enabled Singapore’s market to remain competitive globally by allowing more businesses to stay afloat. This policy also has a wide impact, as this payment had been granted to the majority of Singaporeans.
Possible limitations could include the potential misuse of the Solidarity Payment for non-essential purchases such as accessories or entertainment. Thus, a measure to mitigate this limitation could be to impose stricter rules against the misuse of the relief aid. Another limitation is that the Solidarity Payment is an expensive, one-time solution that draws from Singapore’s reserves, hence the package may not be a sustainable long-term strategy that can be frequently implemented.
Do note that the possible yardsticks are not only limited to those stated above. You are highly encouraged to think about more ways to assess the potential impacts of proposed solutions.
Lastly, practicality encompasses the likelihood that a solution can be actualised. As mentioned in the previous article, there is nothing wrong with the proposed solutions being ambitious and idealistic, but this must also be tempered with a sense of what is realistically attainable.
Practical concerns can include:
The most important thing to remember is that the effectiveness of proposed solutions can never be evaluated in a vacuum devoid of any context, with this context being derived from a comprehensive analysis of the various dimensions of the issue. While the areas of consideration covered in this article are certainly non-exhaustive, I hope that they nonetheless still provide you with the basic fundamentals of content analysis.
Chua, B. (1991). RACE RELATIONS AND PUBLIC HOUSING POLICY IN SINGAPORE. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, 8(4), 343-354. www.jstor.org/stable/43029053
COVID-19: 9 in 10 Singaporeans will receive S$600 payout on Apr 14. (2020, April 12). CNA. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/coronavirus-covid-19-solidarity-budget-600-cash-payout-12635268
Feldstein, M. (2010). The Euro’s Fundamental Flaws. The International Economy Magazine. http://www.international-economy.com/TIE_Sp10_Feldstein.pdf
Hirsch, J. L. & Oakley, R.B. (1995). Somalia and Operation Restore Hope: Reflections on Peacemaking and Peacekeeping (pp. 128-129).
Leong CH., Teng E., & Ko W.W. (2020) The State of Ethnic Congregation in Singapore Today. In: Leong CH., Malone-Lee LC. (eds) Building Resilient Neighbourhoods in Singapore. Advances in 21st Century Human Settlements. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-7048-9_3
Transparency International. (2019). Global Corruption Barometer — Africa 2019. https://images.transparencycdn.org/images/Full-Report-Global-Corruption-Barometer-Africa-2019.pdf