Norwich students put themselves
in shoes of United Nations ambassadors © March 27, 2009, Norwich University Office of Communications

Flags represent the United Nations, which Norwich students emulated at an international competition at Harvard University.

©iStockphoto.com/Hanquan ChenFlags represent the United Nations, which Norwich students emulated at an international competition at Harvard University.

Norwich University sophomore Paul Lovett recently had a hand in rewriting history, along with the map of the Middle East.

Representing Iraq, he was part of an effort to force Israel to give up territory claimed during the Six-Day War in 1967—had the exercise been real, of course.

Lovett’s opportunity to alter the world’s political landscape occurred at the 55th session of the Harvard National Model United Nations [HNMUN] conference, held in Boston in February 2009. The four-day event attracted 3,000 university students from 35 countries, with more than half coming from overseas.

Lovett, a Studies in War and Peace major, was one of 20 students who participated from Norwich, the country’s oldest private military college. He was part of an exercise that re-created one of the debates of the real United Nations Security Council in 1967. It was difficult, he said, to debate against a country he supports.

You can’t engage in a relationship with another country that they wouldn’t [establish] in real life.

~ Morgan Ziemba,
on the rules of the HNMUN

“I’ve always supported Israel, especially since I’m a Christian,” said Lovett, a member of Norwich’s Corps of Cadets who attended the conference for the second consecutive year. “But [in order to] try to look through the eyes of the Arab people I had to argue as best I could for the other side.”

It was a challenge to represent a country whose customs and political beliefs seemed alien. Research helped him develop a new point of view.

“I was looking to defend Iraq’s actions against the accusations of others,” said Lovett. “By looking at it in this light, rather than in the war of Arab aggression that everyone paints it in, I was able to see truth in many of the lies that are believed about the situation even to this day.”

HNMUN participants are assigned to committees tasked with addressing a particular international issue, but they act as representatives of a country other than their own. Norwich’s profile at the prestigious event seems to be growing. This year, in addition to Iraq and Brunei, the delegation was asked to prepare to represent Britain after another group dropped out.

“Normally, the [delegations] from the larger schools get three countries and the smaller ones like Norwich get two,” said head delegate Chris DiChiara, an international studies and Spanish major. “We saw it as a great opportunity.”

Faculty advisor Dart Thalman, professor of political science and director of the international studies program, said the conference is designed to give students a taste of the complexities of international relations and diplomacy.

“It helps them to gain a better understanding of certain international issues and the challenges of working out the solution to those issues in the international context, where each state is sovereign and some states wield a lot more power than others,” said Thalman. “It also shows them the dynamics of international politics in the context of the UN and they learned what it can and cannot do.”

The HNMUN also gives students experience at public speaking and negotiation, said Thalman. The opportunity to hone his communication skills first attracted Lovett to a similar model UN program when he was in high school. Norwich’s participation is one of the reasons he chose to attend.

Morgan Ziemba, ’11, a biology major, described the conference as “exhilarating” and “extremely illuminating.”

“You get to meet with people from all around the world and find out what they really think of our country and us as a people,” said Ziemba, also a second-year attendee.

Ziemba represented Iraq in the conference’s version of the World Health Organization, debating whether health care is a human-rights issue. She admits being dissatisfied with the agreement reached, which she feels was too broad and idealistic.

Like Lovett, Ziemba said the most difficult aspect of the HNMUN is taking a position on behalf of another country, even if one disagrees. You must be true to the country you represent.

“You can’t engage in a relationship with another country that they wouldn’t [establish] in real life,” she said.

Students were selected for the delegation based on a position paper on an international issue and an interview. Delegates meet weekly and students spend time researching their assignments. Sophomore and corps member DiChiara oversaw the application process, made committee assignments and conducted some of the training.

Lovett, Ziemba, and DiChiara are all considering careers in some aspect of international relations. Lovett is interested in intelligence work with the CIA or FBI after his Army service. Ziemba hopes to be part of an organization such as Doctors Without Borders, and DiChiara is interested in earning a dual Ph.D. and law degree in international relations.

“As an international studies major and as someone interested in diplomacy, the [HMNUN] is a great forum to learn how the international community works,” said DiChiara.