The Art of Crisis
MUN Wisdom from Sun Tzu
Most delegates have only experienced crises in the context of larger, more traditional committees. Unbeknownst to most new delegates, however, is an entire class of committee. Crisis committees take the archetype of a calm, deliberative assembly and smash it to pieces until all that remains is a handful of harried delegates constantly checking over their shoulder to ensure that they don’t get stabbed. Literally.
I arrived at my first true crisis committee – NATO at Harvard National MUN 2011 – purely by accident. A first-year student (though I had done MUN since 2007 and run my own conference in high school), I was not prepared for the scale of the vicious, duplicitous, and cunning machinations designed by my opponents and team-mates alike.
Crises are wars, even if they aren’t military. I’ve chosen these quotes from the legendary Chinese strategist Sun Tzu as being particularly useful for new crisis delegates.
“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win”
Much success in crisis committees rests on grand, long-term strategy. Crisis rooms are receptive to attempts to build a coherent, solid “narrative” that drives the committee forward. They may thwart disconnected attempts to score “points” on opponents like a fencer, but they will often even help you build long-term plans that are more resilient to the ever-changing tides of crisis committees. Working with crisis rooms and informing them of your long-term goals is also a great way to catch their attention and put yourself in the running for an award (though the purpose is not to get an award, but to secure your chance of operational success).
“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”
There is no feeling, absolutely nothing, like the feeling when you know you’ve finally cornered a particularly worthy opponent and he doesn’t know what’s about to hit him. Be wary of boasting or getting too comfortable, but instead ensure that you’ve covered all the bases before you make your move. Ask crisis to do research on a particular opponent (do they engage in a certain activity?, etc) and be extremely precise (if a move depends on your bribing someone, make sure to bribe them first in a separate note). Leave crisis with the impression that you’ve thought this through and have the resources to carry your mission out. This avoids a scattered response by the crisis room and ensures that your move will come as a sudden, unforeseen blow.
“When the enemy is relaxed, make them toil. When full, starve them. When settled, make them move.”
Crisis delegates can easily drown in the fog of war. Not only are you trying to obscure your intentions, but you cannot readily discern your opponent’s strategy. Making them uncomfortable through false starts, tactical victories (which pose only a temporary setback instead of true strategic dominance), and uncertainty can make them play a more conservative game. Part of hiding your sudden attack is to create enough noise and discomfort that your opponent is otherwise occupied.
“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”
New information might upset your plans, but always look for the plans of your opponents which might also be in disarray. Revise your expectations on the bounds of the possible.
“If his forces are united, separate them.”
Whether it be the enemy committee or a particularly problematic cluster in your own committee, it is extremely difficult to defeat an entire block. Crisis directors will usually give the victory to the side with strength. Your object, then, must be to deprive them of strength first.
“There are roads which must not be followed, armies which must not be attacked, towns which must not be besieged, positions which must not be contested, commands of the sovereign which must not be obeyed.”
There are some lines you should never cross. Crisis committees excel at making monsters out of delegates, but despite the apparent chance for an easy victory there are always costs. Ensure that you consider all the possible ramifications of a morally dubious move before making it. There are times when you would be better served turning traitor to your committee than going through with an act that will forever despoil your soul (or put you at future risk).
I encourage every delegate to read Art of War. It is essential reading for every crisis delegate.
I will leave you with a final quote on which to meditate:
“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”