It gives me immense pleasure to welcome you to the 19th annual session of the Cathedral Model United Nations (CMUN), which will be held from the 21st to the 23rd of August this year, at the Trident Hotel, Mumbai.
The world of international relations is a tumultuous one. The perpetual rapidity of the 21st century – in terms of globalization, the spread of information, technological advancements and new paradigms of warfare – has had a profound impact on the nature of international conflict, making the landscape of global geopolitics more restless and hence more challenging to confront.
Despite the greater sense of closeness and integration produced by ever-increasing globalization, the international community today is far from being truly cohesive and unified. Escalating tensions between Russia and the West, with Vladimir Putin’s uncompromising aggression in Ukraine and Crimea, are highly disturbing and reminiscent of the Cold War, whose consequences can still be felt in many parts of the globe. Complicating the situation is Europe’s dependence on Russia for gas, which prevents effective action from being taken against the latter’s obdurate determination to have its way. Meanwhile, the Charlie Hebdo controversy has exposed the volatile undercurrents of extremism that pervade the continent, while increased violence against European Jews shows the surprising level of anti-Semitic prejudice simmering beneath the surface.
The Middle East too offers no consolation, with the unspeakably gratuitous brutality of the Islamic State (IS) spreading across borders and threatening to shake the region to its core. The growing number of foreigners joining IS shows how alarmingly widespread fundamentalism is. The Syrian civil war continues unmitigated, with horrendous violence and flagrant human rights abuses. A growing refugee crisis is another source of concern – according to the UNHCR, more than 3 million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries while about 6.5 million are internally displaced within the country. The instability in Libya and Yemen are further disillusioning those once captivated by the dream of the Arab Spring; the Israel-Palestine conflict shows no signs of a lasting resolution being reached anytime soon. Nigeria and other African countries face a multitude of problems of their own, such as the despicable acts of Boko Haram and various militant groups. The recent outbreak of Ebola that disastrously struck West Africa starkly revealed two things – even the slightest tardiness by the international community in providing assistance in times of crisis can lead to disproportionate consequences, and in the face of the fundamental forces of nature, the political boundaries that divide us are absolutely meaningless.
Closer home, the future of South Asia remains uncertain. With the mandate of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan having expired at the end of last year, it is imperative that the country be prevented from lapsing into the hands of the Taliban once more. Pakistan has recently suffered an increase in terrorist activity against its citizens, including a remorseless attack on schoolchildren. Kashmir remains a dangerous flashpoint of contention between India and Pakistan, whose nuclear capabilities add a grave dimension to any serious disagreement between them. With China’s economy entering a slowdown and India poised to make its presence powerfully felt on the global stage, the geopolitical dynamics of South Asia are growing ever more intriguing.
Viewed in a certain way, the world today appears embroiled in a vast quagmire of problems. However, despite the seeming intractability of global conflict – much of it appears utterly inexorable – such is the inherent uniqueness of humanity that hope remains amidst the strife. The very existence of the United Nations, as a forum to facilitate peaceful collaboration, proves that with a determined effort of will, the international community can transcend the divisive forces that threaten to tear it asunder. The vital determination to bring about this transcendence lies in the hands of today’s youth – it is we who must embody the spirit of co-operation essential to enact the changes we seek. What better place to start than Model UN? Ultimately, the entire experience of MUN conferences like CMUN comes down to giving the young leaders of the future an opportunity to hone the essential skills of diplomacy, negotiation and compromise, required to bridge the gaps between incredibly diverse nations and cultures.
Building on CMUN’s reputation for innovation, excitement and intense debate, this year’s conference will have 10 committees, including a Press Corps, encompassing a varied spectrum of topics spanning both space and time. These committees include a Historic Security Council, discussing the division of Korea after World War II, The Winter Palace Conference (1917), set during the momentous Russian civil war, and the most unique committee in CMUN’s history – The Futuristic Committee on the Colonization of Mars, 2100, determining the fate of humankind’s inevitable expansion beyond the frontiers of the Earth. As in the previous years, at CMUN 2015 you will find yourselves constantly stimulated through unexpected emergencies and crises, just as you would be in the real world. I sincerely hope that you will leave the conference not merely as students, but as passionate peacemakers, policymakers and leaders, with an ardent drive to improve your countries and the world at large.
I look forward to an unforgettable three days in August.
Cathedral Model United Nations 2015.