Model ASEM is basically a LARP (live action role-playing game) for people who are more interested in international affairs than orcs. In the vein of other educational simulations (like Model UN) Model ASEM tries to recreate the proceedings of a large multilateral summit. The summit in question is the biannual Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). The Model ASEM simulation was held on 8-12 October - one week before the actual summit. I participated in Model ASEM and left with interesting observations that I want to share with you.
The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) was formally established in 1996 and provides a platform for 53 countries from Europe and Asia to strengthen their relations. Both ASEM and the simulation were held in Milan, Italy. Very fitting since the modern practice of diplomacy was forged in the Italian city-states of Milan, Florence and Venice during the Renaissance. The official goal of the Model ASEM is to promote awareness and understanding of the ASEM process among young people. To achieve this goal young delegates from member countries are convened to represent the heads of their respective countries. The overarching topic of this year’s Model ASEM was “Responsible Partnership for Sustainable Growth and Security”.
The main output of Model ASEM was the “Chair’s Statement” and the “ASEM Youth Declaration”. Both documents were to be presented to the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy. The Chair’s Statement was constructed by the Chair of Model ASEM from the written contributions of delegates prior to our assembly in Milan. Later in a plenary session we discussed and applied changes to the text. It is important to note that in this plenary session delegates represented the stance of their corresponding government, not personal views.
For the creation of the Youth Declaration we had to voice our personal demands, stitch the whole thing together and then edit it in a plenary session. In other words the Youth Declaration had to be designed by committee. In the long span of human history there have been a precious few instances where the incorporation of many (often contradicting) opinions produced something remarkable. The rendering of the Bible in English (King James version) and the US Declaration of Independence spring to mind.
Sadly, our Youth Declaration did not join this short list. The plenary session got catty immediately. Some complained that we weren’t moving fast enough, others wanted to let more people voice their opinion. Paragraphs were shortened, rephrased, expanded and then deleted. Time, patience and gentility were running out. At long last we reached a consensus: the Youth Declaration is in an atrocious and unfinished state! This disjointed document truly embodied the maxim “a camel is a horse designed by committee”.
Nonetheless, I was truly humbled by the display of passion and enthusiasm. Model ASEM is a simulation but the delegates always acted with utmost commitment. Their crushing disappointment of the proceedings only highlighted their genuine concern. If only the real leaders took these multilateral meetings as seriously as the delegates. The other good news was that the Youth Declaration (which conveyed the personal opinions of young delegates) devoted more attention to climate change, human rights and migration. It’s normal for young people to be more idealistic but I believe that this new generation will retain part of these more noble intentions and deal more actively with silent risks. They’ll do it out of benign self-interest not because of misguided idealism.
Luckily, the final Youth Declaration was entirely remade in an abbreviated form by just a few people who were more experienced in policy-making. Perhaps it wasn’t the most democratic move but it provided good results. The Congress of Vienna (1814) following Napoleon’s defeat was a thoroughly undemocratic process without a plenary session but it produced nearly a century of relative peace. In our case a declaration had to be presented to the President of the European Council and it had to be worth his time. Realpolitik had to be practiced. Some delegates who learned of this procedure were left a bit disappointed but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Idealism needs to be tempered with a bit of scepticism. Especially in diplomacy, which is probably the most cynical of all occupations. After all, the great Italian Niccolò Machiavelli was a diplomat.
As a thoroughly cynical person I left Italy feeling optimistic. I want to thank the hard-working organisers for making this event possible and the determined delegates for making it eventful.