War, Peace, and Radioactive Sharks: A Look Inside COMMUN IX

Today’s youth will one day inherit the world in all its joy, strife, and complexity. How to prepare them for that not-so-distant future, when their prudence and resilience, their ability to understand and be understood, will be put to the test? More than 130 intrepid middle schoolers deepened these skills and sensibilities at this year’s COMMUN IX, the annual Model United Nations conference organized by Commonwealth School students. On April 27, 2024, delegates undertook such serious work as navigating global famine, preserving indigenous rights, and avoiding nuclear conflict—spurred, in part, by insights from our keynote speaker. 

Dr. Francesca Giovannini began the day by urging delegates to think critically about nuclear proliferation and its role in historical and current international relations. Executive Director for the Project on Managing the Atom at the Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center for Science & International Affairs, Dr. Giovannini spoke candidly about the uneasy coexistence of nuclear powers, the danger of cavalier talk about “low-yield” or “tactical” nuclear bombs, and the impact of colonial occupation on nuclear testing, as nuclear powers detonate bombs in countries not their own. Engaging the crowd like she might her class full of undergraduates, she reminded them how the U.S. obliterated the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II—and noted that nuclear bombs have only become more destructive since. “Never use nuclear weapons,” she said. “That is your number-one priority.”

As delegates moved into their conference sessions, nuclear war loomed, including during the Zimbabwean War of Independence committee, a historical crisis reimagining the 1964–1979 conflict between Rhodesia and Zimbabwe. During this “very eventful committee,” co-chair Eve ’24 said, “there was a fake death, the threat of nuclear weapons, and one delegate even created a famine by selling every crop in the country to a foreign power. Still, we eventually did move towards peace.”  

Despite contending with an infamous nuclear power, the Korean Peninsula committee focused on managing nuclear waste, not nuclear war. Delegates representing present-day Korean leaders and their allies proposed using reverse osmosis to filter out nuclear waste. To combat a food shortage, they proposed building new ports to increase fishing production. Of course, progress stalled when the nuclear and fishing crises collided—resulting in radioactive sharks! Delegates’ creative solution to this fanciful problem included teaming up like Avengers and Naruto characters. “We let them go a little crazy,” said co-chair Alyssa ’25. “But we worked hard to facilitate collaboration.”

Not every committee navigated threats of war. “In the Genome Editing committee, delegates discussed and drafted legislation detailing restrictions around CRISPR technology and the development and use of bioweapons around the world,” said co-chair Peyson ’25. “They also thought deeply about the economics of genome editing technology and how to make the revolutionary field more widely accessible to the countries that need it.” In the Conservation of the Amazon ECOSOC, about two dozen delegates debated policies that would mitigate deforestation and the impact of climate change in the rainforest, while protecting land for native tribes. So effective were their deliberations that they had “a little extra time, so [they] had a structured debate about Taylor Swift,” said committee co-chair Eli ’25. 

Delegates passed nine resolutions regarding gender equality and corruption during the International Council for Arbitration for Sport committee. “All delegates got involved and became more passionate about collaborating and learning how to deal with big political issues that arise from sport as the day went on,” said co-chair Arjun ’24. (You can learn more about these committees and others on the COMMUN website.)

Led by Secretaries-General Henry ’24 and Sarah ’25, a team of more than forty Commonwealth students orchestrated the conference, their work starting early in the school year as they wrote detailed background guides and planned crises for their committees, designed for varying experience levels. Committee chairs, all current Commonwealth students, praised the delegates—some as young as fifth grade—for their professionalism and preparedness. “Delegates successfully practiced their public speaking and leadership skills,” said Rimas ’25, co-chair of the Revolutions of 1848 committee. All agreed, too: “We had a lot of fun!”

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